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Creativity coach, writing and creative process instructor, speaker, author of Around the Writer's Block: Using Brain Science to Write the Way You Want (Penguin/Tarcher 2012) and Dancing in the Dragon's Den (Red Wheel Weiser), Teaching Artist at the Loft Literary Center.

Want To Break Writer’s Block? Timing Is Everything

Are you editing too soon? Do you eliminate ideas before you even get them on the page? Do you think of a sentence, decide that’s stupid, try to think of another, which you think is just as stupid? Do you give up just when the editing should really start?

Editing and Drafting Don’t Mix

Many writers think that editing as they draft is efficient. A lot of writers, myself included, find it almost impossible to leave a mistake on the page and just keep going. You see the problem just behind or above your blinking cursor. It grabs your attention. It taunts you and you can’t think about what you were going to say next because you’re so distracted by what you just said and how wrong it is.

So you go back and fix it. And then you notice something else that could be tweaked and before you know it, you’re revising your first paragraph into perfection, but for the life of you, you can’t remember what you were going to say in the second paragraph, let alone in the rest of the document.

Trying to edit as you draft, or in some cases, before you draft, is a sure way to block your creative energy.

Not only does premature editing get in the way of getting the ideas and words on the screen or page, it exhausts your editor. If you edit as you go (slowing yourself way down in the process or stopping yourself altogether), then by the time you finish a draft, you’ll think you should be completely done with it. Far too many writers stop before the real work even begins.

First Improv, Then Improve

I always tell my students that good writing comes from rewriting. I realize that I should be saying good writing comes from rewriting AFTER drafting (not during drafting).

First you get something on the page. It can be crappy. It will be crappy. But the crap you have on the page will be transformed to good writing by the attention you give it after you finish the first draft.

After you draft the whole crappy, mistake-filled, awkward thing, you go back to the very beginning and start the real work. You tweak, rephrase, reorder and reorganize, delete, insert and replace words, sentences, images, metaphors.

Your editor eyes need to be fresh for this. They can’t be if you were editing prematurely.

So my new axiom is: Good writing comes from properly timed rewriting. How’s your timing?

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2 Comments on “Want To Break Writer’s Block? Timing Is Everything”

  1. Susan Sevilla March 9, 2012 at 4:39 pm #

    So true! Premature editing can be deceptive, distracting me from the firstt order of business: letting the story unfold, scene by scene.


    • rosannebane March 9, 2012 at 5:03 pm #

      Thanks Susan! But I think you’re alert to it and on track for letting the story unfold.


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