Writing & Procrastinating at the Same Time

I have a friend who is also an aspiring author. Let’s call her Kelli. Kelli said to me that she was busy working on her writing and I asked how far she’d gotten. Kelli said she hadn’t started the novel itself because she had been busy working it out first, summarizing what she wanted the novel(s) to be.

She’d been doing this for some time, it seemed to me. I asked her if she was planning some unusually byzantine piece. It turned out she was creating a long and somewhat complicated story, but what was really going on was that she’d write a summary, look it over and either find problems with it or decide it just wasn’t good enough. Those things decided, Kelli would start her summary over.

At first glance it seems like Kelli’s being productive. She’s not. She’s procrastinating.

Summarizing is not writing. Summarizing–for some authors–is a necessary step before diving into the novel headlong, a sort of putting your toe in to test the water. While full summaries are not for me, I totally accept it could well be for others, Kelli included.

That said, repeated summaries, edited summaries, rejected summaries are like putting your toe in the water, and deciding to wait a few minutes because it may be warmer later. You wait, then put your toe in again. Still not quite warm enough. You wait and put your toe in again. Nope, still not warm enough. This is the surest way to guarantee you never have that swim.

Summaries, even the most perfect, will change when the writing starts. While some writers create a plot and stick to it and there is no variation (their novel is basically a fleshing out of their summary), for most authors plot holes will be found, character development will change your view of events, subplots will morph to serve your story in ways that hadn’t occurred to you before your novel started its slow crawl toward completion. The perfect summary, no matter how long you work on it, will not be exactly your novel and the more time you spend summarizing, the less time you spend really writing.

A novel is a cold pool. You can wait for it to warm up, but it will only get so warm. Sooner or later you must dive into it, temperature mostly unknown, complete lack of knowledge about possible sharks, electric eels or rips in the time-space continuum lurking in the depths. You must swim, and you must relish the adventure that swim represents.

Remember that editing is where your book really starts to work. You can’t fix the book before you write it. Summarize if it’s your thing, but once the summary is done, the very first summary, write.

Write. Write. Write. Write!

When you’re done with that, write some more.

Then edit.

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