I’ve been trying a new writing method lately, and it goes against one of the main tenets of writing gospel.
You know what I’m talking about – the writing gospel, the two, three, five, or ten basic principles that the productive, the famous, the brilliant writers of the world preach to amateur writers who are still trying to make their way and find their voice.
There are a few, but the one I’m talking about right now is this one:
‘Don’t re-read what you’ve written. Keep going, going, and going until you finish your first draft. If you go back and start playing with what you wrote before, you’re doomed.’
Now I won’t say there isn’t some merit to that statement – but I think it’s more aimed at beginning or exceedingly unproductive writers who haven’t found what works for them yet and really need to finish two or three projects before figuring out their writing style.
For my most recent project I’ve been starting the day by reading the previous couple of chapters (and even allowing myself to make a few minor tweaks along the way) before starting to write. And I was actually inspired to take this leap by Ernest Hemingway.
In a 1935 article in Esquire, Hemingway wrote:
“The best way is to read it all every day from the start, correcting as you go along, then go on from where you stopped the day before. When it gets so long that you can’t do this every day read back two or three chapters each day; then each weak read it all from the start. That’s how you make it all of one piece.”
And you know what?
So far, it’s really working.
When I go back and read what I’ve written, I’m astounded. It all sounds like it’s coming from one person – me. It reads like one book, and I’ve actually found a unique voice and perspective that I’m using for this particular story. There is a tone there that works for me, and I’m excited about it.
Now, when I sit down to write, I’m excited to read what I’ve written over the previous couple of days, and excited to continue on with that thread. Many of my projects before have come out stilted, the writing often influenced by whatever book I’ve just read or the music I’m listening to. It sometimes seemed like four or five different people were chiming in to the same story. But now, no matter what, by reading what I’ve written before, I can pick up on the theme and tone of the story and continue it smoothly.
I even completely rewrote the first chapter twice when I started out. It took me those few tries before I found the voice, pace, and tone that I wanted for the story. Only after I’d finished that part did I continue on.
Am I going a little slower than I otherwise would be? Yes, but not by much.
I’ve been finding that I’m more excited to sit down and write, which leads to longer sessions and less procrastination (much, much less procrastination, because instead of the daunting task of putting words on the page to start, I have the much easier prospect of simply reading what I wrote the day before to ease myself into it).
Clearly this idea isn’t right for everyone, and I think that’s the whole point of this post. All of the big rules of writing – write every day, write the entire manuscript before re-reading it, etc. – they’re really more of guidelines (Pirates of the Caribbean anyone?).
Break the rules, see what works for you and what doesn’t, play around, try new things. Do yourself the favor of understanding that what works for someone else might not work for you. Decide how you want to write, rather than how someone else tells you to write.
What about you? What rules of writing do you like to break? Do you think there are any rules that are unbreakable? What’s the weirdest writing habit you have?