Most myths have some foundation in truth, and this one is no exception. The thinking goes like this: However long it takes to write a book, knock it out and start the next one. Time spent iterating on second and third drafts is a waste. You could spend forever improving your book (or any art) but the reality is that you need to release it at some point and call it finished.
And the last statement is true. But that doesn’t excuse releasing a product as fast as humanly possible. Here’s why:
Your initial draft can’t be your last
Some authors edit as they go, or edit the previous day’s work before writing the new stuff. I don’t personally subscribe to this method, but it’s great if it works. No system can ever replace professional editing, but this one may serve to clean up early copy.
The problem is, when the story is completely written out, it needs another full pass from beginning to end. Without it, the story is just not going to be as tight as it could be. You come up with a better idea for resolving a chapter 1 conflict when you’re on chapter 8. You may see an unplanned theme emerge and want to reinforce it throughout the narrative better. You may realize a character is more important than initially planned and wish to flesh them out more fully.
All of these things require that mile-high view, that knowledge of the complete story, more tangible than an outline, actually executed to a written page. After all, you’re not revising the idea, you’re revising the actual written story, and that doesn’t exist until it does.
Diminishing returns doesn’t apply to initial revisions
One common excuse to avoid iteration is that an author can spend untold time changing the tiniest things. Eventually, you’ll find yourself spinning your wheels instead of making significant improvements to the story. This is probably true for every single creative project ever, book or otherwise, although the ‘when’ and ‘why’ is likely across the map.
Here’s the thing: Diminishing returns doesn’t apply to initial revisions, it applies to later ones. The idea is that your second draft may effect a 50% improvement, your third a 25% one, fourth 10%, and so on. In a nutshell, your returns get smaller the more you dip into the same well. Clearly, this is not valid justification for skipping those early gains in quality.
“Nothing is perfect, so why seek it?” sounds like a good mantra, but invariably, this logic really boils down to: “You can always make your book better, so why bother?”
Speed doesn’t rule
I don’t care if you can write 12 good book in a year, I will bet you paper money that your books would be a lot better if you notched that down to 6. Yes, everybody works at different speeds. Maybe you can write better and faster than other authors. But this isn’t a contest against others – this is a contest against yourself.
You should, as a writer, try to put forward your best work. Maybe you can complete a damned good book in a month, but I won’t believe for a second that an extra 30 days wouldn’t give you more time to iron out plot complexities, pacing, and theming.
Believe me, you may have valid motivations for writing quickly: building a backlist, striking while the iron is hot, life throwing wrinkles into your schedule. That’s fine. This isn’t about shame or blame – BUT – if you’re honest with yourself, if you really open your eyes to the potential of your craft, it’s hard to argue that slowing down won’t result in a better product.
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