Friday, November 11

Kristen Lamb: Are you butchering your creativity?

Kristen's blog is on the (rather long) list of things that I love, and her last blog post is an excellent example of why.

Not too long ago one of my biggest problems (as a writer at least!) was that I killed my voice during the editing process. I pounced on any deviation from English Grammar -- for instance, a sentence fragment -- and either deleted it or re-worked it. But the result never had as much oomph as the original. My critique group helped set me straight, but if you don't have one, or if you just need a reminder, Kristen's post is a must read!

Kristen Lamb writes:
Premature editing is very dangerous for three reasons:

1. Premature Editing Uproots Subconscious Seeds—Our subconscious mind is an amazing machine. It sees the big picture in ways the conscious mind cannot. As we write, our subconscious mind is planting seeds that, when viewed in a microcosm of one or three chapters, will likely seem to make no sense. Duh. That is like an acorn trying to envision life as a 100 foot tall oak tree.

These seeds need time to gestate. When we edit prematurely, all we see is a hunk of something smooshy. We don’t realize that a possibly mind-blowing idea is trying to germinate and take root in the fertile soil of our story. By editing too early, we can possibly cripple our novel. By the end of the first draft, however, we will be able to look back and see sprouted weeds, which we can feel free to uproot. But the sprouts will be mature enough to distinguish from seedlings that need to be nurtured to their full potential.

This is especially true for those of you who did at least a basic plot of your main narrative points. When we do this, we have basically told our subconscious we need to make it from Point A to Point B (Inciting Incident to Turning Point Act One). Sometimes, our subconscious will want to show off and can dazzle us with how creatively it can make the trip.

So let it alone. Your subconscious could surprise you.

2. Premature Editing Makes Us Mistake Busy Work for Real Work—Premature editing indulges our fears. Many times we writers do not continue forward due to subconscious fear. Deep down we might know our original idea is flawed, or not strong enough, or convoluted, or unclear. We may know that we don’t have a solid outline or framework to support a 100K words. We may realize our characters have problems, but it is going to take work and honesty to fix them. Or all of that might be just fine, but we fear failure or even success. We fear writing the gritty stuff because it leaves us exposed and vulnerable, or we fear writing real conflict because our human nature is to avoid it.

Premature editing gives us a false belief that we are being productive, when in fact it is sabotaging our work and reinforcing our fears by permitting us to procrastinate. Fears can only be conquered by facing them, and premature editing keeps us “busy” and gives us justification to stay mired.

3. Premature Editing Can Discourage and Keep a Writer from Finishing
—This is another reason that traditional critique groups can be counter-productive. Again, other writers are seeing our work in a microcosm, and that limits how well they can critique. This is why I suggest using the techniques we discussed earlier. Just make notes.

Our fellow writers are invaluable, but we have to appreciate that they are seeing our work from a limited point of view. Their opinions may be dead-on (We HATE your protagonist and hope he dies), but they could be far off-base and serve only to uproot those subconscious seeds we discussed.

If we continue to go back changing things chapter by chapter, changing, changing, changing, either due to critique group feedback or our own self-edit, what happens is that we KILL our forward momentum with a big ol’ red-penning, back-spacing bone saw. Do that long enough, and it becomes hard not to be discouraged and ultimately give up. If you have been reworking the first act of your book for months, it can very easily end up in the drawer with all the other unfinished works.

When it comes to NaNoWriMo, the point is to write 50,000 words in thirty days. That’s it. You can’t do this if you over think your work. If you hit a wall, just keep writing. Sometimes our brains are like water pumps. We need to prime them and get through the goo before the creativity flows. Just write. You can fix it later. Or, you can start over.

Doesn’t matter.
This is an excerpt of Kristen's article, which I would encourage you to read in its entirety here.


  1. This is so true! Thanks for this many times a critical word at the inception has us floundering and losing our own voice...better to have the tree rooted before a wind comes...

  2. Exactly! We need to give ourselves permission to write whatever comes to us on the first draft, to turn off our internal editor. On the second and third and fourth and, etc., drafts we can edit, but on the first draft we need to give ourselves permission to let everything hang out.

    Thanks for the comment!

  3. Thanks Karen, I'm off to finish that article. Enjoy the day -Kelly

  4. Thanks Gene Pool Diva! I'm trying the whole "no premature editing" thing but it's harder than it seems.

  5. Thank you for your post. It helped me a lot. You are a real encouragement to all of us that are trying to succeed. It is so easy to get discouraged. Thanks again.
    Glenda Parker


Because of the number of bots leaving spam I had to prevent anonymous posting. My apologies. I do appreciate each and every comment.