Writing Requires Ruthlessness

I have been batting around the idea for this blog post for the past few days as I hunker down and indulge myself in the writing of a first draft. It occurred to me that it is not enough to simply sit down and write. Time must be made for this work, time actually must be carved out from the rest of my life in order to get the first words of a novel on the page. And that act of carving, like any surgery, requires ruthlessness.

I never think of ruthlessness in relation to a first draft. I know that I have to be ruthless as I edit, and when I face a second or third draft and need to look at the words in front of me with some level of objectivity to determine what lines to delete, and what lines to keep. I’ve heard this called “killing your darlings” and that fits the bill: a time when I have to delete not just the things that are bad, which also happens, but the scenes that are good, simply because they do not further the plot or fit the character arc that I am trying to build. So a certain mental toughness is required during edits. But the same toughness has to be applied to a first draft, in a different way.

As I have mentioned, writing a first draft means stepping into the Cave. That requires that I block out time and energy for my work that I usually allot to other things. Like sleep. Or time spent with friends and family. Dinners out. Watching TV. Reading a novel from the towering TBR pile in the corner. Tempting as it is to indulge in one or all of these things before the daily word allotment has been reached, the work requires that I do not. In order for a first draft to be completed, I have to allow myself  the time and space to get the words down on paper. That means that I must give myself permission to push other things aside, and stay in the chair.

When the rest of the world is calling me, I still have to stay in the chair. And that requires ruthlessness. The same discipline that I later apply to making my work better must first be applied to the alchemy of creation. I sit in the chair, and turn the lead of a blank page into gold. We all do this, every time we write. So give yourself permission to stay in the chair. Be ruthless. Your characters will thank you.

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