Home > Editing > I’ll Fix it Later – When Procrastination is Good for your Story

I’ll Fix it Later – When Procrastination is Good for your Story

July 7th, 2012 Matt Leave a comment Go to comments
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Procrastination is our mortal enemy, right? Sure, in most cases. but it depends what you’re putting off. It’s a bad idea to put off going to the Doctor, or the washing up, or writing. But it might be a good idea to put off making changes to your text, at least until the first draft is done. When is this a good idea? Can it ever be a bad idea? Let’s see if we can find out.

road works

You might want to finish the road before you start digging it up! Image courtesy of Crispin Semmens.

My Current Problems

There are basically two approaches to problems in your story. You can attempt to fix them as you go, or you can plough through the first draft and fix them later. There are advantages and disadvantages to both, but I tend to fall into the finish it, dammit! camp most of the time. Take my current work in progress for example. I’ve spotted a few small problems as I’ve been working on my first draft. Here are some of them:

  • There’s a scene I talk about in this post that I need to rewrite to give it more of a sense of place and a sense of action. It’s dull at the moment.
  • There’s at least one scene I can remove, or cut in half, sprinkling the information learned there into other scenes like so much salt.
  • It’s long for a “short story”, approaching 20,000 words. I don’t know what category that puts it in, or if it matters.
  • My protagonist may be a dull and hollow thing. Which is very bad. I just wonder whether people will care what happens to him.
  • The story is pretty much a series of conversations. That’s not necessarily bad – I want my protagonist to be a kind of negotiator. But again, I wonder whether that’s interesting enough.

Eek, that’s as lot of problems! And those last three may not be small. Never write out all the problems to your story like this – you might be tempted to abandon it!

Now, the specific things I know how to fix, and I know for sure that they are problems. The slightly vaguer elements (the last two) are harder to see when you’re down in the story bunker. I’d need to read the whole story to know if the issues are really there, or if I’m being paranoid after reading The Importance of Risk Taking in Fiction Writing and 25 Reasons Readers Will Quit Reading Your Story.

Ah, paranoia old friend – I’d shake your hand but I’m afraid of what’s in it.

Why Getting the Draft Done is Better

So why aren’t I downing tools so that I can look at these problems in more detail and fix them? Here are some reasons:

  • Momentum – I’m building up a good speed to the remainder of my first draft (I write slow, okay?) and as I’ve mentioned before, [stopping breaks that momentum].
  • Getting the whole picture – I hinted at it above, but sometimes it’s important to get the whole picture before you edit. It helps to see the complete story in front of you. You get a better idea of pacing and where big cuts are needed. You don’t want to have to undo or redo your edits after the story is complete because you couldn’t take account of these factors before.
  • A sense of progression – Stopping and going over things makes completion of a draft that much further away. You miss out on the joy of getting lots of words down on the page and seeing the story progress. It’s so hard to get anything done anyway for most writers (who are also balancing full time jobs and family commitments). For those who struggle to complete projects, this sense of progression is important for their wellbeing.
  • Reducing overfamiliarity – If you’re a slow writer like me, you spend enough time with a story on its first draft as it is. Do you really want to stop halfway through and go over things again? You may have lost the objectivity needed to make good edits anyway. Worse, you can become sick of the sight of your story, and never finish it!

So now we’ve established some pretty darn good reasons to finish…

Is There Ever a Case for Stopping and Fixing Now?

That would be a judgement call.

I have done it, but I would leave it as a last resort if I were you. When I stopped writing my current WIP to work on the backstory and do some re-outlining, it was because I could see the story was going nowhere. I knew ahead of time that I was writing myself into a corner and I no longer had any desire to complete it.

stop signs galore

Does the path through your first draft look like this? You might never finish! Image courtesy of Mike Moody

Yes, I took far too long making notes and fixing these problems, but it had become a choice between abandoning the story or going back to the drawing board on a lot of things to see if I could fix it.

Lessons were learnt. Trying to get back into writing that first draft was a painful process, and I have resolved to do more planning up front, and to avoid stopping in the middle of a draft if I can possibly help it.

That said, if there really is no other way to progress on the story, and I still had some love for it somewhere (buried in the bitterness), then I would do it again. Whatever it takes.

So next time you feel the need to go back and change something or stop writing and rework the scene you’ve just written, put it off. Make a note of it somewhere sure, but then just carry on writing. Almost anything can be fixed later, and you may find you get more done.

But what about you? Have you ever stopped writing mid-draft to go over what you’d already written? Did it help or hinder? What’s your opinion on finishing first? Leave your comments below!

  • http://burrst.com/ Anthony Blackshaw

    Excellent article! I find it really difficult to stop myself from reviewing work before the first draft is done – but I definitely shouldn’t. If I put my piece to one side for a week and then go back to it my edits are always better than those I made during the first draft.

    • http://getmewriting.com Matt Roberts

      Thanks Anthony, glad you liked the post!

      I tend to put my stories away for a month after I’ve done the first draft. I find there’s plenty I forgot I wrote, even in shorter works! And waiting until the first draft is finished gives you the whole picture.