The train that carries your ideas from the realm of thought into physical words is easily derailed. Everything easily distracts you, even in the middle of writing a good paragraph. Unfortunately, you can act as your own distractions without realizing it.
Whether we try to or not, writers get pretty good at editing and proofreading over time. Maybe too good. So good we find ourselves hitting backspace and rewriting less-than-flawless sentences, in the middle of those otherwise great paragraphs, because we’re so set on tweaking them until they sparkle.
This is a devastating distraction that can take away from your writing-related productivity. Once you’re aware you’re succumbing to it—do you know how to overcome it?
Here’s how to hold off the urge to revise every paragraph you write, long enough to allow yourself to make more progress on your current project.
Turn off Spelling and Grammar Check
Working on papers, presentations and resumes, those red and green lines are life-savers, and effective for quick fixes so you don’t forget to go back and mend a huge error in your work. Working on your own writing, those same indicators are not only distracting, but can tempt you even further to stop what you’re doing to “fix” what you’ve just written.
When you’re writing something no one else will see (yet), turn off Word’s spelling and grammar check function. You’re much less likely to stop in the middle of what you’re doing to fix the errors it points out to you. Don’t forget to turn it back on when you’re ready to revise!
Don’t Scroll Up
Or flip the page back, if you’re still cool enough to write in a notebook (we might be jealous). When you really get into writing a scene, it’s actually easy to lose your bearings. Sometimes you have to scroll up and reread what you’ve just done, to better figure out where you need to go next.
Try your best not to go back and reread, at least in excess. If you’re sprinting, don’t worry about getting a character’s name wrong or forgetting a small side plot detail. Editing those things comes later, and the more you avoid focusing on those small mistakes now, the closer you’ll get to the editing stage of your project.
No matter where you stand in your writing career, you are going to make mistakes. Big ones; small ones; ones you won’t notice until someone else points them out to you for the first time. Worrying about every little thing, and wanting your first draft to be as close to perfect as possible, only takes away from the work you’re doing in this moment.
Focus on your story—your characters, dialogue, getting through your current scene without going fictionally insane—anything but what you need to go back and do later. It’s okay to make notes to yourself, or highlight certain passages so you remember you want to return to them later. But that’s the key word here: later. For now, take your work a page at a time.
We all have an “inner editor” trying to take control of that idea-stocked train before it produces much of anything worth incorporating into a final draft. It’s normal. When it comes time to edit, that part of our brains becomes our most treasured companion. Until then, we have to do all we can to keep our minds on the task at hand, and leave those much-needed revisions for another day.
Image courtesy of Novelty Revisions.