Writer’s Block and Edititis

Writer’s Block and Edititis

Some writers get the dreaded writer’s block. They can’t write a word. I’ve never had that horrible problem – but, for many years, I’ve had a similar condition. If I had to give it a name, I’d call it “edititis” because I have a debilitating desire to rewrite every sentence until I lose all enthusiasm for what I’m writing about.

I start writing something with a huge burst of excitement – convinced my new idea will make a good short story or novel – but eventually, often after a few days, I lose confidence in what I’m writing. I go back to edit it. Yuk! I hate every word. The beginning needs work. I start making changes. Ah – that’s better. Now the beginning is improved. Temporarily happy, I move on to improve the piece in other places. I add and delete paragraphs. I edit and edit and edit … and never finish the first draft.

After a week or month, I end up abandoning the manuscript in disgust.

I start a new project, hoping this time I will at least finish the first draft before I want to edit it. Sometimes I’ll get the compulsion after just writing a few sentences. Sometimes I’ll write 20,000 words. Sometimes I’ll write almost a 100,000.

Then the “edititis” strikes.

The manuscript enters a limbo state of rewrites.

It wouldn’t be a problem if it had happened just once or twice – but “edititis” has affected me for years.

Looking back, I have over thirty incomplete novels and over 800 incomplete stories on my computer.

That’s a lot of time and effort wasted on unfinished material.

I decided to do something about it by writing stories to self-enforced deadlines. A deadline gives me a motivation to keep on going when I want to edit something to death. It has helped me finish a number of manuscripts.

I’ve also found entering competitions is another way of focusing on finishing before editing. Last week I wrote a short story in a couple of hours that would have taken forever if I had not needed to finish it urgently for the contest’s deadline. I don’t care if the story wins the competition. Sending off the finished story felt fantastic.

I also found finishing enough stories to make an ebook collection is a great way of beating the self-doubt and procrastination.

Recently, I’ve managed to finish some of those first drafts abandoned long ago. Of course, I’m never completely satisfied with the final version of anything that I write – I always want to change things – but at least I feel better having written something to its conclusion. That feels like an accomplishment.

I still write countless incomplete manuscripts to every one that I finish – but finishing some is better than finishing none.

I used to think I’d never finish writing those thirty novels and 800 short stories – but I don’t feel so pessimistic any longer. If I set myself reasonable, achievable goals, I will finish them. Then I’ll edit them – but not too much.

Writing things like this blog help me keep on track. For example, I’m tempted to rewrite this as I’m writing it. But I’m forcing myself to go to the end first.

There. It’s done.

Now I’ll go back for a rewrite.

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Author: John Moralee

John Moralee writes crime, horror and science fiction.

12 thoughts on “Writer’s Block and Edititis”

  1. You and I have a lot in common. I call my vice “paralyzing perfectionism” – and I edit the hell out of things, too. Sometimes I abandon them. I think we all have our problems to overcome. Blogging is a great outlet to practice skills and publish regularly.

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    1. I find writing with pen and paper instead of directly onto my computer helps when I’m stuck in a cycle of re-editing. There’s no temptation to rewrite as I’m creating something. I do that later when I type it up. A writers’ group is a good suggestion for dealing with the problem.

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  2. I certainly identify with this post! I have a similar problem. I don’t necessarily want to edit things to death, but I do lose that first impulse and the story dwindles in importance. The only time I truly sit down and finish a novel start to finish in a set time period, is when I do NaNoWriMo. Then I can hammer out my 50k words in less than 30 days and often have time to start or finish another project. One year, I finished NaNo early and wrote another novella in 4 days, finishing it on Thanksgiving afternoon. I don’t do that often, though.

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  3. John – So glad you stopped by I Am Writing and liked “Writing Business – Promoting.” In the days ahead I will be posting chapters from a couple of my novel as a way of promoting them and other books. Hope you will check back.

    Delighted to hear of all your publishing success. I read “Writer’s Block and Edititis” and think I suffer from the same condition. Never have writers block, but never satisfied with what I’ve written. Glad some other are satisfied with it. – Aloha – pjs.

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  4. As you discern, a common condition.
    I have a theory called the “lava theory.” When a volcano is spewing, that’s what it does. Out comes the lava, spilling down the flanks. That’s the raw material. After it cools, then it can be used by enterprising folks. To make mortars, or statues, or building blocks or whatever. So I decided it is with my own inner lava — let it come without worrying what form it will take, or how it will be used. It’s my raw material. Works for me!
    Just remember — don’t impede the lava flow!
    (Hmmm, if you tried to stop and handle the red-hot stuff you’d burn up in the process! Parable!)

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    1. Yes – that’s a good way of thinking about the writing of a first draft. I normally start with a volcanic explosion – which I then cool down with lots of water turning it into stone, when I should be letting the lava flow. I’ll try to “let the lava flow” as you suggested!

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  5. Deadlines are great John. Writers never truly finish anything, we only abandon a piece of work. The point is writing reflects who we were then and as we practise our craft we naturally improve over time.

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