There’s very little in this world as humbling as writing a novel. Anyone who says it’s easy hasn’t actually tried writing one—no, it’s not hard labor, so bellyaching about how difficult it is is just First World problems, but it is challenging.
For me, every novel starts off easy. The premise is clear, the plot is easy to see in the basic outlines. All I have to do, I tell myself, is write the damn thing! Meaning that I approach each novel initially as a time management problem. And also a whiskey-drinking management problem, a binge-watching management problem, and a hey-look-a-butterfly-let’s-chase-it management problem.
I lead a rich inner life.
Anyways, what always happens is things get complicated. I lose track of the plot, I get lost in the weeds and everything slithers out of my grasp, and there is usually a point where I realize I’ve forgotten something. Sometimes it’s a character I forgot to introduce much earlier, or a clue, or a sequence that’s vital to the comprehension of the story or the back-story. I realize with dismay that the next bunch of words I’m about to write just won’t work in the larger whole unless that earlier work gets done.
I take a deep breath, pour a fresh drink, and then I don’t do it. I don’t go back to fix things up. I just plunge ahead.
That’s What the Revision is For
It’s almost irresistible, that urge to go back and fill in the blank space you’ve just noticed. But you really ought to resist. Sure, that means the draft you’re writing is flawed. It won’t make sense, things get introduced in clunky, awful ways. Anyone reading it will throw your manuscript across the room, enraged.
But, that’s just it, isn’t it? No one will read this version. You’re going to revise it. You’re going to let it sit in the drawer and marinate for a few months and then go back and start re-working it. So you’ll have time to fix everything—and you’ll see even more that needs to be fixed.
The urge to stop forward momentum to go back and fix something you’ve just thought of is a powerful one, but trust me: Don’t so it. It will just stop your train of thought and ultimately slow you down and make the story worse. If it’s really a problem, it will still be there when you revise. If it wasn’t really a problem in the first place, you just saved yourself weeks of unnecessary work.
I like to use the time I save by not wasting time doubling back on myself to drink a little more. What will you use the time for?