This is an entry for the Insecure Writers’ Support Group, a way for writers to discuss their writing anxieties. It cross-posts on each others’ blogs on the first Wednesday of each month.
A popular piece of writing advice is that ‘a writer should no more return to their writing than a dog should return to their vomit’.* While I agree with the intent behind this – that a writer should keep moving forward rather than correcting what they’ve already written – I think that it’s a simplistic philosophy.
Firstly, the bit I agree with. I’m an obsessive perfectionist when it comes to writing. I can get wrapped up in a single, relatively unimportant part of what I’ve written, wondering if I did enough to paint a picture of the scene; narrator’s ignorance is too subtle for a joke to work, and if it’d be believable if it were less subtle. I think that often it is better to leave this kind of uncertainty behind, carry on writing, and come back with fresh eyes.
Having definite, short-term deadlines can be good for a writer. That was why I first started up this blog, to give me short-term and medium-term motivation to write quickly and consistently. Especially when I write about topical things, either something gets published quickly or its no longer relevant. Over the past nine days I’ve written three separate blogposts about the new Star Trek series, totalling over six thousand words. I’ve got the bones of another blogpost ready to go up, which will probably total between one and two thousand words. To be able to write at that speed I find that I need to take an attitude of ‘this is imperfect, but just keep going’. It helps if a writer is really excited about what they’re writing, which has been the case with Star Trek: Discovery.
Correcting errors is important, of course. I can remember reading a novel where a key female character’s name changed from Gill to Jill, and it’s the kind of error that can pull a reader out of the story, make them wonder if the change is deliberate or an error, if they are two separate characters. Errors should be fixed before publishing, and the writer is the best-placed person to understand what they originally intended. The trick will be to find a balance, between keeping up forward momentum while having enough care to properly.craft the message.
Like all things, it’s a matter of balance.
* When I checked for evidence of this saying, it seems that it’s not nearly as common as I thought it was. It seems to be a variant on the line “As a dog returns to his vomit, so a fool repeats his folly” is used in the Biblical Book of Proverbs and Rudyard Kipling’s God of the Copybook Heading. However, by the point I did the basic fact-checking I should have started with, the blogpost was more or less complete, so I’m just going to roll with it. I’m pretty confident that I first heard this variation used by Terry Deary, author of the Horrible Histories books, so maybe it should be considered an original Deary quote.