hpsummer asked you: I have a habit of restarting about every 5000 words. I reread what I’ve written and cringe. This causes me to start over. Any advice?

My darling hpsummer,

Auntie MJ has some very simple advice for you: stop rereading. That should do the trick.

Let me tell you about a friend of mine, the wonderful Ally Carter. The first time I ever wrote with her, she took this THING out of her bag. It looked like a BIG CALCULATOR.

"Ally!" I said. "Whazzat?"

"This," she said, "is an ALPHASMART."

I poked the AlphaSmart.

"Whassit do?"

"It’s a word processor."

I cocked my head in confusion and pointed to my computer. Surely what I had in front of me was a WORD PROCESSOR and this thing, whatever it was, was some other beast entirely. 

Ally explained. The AlphaSmart, she said, was a cheap word processor, made primarily for children. You can only see a few lines of text, and you CANNOT GO BACK. You can only go forward. This is how she wrote her first drafts, on this simple machine that only allowed her to press ONWARDS. It was cheap. It ran on batteries. It did nothing else but take in WORDS. From there, she exported the WORDS to her normal computer and added them to the book file.

 I hesitated telling this story, because I did not want to give the impression that the answer to your problem is A NEW KIND OF MACHINE. Because this is the answer we long for. “I could write this book if I just had a better computer/this new program/better headphones/a chair that doesn’t squeak.” Many books go unwritten while would-be authors wander the aisles at the Apple store, looking at all the shiny new things. Why not spend five hours setting up this fancy new WRITING SOFTWARE? That will help in the long run, right? Why not spend three days decorating your IDEA WALL? And clearly, nothing can be done until the ULTIMATE PLAYLIST is complete.

You don’t need any of it. The answer is not in the technology, it’s in our behavior. Ally just found this machine and made it work for her. She took the sensible course: SIMPLE IS BEST. She knows that, like you, she needs to just MOVE FORWARD to get that draft done.

Take what you already have and set up a system that prevents you from rereading. For example:

  • Email and save your work somewhere (MULTIPLE BACKUPS! MULTIPLE BACKUPS!), and start each day with a blank page.
  • Same as above, but maybe send each day’s work to a friend, who stores it for you in a document (MULTIPLE BACKUPS!) and promises not to let you see it until you are done. Friend can tell you your daily word count.


Auntie MJ