Some people see writing as an outpouring of words. The Muse visits, and words appear on the page. Not for me. My writing is more of an extraction—and a painful one at that. More times than not, I feel like I’m pulling out every word by force.
The truth is, I’m a chronic self-editor—maybe because I was a professional editor for fifteen years and old habits die hard. Or maybe because I’m a tiny bit obsessive. So when my writer friends say things like, “I write two-thousand words a day,” or “I wrote my first draft in three months,” I’m like, “Never in a million years could I do that.”
And it’s all because I can’t stop self-editing. I know how much self-editing slows me down, so I’ve tried not to do it. I’ve tried writing a thousands words without worrying about how terrible they might be. I spent a week doing just that and, yeah, I got the words out, and, yeah, I increased my page count by fifty pages. But you know what? I ended up scrapping all of it. Not because it was terrible writing (well, maybe just a little), but because writing off the top of my head means my characters tend to go on long, wandering trips—and sometimes they don’t come back. For some reason, I don’t feel like I can move on without getting a scene just where I want it. It’s hard for me to start a scene if I don’t know where the one before it left off.
Like other writers I know, I’ve spent a fair amount of time beating myself up for my shortcomings. And even though I wish I was one of those writers who could dash off a novel in a few months, I’ve come to realize that self-editing as I write is part of my process. So I’ve come to terms with my affliction. Because even though self-editing makes me a slow writer, it also makes me a careful writer. (Notice how I said “careful” and not “obsessive.”) Maybe someday, I’ll find a cure.