I used to joke that the worst thing in my life was that George RR Martin still hadn’t published The Winds of Winter. I have this theory that the last two books in the Song of Ice and Fire series are all finished and he’s holding back the releases because the expectations would kill him. He’d rather spend the rest of his life editing, and he certainly could, because editing is an infinite process, and theoretically the longer you spend editing the better the piece will get. Writing a great book, especially when you have enormous distractions like wealth and fame, or a regular full-time job, takes a long time.
Some lucky writers churn out books after books, series after series like it’s an annual event, while other writers struggle to get one great short story published in their lifetime. This makes me wonder: what’s happening? Isn’t writing consistently the key? The higher your word count, the more books you’ll write, right? Getting the word count up may be easy for some and hard for others, but regardless of how challenging it is to get the words on the paper, the next part — editing — will be twice as challenging.
When we think of writers, we often think of them in the act of typing, creating the words. But what writers are as well are editors. They need to take what they’ve written, all the words they’ve typed, and polish them up so all together it becomes a cohesive story worth reading. Depending on the project this could mean more research or it could mean rewriting the whole story from a different perspective or it could mean restructuring the plot so it’s no longer in a linear timeline. Whatever editing requirements are necessary — and there always are some — this is where the work truly begins.
There are days where you will stare at the screen and debate whether you should cut a word or the whole sentence. There are days where you won’t add to your word count. There are days where you’ll be losing words. There are days where you’ll feel as though you are undoing all you’ve created, reversing the time and effort you spent writing. There are many phases where a story can die and from the first to second draft is a common place for a work-in-progress to remain in that status forever. You’ve written yourself into a place where it is futile to even edit. Quitting is the natural solution.
How do you get yourself out of this hell, save your project, and salvage all the work you’ve done? There is no simple answer to this question. A lot of it will depend on you, but be sure of this, the likelihood of you starting a new project and getting it past this phase is unlikely if you can’t get past this phase this time. Yes, it might be a whole new project and you might be able to write yourself clear of any plot holes, but how can you steer clear of these hazards if you can’t identify and resolve them this time?
Starting a new project and tracking your growing word count is enticing, especially after you’ve been trapped in your current story, and you’re not seeing any progress or movement. But the time you spend struggling to repair your work whether it be by conducting interviews or participating in a writing workshop or just staring at the screen, it doesn’t matter, these experiences are qualitative. It makes you a better writer by examination. The better you become at reviewing your work and not only composing, but you’ll also become a better storyteller all around.
Counting words on a page may feel great. Seeing the giant document saved onto your hard drive is something to be proud of. However, your dedication to making it better. Your patience to sit in front of the words you’ve written and look at all of it objectively and not get overly emotional or discouraged will be the greatest power you wield going forward into your writing career.
Are you failing to see any progress in your work? Check out this article about how to stay motivated.
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