IWSG: Returning to my Vomit

This is an entry for the Insecure Writers’ Support Group, a way for writers to discuss their writing anxieties. It cross-posts on each others’ blogs on the first Wednesday of each month.

A popular piece of writing advice is that ‘a writer should no more return to their writing than a dog should return to their vomit’.* While I agree with the intent behind this – that a writer should keep moving forward rather than correcting what they’ve already written – I think that it’s a simplistic philosophy.

Firstly, the bit I agree with. I’m an obsessive perfectionist when it comes to writing. I can get wrapped up in a single, relatively unimportant part of what I’ve written, wondering if I did enough to paint a picture of the scene; narrator’s ignorance is too subtle for a joke to work, and if it’d be believable if it were less subtle. I think that often it is better to leave this kind of uncertainty behind, carry on writing, and come back with fresh eyes.

Having definite, short-term deadlines can be good for a writer. That was why I first started up this blog, to give me short-term and medium-term motivation to write quickly and consistently. Especially when I write about topical things, either something gets published quickly or its no longer relevant. Over the past nine days I’ve written three separate blogposts about the new Star Trek series, totalling over six thousand words. I’ve got the bones of another blogpost ready to go up, which will probably total between one and two thousand words. To be able to write at that speed I find that I need to take an attitude of ‘this is imperfect, but just keep going’. It helps if a writer is really excited about what they’re writing, which has been the case with Star Trek: Discovery.

Correcting errors is important, of course. I can remember reading a novel where a key female character’s name changed from Gill to Jill, and it’s the kind of error that can pull a reader out of the story, make them wonder if the change is deliberate or an error, if they are two separate characters. Errors should be fixed before publishing, and the writer is the best-placed person to understand what they originally intended. The trick will be to find a balance, between keeping up forward momentum while having enough care to properly.craft the message.

Like all things, it’s a matter of balance.


* When I checked for evidence of this saying, it seems that it’s not nearly as common as I thought it was. It seems to be a variant on the line “As a dog returns to his vomit, so a fool repeats his folly” is used in the Biblical Book of Proverbs and Rudyard Kipling’s God of the Copybook Heading. However, by the point I did the basic fact-checking I should have started with, the blogpost was more or less complete, so I’m just going to roll with it. I’m pretty confident that I first heard this variation used by Terry Deary, author of the Horrible Histories books, so maybe it should be considered an original Deary quote.

2017-10-04 Returning to my Vomit.png

20 thoughts on “IWSG: Returning to my Vomit”

  1. It’s very hard to let a piece of writing just rest, because there’s no such thing as ‘perfect’ and it seems like there’s always something that can be fixed. I struggle with it too.

    I need to check out the new Star Trek. I was a huge TNG and DS9 fan, and I love the new alternate universe movies with Chris Pine.


    1. I tend to obsess over the flaws in what I’ve written, sometimes spending half an hour changing a single word two or three times, rather than moving on and writing a few hundred more words!

      I think Discovery is most like DS9 in subject, most like the alternate universe in visual style. I’ve written a spoiler-free first reaction, if you’re interested!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s another problem with perfectionism – if we obsess about getting things ‘right’ and following all the rules, then it’s possible to beat all the odds and idiosyncracies out of our writing.


  2. Sadly, I am NOT a perfectionist when I write. Of course, if I turned around and looked backwards on my journey to finish a draft, I might easily never take another step forward again. So, I try very hard to not worry about the clear imperfection of my first draft. First drafts are supposed to be riddled with problems. Once I’m done, though, I’m left with a giant pile of problems that need to be fixed, and that can be daunting to the point of triggering my tendency to procrastinate and then not actually ever look at the draft again. I do like the analogy of the dog returning to its vomit. Nice post. Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I understand the temptation to return to your earlier writing all too well. Anyway, I don’t think it’s a hard rule not to do that. More of a general guideline, and it gets discarded more often than not by many writers.


  4. I struggle with perfectionism, which doesn’t always help when moving forward. I begin writing new stories, but one of my old ones keeps harping at me, mainly because it’s still not ‘right’ even after all these years. That’s what I like about NaNoWriMo. It forces you to get it written down rather than worry over ever word. The only problem I now have is the re-writes! 😉


  5. I love that picture! I think I return to my vomit all the time, but I’m an overwriter spewing words all over the place, so getting the word count down to an acceptable level takes a lot of visits to the vomit pile.


  6. It’s better not to tinker with a project to death, but I wouldn’t recommend not returning to it at all either. Each writer probably has to determine their happy medium, though it can take a lot of trial and error.


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