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By Johannes Helmold

Woman shrugging
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One of my friends is about to start writing his first novel. He has already been through the period of doubts (like, “I am not a writer, I am an office worker—can I still write something worthwhile?”) and now is ready to start his story. So, several days ago, he asked me:

– “Oh, by the way, there is something I am not sure about. The story: should I try writing it genuinely from the very beginning?”
– “What do you mean?” I asked.
– “Like, I am not sure I can write everything perfectly, or even well. Most likely, my writing will be crude. Besides, there will most likely be some discrepancies and silly things in my writing. So I wonder: should I try to make my story as good as possible from the start, or should I focus more on describing the storyline, and leave the rest—meaning style, logic, and so on—for editing?”
– “Well,” I said… and stopped talking. Because he asked a tricky question, that’s why.

Come to think of it, my first novel was written awfully. At first, I tried to write as well as I could, but after the third or the fourth chapter, I decided to focus on the storyline and on finishing the first draft. As a result, I spent a huge amount of time editing and rewriting my story, because:

– Since I rushed to complete the main storyline, the novel was full of inconsistencies, controversies, and omissions. Which, of course, I needed to fix in the first place.
– Due to the same reason, the text itself looked horrible. The dialog made me want to cover my face with both hands and cry; the motives of some characters were unrealistic and forced out. This is not to mention the narration: it was over-explanatory, with long paragraphs of plain descriptions and ruminations. I had to rewrite almost every single sentence in my novel.

I started to hate my novel long before I finished editing it.

I wrote my next novel considering the mistakes I had made. I did not start writing it relying solely on a general idea in my head; instead, I predicted all the major events that would affect the plot, the smaller events that would determine these major milestones, and then even smaller events that also… well, you got it. I created an approximate plan for each chapter, and made sure there were no logical flaws in the story. Only then did I start writing my first draft.

It was not that good. But, compared to the first novel, it was almost flawless. I had much less work left for editing. Certainly, there were a lot of mistakes, discrepancies, and so on, as well as the style was crude. However, editing was still a much easier and more pleasant thing to do. I almost enjoyed it.

So, I guess the formula is simple: the more you plan the details, the less will be left for editing, and on the contrary.

There are cases when your storyline changes all of a sudden: when you planned to write a story one way, but then came across a brilliant idea that changed the whole concept of your novel. In this case, pause and re-plan your story again carefully, step by step. Check out what is already written and make sure it connects with the new concept. And only after you do this, you should continue writing.

Redoing your own work can be much harder than doing it. So, put the most effort into writing!

Good luck.

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