What's the strange property/disease/habit called in which you need everything you write down to be 'the truth' once it's written down. Even while drafting, resulting in not daring to change past written stuff because you can't change 'the written truth'. Does this make sense?

I something have to wrestle myself in admitting that I can actually chance things I've written down in the past. However, there seems to be some ingrained (nurtured?) aspect of me that really think it's not)done to change what is once written down

(make note that this is perhaps more a philosophical/psychological question on writing)

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    Stockholm's syndrome, such that you one feels prisoner of their own retold reality? – NofP Dec 6 at 13:48
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    We all fall in love with our own story. When something doesn't work out it is a hard battle to fix this issue. You need to fall in love again with the new, revisited part. Not an easy process an uphill battle. You can only make an objective choice when you have both pieces written down next to eachother. Never throw away! Afterwards you can decide what you keep and what can go. – Totumus Maximus Dec 6 at 14:10
  • Is your question, "what is this phenomenon called?" If your question is actually "How do I move past this?" or something else, please add it to the end of your question, as an edit. – Cyn Dec 6 at 15:38
up vote 9 down vote accepted

It's called being stupidly sentimental. There's no industry term for it. But it is a problem and you're right that you need to address it if it's happening to you. Very few people write with gold ink upon heavenly parchment and can send that off to the printer.

There's this thing called revision. There's this other thing called editing.

At least 50% of the work in writing is knowing how to throw out, alter or change what you've written for better effect. So first, recognize you're actually bad at writing some things. Second, learn that it's ok to change those things. And third, change those things and get better at recognizing when and how to do this.

There's no real question here. You already know the answer. But if it makes you feel better, sure you're not alone. I do it to. Validation.give(); But, if you're just here for sympathy you won't ever really be the kind of writer who finishes quality works. You can stop reading now if you like, the rest of this is going to be how I dealt with it and may not be relevant to you.

There are lots reasons you might be attached to anything you've written. The secret is to figure out why you are attached and address that. It's usually a personal issue that resonates throughout your life in otherways; at least it was for me. I used to write slow. And even now that I write faster I don't have a lot of time for it. Therefor every word I write is valuable. Because it's a moment I wasn't spending with my family. It's a moment I wasn't making money. It's a moment I can't get back. This is the thing I had to conquer. Changing things is hard and expensive and I've already put in so much work. For me I needed to change my expectations and my writing method. I've moved on to snowflake which allows me to make changes earlier on grander scales so I don't get to the point that I've got a finished piece of work that is actually garbage.

There are other variations on this. The most prevalent one is likely this one. Where you've thought about something long enough that it's crystallized in your head and you yourself can't see a way to change. Everything is justified in your mind; but often that justification isn't on the page. Your readers don't get it and they are telling you this. This is where the advice comes from to take your work, stick it in a drawer for a few months/years and come back to it later. Work on something else (but try and learn from what you're hearing or you'll just repeat your mistakes). When you come back, a lot of your love and familiarity will be gone. You'll be able to work more objectively.

Some reading that might help, there's no real theme here other than this is a common problem across everything:

  • I remember gardening an entire first draft, and while the major beats remained, pretty much every detail and minor plot point were either unrecognisably tweaked or cut out altogether in the second draft. And then I edited the second draft just to ensure everything fit together. Overcoming the sentimentality one might have for a trashy first draft may be difficult, but it is necessary. – Matthew Dave Dec 6 at 17:53
  • "Where you've thought about something long enough that it's crystallized in your head and you yourself can't see a way to change." This! Thank you for answering something which I now understand wasn't really a question. Indeed, the answer is being too sentimental to my own thoughts and ideas. Interesting to see how our mind tries to work against us in these matters. Again, thank you for the very cleae, no nonsense, answer Dirk – Tim Dams Dec 6 at 18:58
  • @TimDams - think of it like this: Writing it down is setting it in stone. It's solid, it's tangible and it has weight. But it's a big, solid stone block. You then need to refine it, polish it, tease it out and chip away at it. Turn that stone block into a sculpture. That's what the editing process is - not cutting out 50%, but refining your raw material into art – Thomo Dec 7 at 1:30

Keying off Kirk, why do writers have this problem? Some thoughts that come to my mind:

  1. As Kirk indicated, a variation of the Sunk Cost Fallacy. "I've put so much effort into this, I just can't throw it away." And so you spend 20 hours figuring out how to make the story work, working around this bad idea, when you could have thrown it away and re-written it in 10 hours.

  2. "I don't want to admit that I made a mistake." And so you produce a final story that is less than the best you could do because you can't be honest with yourself, admit that an idea was bad, and cut it out. Sometimes you have to amputate a limb if you want to survive.

  3. "This was so much fun to write." Just because something was fun to create doesn't mean it's any good. Just look at some of my carpentry work.

  4. "But I just love this scene/character/whatever." It may be that you wrote a brilliant and witty piece of dialog. Or an exciting action scene. Or whatever. It may be that it's some of the best writing you've ever done. But if it doesn't fit in this story, you have a problem. Like you write a scene where a character has a bunch of really clever and funny lines. But you've painted this character to be bland and unimaginative. The clever lines just don't fit in his mouth. If you love the scene enough, maybe save it and see if you can recycle it in another story. But don't keep it where it doesn't fit just because you like it.

I'm a psychotherapist. What you describe – a need to produce the perfect outcome (perfectionism) and an inability to change an established order (symmetry, ordering and arranging compulsion) – sounds very much like an obsessive-compulsive personality type or, if there are other symptoms, a (possibly subclinical) case of either an obsessive–compulsive personality disorder or an obsessive-compulsive disorder. But I would need to speak to you both in person and in length to come to a definite conclusion.

If you feel that you would like to change your thoughts, emotions, and behavior in this regard, I'd recommend talking to a psychotherapist.

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