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Do Your Fiction Drafts Suffer from Bikeshedding?

bikeshed +‎ -ing. The word originates in Berkeley Software Distribution culture and implies technical disputes over minor, marginal issues conducted while more serious ones are being overlooked. The implied image is of people arguing over what color to paint the bicycle shed while the house is not finished.
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I’ve been working with some young writers in the past weeks, and have noticed that they typically worry about the appearance of their characters, not the defining traits; they worry about a scene that lacks intensity, but forget about the plot as a whole; they nitpick on grammar, but overlook errors in consistency.

A classic case of focusing too much on the trees, because they are known, within reach– and losing sight of the woods– because that is the big, bad unknown you can get lost in.

This becomes worse when you’re trying to write a longer work. Every once in a while,  I find myself stressing the small stuff, without first seeing the finished work as a whole.

The time to go into details is later, when the infrastructure is steady, and ready to take on some heat. 

But I sometimes forget the above basic principle in my own creative writing and get into bikeshedding: I worry about the color to paint the bicycle shed while the house is not finished– obsess over a tiny plot detail before finishing my first draft, worry about writing that sentence so much better, write and re-write a passage till it shines, only to find myself editing it out later (because it is IRRELEVANT to the big picture).


I now have a firm rule: You get better in increments– don’t worry about getting it right the first time, just get it written. You’ll figure out if everything fits together first and things are ready to run before you debate over the color of paint!


Does bikeshedding hamper your fiction drafting process? How do You fight it?

Damyanti Biswas

Damyanti Biswas is the author of You Beneath Your Skin and numerous short stories that have been published in magazines and anthologies in the US, the UK, and Asia. She has been shortlisted for Best Small Fictions and Bath Novel Awards and is co-editor of the Forge Literary Magazine. Her forthcoming literary crime thriller, The Blue Bar is represented by Lucienne Diver from The Knight Agency, and will be published by Thomas & Mercer on January 1, 2023.

I appreciate comments, and I always visit back. If you're having trouble commenting, let me know via the contact form, or tweet me up @damyantig !

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