When does thinking get in the way of writing? It’s not a trick question. I often wonder about the intrusion or benefit of analysis at each step of literary creation — from the initial idea to writing, editing, revision, all the way to publication.
I ask because I’ve seen applied brain power work and, sometimes, destroy writing careers during the years I’ve paid attention to such things. Of the dozens of writers whose creative trajectories I have watched with interest, not all have been published or have earned a living in their chosen field. The publishing industry is much too capricious to judge their success in those terms. What intrigues me is the end product in relation to those writers’ personal satisfaction AND ability to translate their ideas into pieces that evoke the intended responses in readers.
In the creative phase
I know writers who approach every word and scene with a director’s clarity of vision before even typing the first letter of the first “The.” Other writers agonize over every sentence to the point of utter creative constipation. In these cases, their analyses are debilitating. Some acquaintances write with ease and speed, never stopping to question their impulses. Some are satisfied with their disjointed — and often sloppy — results. Some don’t need to edit. Some can see the flaws in their works, without self-flagellation, and know how to fix them.
In the editing process
I know writers who, like great brain surgeons, work with a skill and attention to detail that slices away every errant adverb and cauterizes every poignant scene at the perfect moment. I also know writers who bleed criticism on their pages with such abandon — and lack of self-confidence — I fear they’ll hemorrhage each time they take to analyzing the effectiveness of their creations.
So what’s right?
Hell if I know.
My own process has gone through many changes. I used to be delighted with everything I wrote and didn’t think I needed any editing at all. Then came the self-doubt. Then came the obsessive editing. Then came the creative constipation. Then came the fury at the lack of joy in the writing and the total rejection of editing while in the creative process. And now? Well, I’m still stuck in that last phase, but am starting to feel the urge to publish again. BUT I haven’t any idea what my editing approach will be.
I do, however, remain curious about others . . .
My questions today are
For readers: Are there any books/stories you’ve read where you’re aware of the writer’s thinkiness? Of his or her plans, editing etc? Can thinkiness intrude?
For writers: Is there such a thing as overthinking, overediting? Or . . . have your processes changed since you started writing?