Writing fast or writing well

When it aint right
When it ain’t right, it’s gotta go!

When you’re starting out on a new project it’s easy to get carried away. You throw yourself in and start scribbling or typing at manic pace without any real thought about what it is you’re writing.

There are two schools of thought on how to write a first draft. One says you should get your first draft down as fast as you can. The other says that you should edit each chapter as you go along until it’s perfect. Personally I’m in the first camp. You can’t really edit properly unless you have the overall sense of the book. That said, I’ve come unstuck previously by writing so fast that what I’m writing isn’t all that good.

For instance I’m now editing my second book and while it’s mostly ok, there are bits that need a lot of red pen. This book was written in scene by scene chunks in short sessions usually on a train. Not conducive to putting out your best work but there you have it. Sometimes you have to make the best of the time you have. And this is where writing quickly came in. I’d have roughly an hour to put together a scene, albeit one that I’d half written in my head on the bus to the train station. This is the roughest of all drafts and done by hand. This meant it got some editing when I typed it up but mostly it went forward in the manuscript as it was. A friend even commented on the fact that there were barely any crossings out but that was due to my planning before I started to write.

There is some argument for reviewing and rewriting each chapter as you go along, but I would contest that this may be a mistake. One of the things I’ve spent most time on during the first editing stage of book Two is rearranging scenes and bringing in new ones. This was due to a slight plot change brought to light once I had the overall book to play with. Now I’ve started the second round of editing that will mean pulling individual scenes apart. If I’d done that sooner, as in while I was writing the first draft, I might have ended up having to ditch scenes that I’d spent a lot of writing and rewriting as I went along.

Maybe writers who have more time for writing will say that it’s better to get each scene right first time and have less editing to do later, and maybe they’re right. But for me with my writing time limited to about an hour a day during the working week, I think I’ll stick to scribbling quickly. Of course, when I write Book Three I’ll actually have an overall plan of what happens written on paper (although not set in stone) and maybe that will mean a better first draft than I’ve had previously regardless of how fast I write.

What is your method of getting your first draft onto the page? Speedy fast or slow and steady? Share your thoughts below.

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