Writing a story is like taking a thousand pictures then choosing the best to display. You have to know what to focus on, what to highlight, and what order to place the pictures in to create the strongest emotional response. You also need to be willing to throw some pictures away.
Sometimes when we sit down to write, we feel like we have to get it perfect the first time. We think we must know exactly what we’re doing and how we’re going to get where we want the story to go. But that’s not how stories happen in fiction or in real life. It’s more like throwing the words on the page. There will be plenty of time to put them in the right order later.
Recently my daughter asked for my help on some essays she was working on. She felt frozen, staring at her laptop, wanting to finish before she’d actually started. I told her to just start writing. “But Mom, I don’t have time to write about something that might not end up in the essay. I just don’t have time!”
While this may feel true, this is not how writing works. Sure, an outline and purposeful direction can help save time. But ultimately, you just need to write. Get the words on the page. Then edit in transitions, meaningful metaphors, and relevant plot details (or supporting facts, in the case of essays). And be willing to throw out your darlings. No, I don’t mean your sweet children, but your favorite turns of phrase or scenes that you’ve discovered don’t actually fit in that story. I save mine in a file linked to my current work-in-progress, just in case I discover I need them again.
The thing is, writing and editing activate different parts of your brain. Writing is creative. Editing is more analytical, though admittedly with a creative twist. Make use of this fact. Avoid constantly switching back and forth between writing and editing. You actually end up saving time if you can get into that writing zone without worrying about perfection. This can help you avoid the dreaded writer’s block, or fear of the blank page. Just write. You’ll be glad you did. Then polish it up later. That’s when the real fun begins!