Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Writer's Wednesday - The Over-Edit Bug

Ali Williams is talking about what happens when you're struggling to write.

I've been a fan of romance novels for as long as I can remember.  

I've put it down to a number of reasons in the past, but one of the most probably is that I wasn't actually allowed to read romance novels that weren't classics as a kid, so I used to smuggle them home from the library and read them by torchlight.

And that's what I did for years.  Read them when people weren't really looking, or when I was travelling and my friends wouldn't tease me for it.

Uni changed that.

I discovered that there was this incredible world online of authors and fans and bloggers, and I threw myself wholeheartedly on board.

But it wasn't until I restarted my life, that I really started to think about writing romance.

I'd written poetry - often romantic - and I'd written snippets and drabbles of fiction that I was pretty pleased about, but actually writing a book.  One that I'd finish?  It had never really crossed my mind.

Only, I used to be an English teacher and so I can edit, and I've read 70 books this year already - and when I say this year, I mean since January - so when people say you should read around the genre you want to write, well, I've done that.  I know the genre and some of its sub-genres inside out.

And yet I'm scared of writing.

Writer's Wednesday is usually full of advice for those who want to write, and I devour it every week because I want to write.  I want to write so flipping badly.

I have a wip and characters who are so real to me that I dream about them, and I could probably tell you exactly how my hero and heroine would react to any given thing at any given time.

But it's the writing bit that gets me.

I NaNo and I set myself targets and I even turn off the internet on my laptop and force myself to write.

But I over-edit and over-edit and over-edit and get stuck in a rut until I can't look at my wip without wanting to cry.

I can write, but a part of me is scared that I'm just not cut out to write a novel.

I shan't give up though.  It's tough, but that's life, and I love romance too much to give up on it any time soon.  Plus, I'm really enjoying writing about Doug and Cressie...even if it's taken me four months to write one and a half chapters.

So published authors, take pity on me - and all those other struggling writers out there - what do you do to kickstart your writing when you're stuck?

Ali Williams grew up in Croydon and spent her teenage years in a convent girls' school. She then fled to university where she discovered champagne cocktails, a capella singing and erotica.

These days she blogs about perceptions of romance, chick lit and women in society, whilst attempting to finish that every-growing wip, Made for Sin.

Genre reporter for chick lit and erotica at For Books' Sake, poetry columnist for Quadrapheme and guest blogger for Mills & Boon, she defies you to slam romance novels within her hearing!  For more information, check out her brand new website!


  1. Ah, yes. I'm an English teacher by training, too, and I sometimes get stuck on the over-editing bandwagon. So hugs on that. It can eat up your time and kill your joy in the story you're writing. But... here are a few tricks I've used.

    1. Try writing a different scene with those characters you know so well. Maybe one you plotted or imagined (if you're not a plotter) for later in the story. Or else just start in on a completely different scene with your characters (maybe how they'd act if they discovered a dead body {I'm a romantic suspense writer ;) } or even just how they'd go grocery shopping or cook a meal together. Just start a scene that gets you writing something fresh. Often, it gets you motivated to move forward again to get to that scene, or it just jumpstarts the writing and you're moving forward again.

    2. This will feel drastic, but, remove that chapter or section of the book you keep editing from your ms. Save it to a flash drive or just put it in a different folder on your computer. iow, get it out of sight so that when you open up your story and sit down to write, those pages aren't there to tempt you into tweaking. You're forced to put new words down.

    3. Remember, new words are harder to come up with than it is to rework something you've previously written. Sometimes, the reason I get stuck in editing mode is either a) I've written a scene that doesn't fit the story, or my characters aren't reacting the way they should, or b) I don't know where to go next. Now, I'm more pantser than plotter, so I don't have my whole story mapped out. But generally, as I'm writing one scene, I'm getting ideas on what the next scene or 2 needs to be. But, if for some reason I don't know where I'm going, or the previous scene isn't right, then it means I need to step away from the ms and do some thinking about what should be happening. Once I've got a plan, I can usually move forward.

    Just a few things I've done when I get really stuck in editing mode. Good luck!

    1. This is such good advice Julie; thank you so so much!!

      I'm definitely going to try them out - especially the "scene-it" idea. I've got a fairly good idea of key scenes and I might try writing all of those first, and see how it goes!

  2. Ali, thanks for the wonderful post! Like you, I tend to edit words I've already written rather than tackle new ones.

    Julie, a big thank you for your helpful advice!

    I'm lucky in that I have some wonderful critique partners that I can turn to when this happens. As a matter of fact, just last night I was complaining to one that I was stuck. She offered up a few suggestions (she knows my characters almost as well as I do) of what they could do or say. That's all it took and my muse was off and running!

