This will save you hours and hours

There is something I have only recently worked out.

I found it on this webpage, and it is nice to hear someone else talking about it, because it has happened to me too.

This piece of advice is actually quite hard to follow.

But, if someone had told me this when I was starting to write books, it would have saved me hours and hours of time.

Screen Shot 2016-07-20 at 10.50.51 am


And now that I am doing my writing this way, I find the whole process is more streamlined.

It’s not easier.

But it does seem to be more efficient.

This is the advice I found:

Get through a draft as quickly as possible. Hard to know the shape of the thing until you have a draft. Literally, when I wrote the last page of my first draft of Lincoln’s Melancholy I thought, Oh, shit, now I get the shape of this. But I had wasted years, literally years, writing and re-writing the first third to first half. The old writer’s rule applies: Have the courage to write badly.

This is from a creative writing teacher called

Screen Shot 2016-07-20 at 10.08.32 am

(That’s how he does his name on his website. Rather pretty, isn’t it?)

Like Joshua, I have wasted a lot of time polishing passages, and whole chapters, which I later threw away.

And that is … ummmm …



Look, all right, sometimes I’m a bit slow on the uptake.


It took a lo-o-ong time for me to realise what was happening. But after a while, even I couldn’t ignore all the piles of wasted paper.

discarded paper paris secret

And when it finally dawned on me how much wasted time that represented, I had a bit of a rethink. So recently I tried something new.

I started trying to write the first draft in one go, leaving the writing looking pretty terrible (in my first drafts the writing is always woeful) and just moving along.

Just to repeat — this is hard to do. It’s tempting to go back and improve things. It’s embarrassing to think of those awful, clunky sentences, just hiding away there.

pug hiding behind curtain Maegan Tintari Flckr

But remember …

No one needs to see them. You can improve your work many times before you have to show it to anyone.

First, get the story down. Leave the ugly stuff the way it is. Try to write the whole thing in one go, before you edit anything.

It’s fantastic advice.

Really. Give it a try.

Strap in, go with it, see where it takes you.


There are a couple more things I should say about this.


I don’t mean do it in one day.

Obviously. Especially if it’s a novel (!) But, at each new session, avoid the temptation to go back and polish yesterday’s work. Keep writing. Keep the first draft moving on, day after day after day, until you get to the end.


this isn’t the same as writing a plan.

Write a plan first. Of course. But then, write the whole thing out in prose. Write the actual paragraphs and dialogue and describe the scenery. Write the chapters, putting in all the detail.

Because the whole book often changes, when you are writing the first draft.

The structure of the story often changes.  The events you choose to describe might change. The point of view might change. Whole plot lines might just disappear. Characters and settings might change or disappear, too.

So if you have spent hours polishing your writing, you are quite likely to have been working on something that gets thrown away.

And that is …

well, it’s very sad.

free image pixabay sad long hair

Thanks to these people for the images.

“Bette Davis” publicity still for Of Human Bondage

“Pug hiding behind curtain” by Maegan Tintari on Flickr

“NADAR nad Parizi” 1853 by Honore Daumier via Wikimedia


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