Do You Get Stuck in Rewrite Mode?

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles
In our writing group, one of our members confessed she couldn't seem to move forward from rewriting the beginning of her manuscript. She was in rewrite mode all of the time. "How do you do finish writing a book?" was her question to the group as a whole.

Our group loves to help others improve their writing and achieve their writing goals. As the feedback started, answers poured in.

A few of the suggestions included:

  • Set a timer and only write during that time
  • Don't go back and revise the same pages after every critique group
  • Write the whole manuscript first before trying to edit it
  • Use what you've learned in the critique group to write the next pages instead of focusing on rewriting those pages again (you can do that after the first draft is done)
  • Look over the last two pages you wrote, make small changes or notes about potential edits, and then start writing from that point
  • Set aside a specific time for writing and a specific time for editing

So, how do you finish a manuscript?

There are several options listed above. The main thing is to not get stuck puttering around the same pages of your manuscript, especially the beginning, when the whole thing isn't written yet.

One of the books I'm currently reading, Story Trumps Structure by Steven James, suggests that spending an inordinate amount of time on the first pages of your manuscript before you've written the ending is a waste of time. He shares the following quote* from Blaise Pascal:  "The last thing one settles in writing a book is what one should put in first."

James points out that until you know the ending, the beginning doesn't matter. Even though we believe we know the ending, it doesn't always go the way we expect it, so it's a waste of time focusing on the beginning early on. The beginning needs to establish the protagonist's goal for the end of the book. In most cases, you will probably write the end before you know what that final outcome will be.

There's something for you to chew on for the day: don't sweat over the beginning until you've written the whole thing.

Meanwhile, what do you do to keep yourself from getting stuck in rewrite mode?

*Quote from p. 41 of Story Trumps Structure.


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