    1. See, I'm used to being a critique partner for other people - which has meant I'm extra picky when it comes to my own writing! But that's definitely something to think about - I may call in a handful of favours!!

  3. Hi, Ali! Wow, you hit quite a few buttons for me. Like you, I struggle with writing. It's a different form of stage fright, I've decided, a different kind of performance anxiety. Every time I open my WIP file, a nasty voice is asking me why I think I can pull this off.

    I was an English teacher, too, but I'm not sure that has anything to do with what often chokes my words before they hit the page. Rather, I think it's because I tend to be a perfectionist, and I simply feel more in control when I'm editing, so when the going gets tough, that's what I do: edit.

    My bits of advice: first, don't be so hard on yourself. Writing isn't a race. So what if it takes you months to complete a chapter? This is your process, at this point in time. This is how you're learning to write, and the compulsive editing is a valid part of that. Before I was published, it took me 1-2 years to complete a manuscript. (After I sold my first manuscript, that time was cut to 3-4 months--signing contracts did wonderful things for my focus.)

    Another thought: you're probably struggling to find your voice. All that reading you've done, all those thoughts & talk about writing--you have a good idea of what a romance story is supposed to look like, what a romance author is supposed to sound like. Now you're "attempting to enter the discourse community" (a phrase from my grad school days), to fit in. But you're not everyone else--you're you. The first two manuscripts I wrote sounded like everything & everyone I'd ever read, and I thought they hit the mark, but ughh, they were tough to write. One day I got so discouraged that instead of beating my second manuscript to death with yet another editing session, I started something new, something just for fun, just for me. I let my inner self pour out onto the page, and it was so much fun, so liberating, that I never looked back and just kept going. Everything seemed to flow. I'd found--or set free--my voice. And you know what's coming next, right? That third manuscript was the first of mine that sold.

    When you sit down to work, don't tell yourself you're writing a novel. Tell yourself you're writing a scene. Focus on those individual jewels of reader enjoyment, and concentrate on making each one sparkle. Eventually, they'll all add up to a novel, sure, but that's what novels are, essentially: a collection of scenes. (Think of your favorite books, and I'll bet you think of your favorite scenes.) You can think in scenes, and write in scenes, and edit scenes, and stitch scenes together. Heck, you can diagram and chart and plot in scenes. And at some point, when you've written all the scenes you need to write to tell the story you want to tell, there your novel will be.

    Yes, writing's tough, and second-guessing yourself can be one of the worst parts of the slog. I wish I could tell you to cut it out, and how to cut it out, but since I'm still doing the same thing on a daily basis, I can't. See? You're exactly like at least one writer you know--you're fitting in just fine ;-).

    Instead of going back to edit all the advice I just shared, I'm going to send you a fellow writer's hug and remind you that you have all the tools to make this happen, if you want it enough to slog through to The End. And I won't say "good luck!" because luck has nothing to do with it. Instead, I'll say, Go get 'em, Ali!

  4. As someone who has spent over a week re-writing one scene I soooo know where you are coming from Ali.

    I think Terry and Carol and Julie have already given advice that I would have given you because - being a journalist in a former life - I do love to nit-pick to death the stuff I've already written while not writing new stuff because I KNOW how to edit, for me writing is the hard part... The first draft for me is usually complete agony. I have to slap down my inner editing bitch and be happy to write total crap.... And it is mostly total crap. Occasionally you'll hit an amazing streak and everything just comes out perfectly but at least 90% of the time I'm writing bollox and I know it. It's very hard not to get dispirited when that happens or not to try to fix it. Usually I do eventually get stuck and the writing is so crap I have to go back and fix it but until that happens I keep on going... Because of this my rough drafts arrive in fits and starts with some rewriting, redirecting, major plot holes jumped into and very slowly climbed out of, etc.

    Two top tips from me when you hit that wall... Have your characters been too self-aware? that's a classic with me, having them already having fixed themselves in their internal thought without the relationship having to develop... The other one is, do you need to simplify your conflict? If I find my characters over thinking stuff it's usually because I've made their internal conflict too elaborate. It's quite possible that you know Doug and Cressie too well, so you're not letting them discover each other, if you know what I mean. If they're holding you back, start writing something else for a while then go back to them.

    As Terry said, this isn't a race, you need to be able to finish a story, but don't beat yourself up about this one. It took me four years to finally complete my first manuscript, and I had lots of half-assed first chapters and almost done stories before that... You won't have only one story in you. You'll have lots so you don't have to get too depressed if this isn't the first one you finish. This is just the start of the journey. At least you already know one of your main weaknesses as a writer...

    Good luck.