Practice Perfect

It’s been a long time since I’ve written regularly.

Well, to clarify, I’ve been writing regularly for the last six months. Before that however, it had been close to ten years.

There are plenty of reasons for that, but my point today is just that I am very much Out Of Practice.

I just knocked out the first draft of a novel, and have started filling in the outline of the sequel while I let that cool off a bit before editing. However, over the last few months, I noticed a couple of things about my writing.

Next step: Not accidentally deleting everything.

First, it’s been very slow. If writing is a function of typing speed, I should be able to knock out five thousand words an hour. Most days I feel lucky to average five hundred. My first thought was that this is frustrating, that I’m letting the editor get in the way of my creativity. Instead, I’ve had to come to terms with the fact that this is the right pace for me, right now. Perhaps it’ll be faster later, perhaps not. I could write faster, but that wouldn’t be right – not for this story, or the style of fiction I’m aiming for.

The other thing I’ve noticed is how much it’s improved as I’ve gone on. The last chapters are still imperfect by any measure, and it will likely all need so much editing and rewriting that nothing from the first draft will survive unscathed. But page by page, I can see the structure, imagination, weight and emotion improve. Most days it’s still difficult to sit down to a blank page and breathe life into a new scene, but it’s getting easier to ignore whatever part of that is lack of confidence and just get started.

The notion of taking the time to try and write well, rather than just write anything, flies in the face of some popular writing advice, but I’m not talking about getting stuck editing our work or trying to make the first draft truly perfect. But it does feel quite close to old adage I picked up learning music in my youth, and which in turn appears to have originated from American football coach Vince Lombardi:

Practice does not make perfect. Only perfect practice makes perfect.

Vince Lombardi

So for me, these last few months, it’s been okay to work a little slower. Not only is it possible there’s a little less rewriting and editing required this time around, but hopefully the next novel is better still.

And I don’t think I’ll ever be hitting 5,000 words an hour. My fingers might want to go that fast, but my brain sure can’t.

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