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Navigating the White Space Below

August 16, 2010

Write anything.

Write anything.

Just. Write. Anything.

Just sit your butt in the chair and write. Continue on from where you left off yesterday. It doesn’t have to be perfect; this is your first draft, remember? There will be plenty of time for revising later. The first draft is for spilling the story; dumping out your puzzle pieces. Just get it on paper. Just get the frigg’n story on paper!

Have you ever had this experience? I must confess the above is the story of my drafting life; partly because I’m not a plotter and I rarely know what’s going to happen next. But mostly I find myself here because I suffer from revisionitis.

Revisionitis is a potentially debilitating condition; one that makes the sufferer stare blankly at the blinking, indented cursor for hours at a time while internally battling the overwhelming desire to go back (“Just a few pages this time, I promise”) and revise what’s already been written rather than forging ahead. Chances of finishing a first draft in under a year are very slim and sufferers may be prone to bouts of anxiety and mania as a consequence.

Revisionitis is not a respecter of deadlines and is often a result of blankophobia: the fear of white spaces.

With all the helpful writing blogs and books and magazines and websites and workshops and tweet chats and conferences out there, you’d think someone would have come up with a cure for revisionitis by now: like a simple pill or elixir that could numb the revision craving and enable sufferers like me to complete a first draft in a continual forward motion, preferably in under eight months, if that’s not asking too much.

You know how people often wish they could do or be something they can’t or aren’t? Like some people who have curly hair want straight hair and some people with straight hair would kill for curls? Well, that’s me. I wish, oh how I wish, I had curly hair and could plot out an entire novel on chart paper and post-it notes and then lay down that first draft within a few months without so much as a backward glance. I admire (and admit to being jealous of) authors who work this way and consequently pump out manuscript after manuscript, writing two, sometimes three, in the time it takes me to write just one. If I could only overcome that encumbering writing disorder of mine and be like them, I bet that I, too, could be really productive. Heck, I could probably be prolific.

But do you know what I’ve discovered? I’m not them. A shocking revelation, I know. But do you know how I discovered that I’m not them? By trying to be them. I’ve tried plotting and outlining and writing a first draft non-stop. I’ve tried using chart paper and index cards and post-it notes. I’ve even tried writing a first draft out by hand with notebook and ink because I just so happen to think that is the coolest way ever to write a book. But it just doesn’t work for me. None of those methods fit into my natural writing bent. I actually accomplish less because when I try to write like that I usually end up hating everything I’ve written and the whole lot just gets scrapped.

Do you want to know what else I’ve discovered besides the fact that I’m not them?

Revisionitis isn’t an encumbering writing disorder that I need to be cured of. It’s simply part of my process. And on my journey of becoming a writer, I’ve gradually come to believe that process trumps product.

Certainly it’s every writer’s goal to move beyond the first draft and eventually have a finished product. Hopefully many finished products. But if I see the purpose of drafting as simply a means to end up with a product then I can easily become frustrated with the process it takes to get there, and so I may start believing that my process is wrong. If I value my process more highly than the concept of an eventual product, on the other hand, then I am positioning myself to grow as a writer because it’s in my process that I discover my true writer self. It’s in my process that I find my voice, fall in love with my characters, and discover what it’s like to live in the world I’ve created. It’s in my process that I hone my craft, refine my skill. And it is only by embracing my process that I am able to complete my product the way it needs to be completed. In other words, if my main focus is on the product rather than my process then I will not only be selling myself short, but also my readers. And this is why: I will not have written the story I should have written.

Though I still wish I had curly hair and could lay down a first draft in one sweeping motion without worrying about revisions, I now know that if I force myself into that method I’m not being true to my writer self. And if my writer self needs to go back and revise before moving on, then that’s what I need to do. I’m learning to be okay with that. I’m learning to accept and love my process. And I’m learning to respect all the emotions, creative energy, and time it takes for me to tell my story, for it’s up to me to figure out how to tell it the way it needs to be told. Only I can write my story. Only you can write yours.

How do you navigate the white spaces below?

Claudia is an only child who spent most of her youth with Dr. Seuss. If she isn’t writing then she’s most likely wandering around the neighborhood trying to empty her mind – for it’s in the non-thinking moments plot holes are often miraculously filled.

And besides, wandering is most definitely a better option than staring blankly at a blinking cursor.

Claudia wrote her children’s fantasy, SMUDGE’S MARK, in a closet; both literally and figuratively.

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7 Comments
  1. August 16, 2010 6:03 am

    Splendid! This is me exactly! And here I thought I was just “special”. Wonderful to read this. Thanks Claudia!

  2. August 16, 2010 7:03 am

    You are both special!

  3. August 17, 2010 5:59 am

    I want a little of this Revisionitis thing. I’m the complete opposite (please don’t hate me) – I find it very easy to sit and write without going back and reading/editing what I’ve written before. Sounds great doesn’t it? BUT, I then find it VERY hard to go back and edit what I’ve written once I’ve finished. Hence I’ve had a first draft of a novel sat on my computer for nearly 10 months without one line deleted/edited.

    Oh, and I want straight hair!

  4. August 17, 2010 11:38 pm

    Thanks Claudia that article felt you were talking directly to me. Revisionitis grips me so much that my fear is that all my work has all these tremendously polished beginnings and middles and lacklustre endings. I have no trouble with the ideas; its that forward momentum of the first draft that eludes me. I’ve signed up to do NaNoWriMo this year in the hope that this will train/condition me to just get my head down and forge on. I hope this is a good idea for it also gives me the fear … big time.

    And for the record your hair is lovely exactly as it is.

  5. August 19, 2010 3:31 pm

    Love the post as well as your super-cute bio. Oh, how I, too, tend to fill those plot holes during non-thinking moments. Well said! 🙂

  6. August 19, 2010 3:59 pm

    Great article. Thanks for sharing. Kinda like seeing myself in a mirror. Personally, I can hardly wait to utter these words “my first draft is done” about my novel. Stay tuned…

  7. August 23, 2010 11:43 am

    Carrie – You *are* special! :0) Methods may be similar, but only you can write what you do. Yay you!

    Jodi – Aw, thanks! You’re one-in-a-million yourself!

    newtowritinggirl – I hear you! I’ve had *unfinished* drafts sitting around for months and months at a time! Isn’t it funny how we always think “If only… I wish that…” and then we hear it’s not always roses on the other side, either. During those “drafts sitting around” times, sometimes I find it helps to start something totally new and fresh to shake myself out of the blah feeling. But all in all, I think it’s best to learn to love our process and find ways to grow in it, rather than spend time wishing we had a different process. (But having curly hair would definitely make my life better, I just know it! :0))

    Jason – I know exactly what you mean. There are some benefits to revisionitis, however, I often find I get so involved in a scene that when I go to the end of the document in hopes of moving on, I’ve lost the flow, the momentum, of where I should be going. And I easily lose sight of the big picture – the overall arc – which is a pain when it comes to wrapping it up. I’ve heard NaNoWriMo serves writers very well, especially ones in our shoes. I’m personally terrified of committing. Ha! Maybe one year. You’re a brave soul. I’d be interested to hear from you during the NaNoWriMo month, to see how it’s going for you. P.S. Thanks for the hair compliment :0) You’re sweet.

    Michelle – Yes! Hooray for non-thinking moments! I do believe I may never finish anything without them. If only this concept applied across the board, real life issues could also be solved while in neutral. Hmm…

    Cheryl – It will be a sweet moment for you, I guarantee it! And then you must celebrate! Keep us posted!

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