Today we welcome back Michael Stewart to our blog: over the past several weeks he has been examining the various causes of “writer’s block”, and has been suggesting ways to tackle these. In the concluding instalment of this series, Michael discusses the hurdle of reading and editing a first draft, and its relationship with writer’s block.
This week we conclude a short series of articles in which we have explored some of the root causes of “writer’s block” and considered the tactics we might adopt to tackle the problem. Our final instalment looks at the dreaded process of reading and editing a first draft.
Few experiences in life are more sobering than rereading and editing a first draft of your own work. What appeared at first sight to be an engaging and entertaining romp through some enlightening prose now comes over as a leaden, heavy-footed polemic – a turgid trail through heaps of literary sludge. Faced with the prospect of seemingly endless rewrites, many writers consider this stage to be the ultimate example of writer’s block.
If rereading your first draft is a form of diagnostic assessment, then the process of rewriting is the remedial action that is required to address the malaises and maladies that the process has identified; and it could be a long course of treatment.
Your aim in the first instance is to approach this task objectively. If you can, give yourself some time to distance yourself from your first draft. Your role in the writing process has changed; not only are you the author and editor, but now you are also required to adopt the viewpoint of a member of your potential audience – the reader.
Again, you should invite others to share the experience of engaging with your work; this time as readers and critics.
Ask a few friends to review your work. Get them to record their overall reaction first. Then, ask them to note down any areas in which they felt the plot or characters were weak, as well as any particularly strong areas. You may consider devising a review checklist for them to complete and return to you.
You may wish to widen your circle of critics by posting particularly troublesome extracts from your work, as identified by your original “friends and family” contributors, online. By releasing specific extracts, you are targeting potentially weak areas in your work and this may save you the arduous task of a complete rewrite.
Although there are no shortcuts to be had during the revision process, if you approach the task methodically, it should be a fulfilling and ultimately satisfying experience.
Conclusion: passive paralysis versus proactive analysis
“Writing about a writer’s block is better than not writing at all”.
If you accept that some form of writer’s block will afflict almost everyone who writes at some point in their career, then you are already part of the way towards dealing with the problem.
If you also accept that in dealing with writer’s block you have to be proactive and not passively reactive, then you have made considerable progress.
If you can manage to reach for your pen, pencil or keyboard when you experience writer’s block and simply begin to write – a few words, a phrase, a sentence, anything – then you are truly on the path to becoming a better writer.
We hope you’ve enjoyed this post on reading and editing a first draft, and indeed, this series on writer’s block as a whole. If you’ve only joined us now, and feel you’ve missed out: never fear! Head to our post The Nature of Writer’s Block to start the series from the beginning. Have you learned something you didn’t know about writer’s block? Please let us know in the comments below!
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