mabfan (Michael A. Burstein) (mabfan) wrote,
mabfan (Michael A. Burstein)

Robert's Rules of Writing #26: Don't Look Back

[Rule quoted from Robert's Rules of Writing: 101 Unconventional Lessons Every Writer Needs to Know by Robert Masello (Writer's Digest Books, 2005). See my original post for the rules of this discussion.]

Welcome back to my ongoing discussion of Robert's Rules of Writing! Today is a propitious day for me to continue these mini-commentaries, as tonight I start teaching my workshop with Grub Street. So let's get right to it.

"Don't Look Back." With this rule, Masello addresses the perfectionists who refuse to move forward with their first drafts until every little thing is correct. His advice: don't worry about it. The important thing to do when writing a first draft is to keep in mind that a first draft is not a final draft. It's much more important to get through the manuscript the first time than to keep going back and fixing it. Otherwise you might never get through the whole thing in the first place.

This is not the first time Masello has given such advice. In his previous book Writer Tells All, he relates the story of his grandmother's old Cadillac. It was beaten up and full of dings. but it could still get you from one place to another. And that's what he feels a first draft is like. It may be beaten up and amorphous, but at least it gets you from the beginning to the end. Once it's complete, then you can start to worry about fixing it up.

How do I feel about this? Well, not to trot out Polonius's proverb yet again ("To thine own self be true"), but it depends on what kind of writer you are. We've discussed this issue earlier. Some writers advise you not to think of a first draft as just a first draft, or else you'll be sloppy in your approach to it. Other writers say that a first draft mindset allows you to be freer when writing and reduces the anxiety of getting every little bit right.

I have to say that I fall mostly in the second camp, and I know this not just from writing. If you've been reading my blog regularly, you know that Nomi and I have been taking comic book art lessons. On the first day of our lessons, I was anxious and nervous about putting my pencil down on the paper. I "knew" that I had no artistic skills whatsoever, and I was afraid of even drawing that first line on my paper. But our teacher eased me into it, noting that all we were going to do was draw a whole bunch of ovals. Since then, I've managed to draw recognizable faces, and I no longer worry so much that the first line I draw will ruin everything.

As they say in Hollywood, we can always fix it in post.
Tags: personal, roberts-rules, writing-advice

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