It helps you Write Better, Easier & Faster
When I’m feeling whiny about how hard writing is, I turn to my file of quotes from the pros. It seems that no successful writer, from Ernest Hemingway to Kurt Vonnegut, could resist kvetching about the craft.
“When I write, I feel like an armless, legless man with a crayon in his mouth.”
— Kurt Vonnegut, author of Slaughterhouse-Five and other black comedies
“I love being a writer. What I can’t stand is the paperwork.”
— Peter DeVries, American editor, novelist and wit
“Writing is easy. All you have to do is sit down at a typewriter and wait for drops of blood to form on your forehead.”
— Gene Fowler, American journalist, author and dramatist
Writing is tough. Always has been. Always will be.
Now that we’ve got that out of our systems, what can we do to make it better?
While we talk a lot about what to write — More stories! Fewer words! Shorter sentences! — we don’t focus so much on how.
But if you’ll break your writing time up into steps, you’ll write better, easier and faster. Here’s how …
Develop a good writing process.
Process is important: The way you write affects how well you write. As a writing trainer and coach, I can always tell when a writer has:
- Written a story before organizing it
- Edited a story before writing it
- Failed to edit the story at all
I can tell when a writer writes by typing up her notes and moving them around in Microsoft Word — or when he sits with his nose in his notebook for too long.
The writing process makes a huge difference in the quality of our copy. Problem is, most of us were taught a lousy writing process.
How we were taught to write
Writing is hard because we weren’t taught to write, says Richard Andersen, author of Writing That Works. Instead, we were taught how to edit — how to spell, punctuate and use the right grammar.
As a result, when we write, we try to do three things at once:
- Think of what to write
- Write it down
- Get it right
How to write instead
Instead of trying to do all of this work at the same time, we need to take writing step by step. (Or Bird by Bird, for Anne Lamott aficionados.)
The best writing process breaks writing up into discrete steps:
- Prewriting. Here’s where you get ready to write. In this step, you conduct your research, find your story angle and organize your ideas.
- Freewriting. Write it down. Don’t worry about grammar and spelling. Just get words on paper so you can revise them in the next step.
- Rewriting. Here’s where you polish your final product. Only now do you let the grammar police in.
Both sides of the brain
The writing process is based on the theory that our brains are divided into two parts:
- The logical left side. This side of our brain thinks analytically from one point to the next like a computer, making sure we don’t end our sentences in prepositions or use a colon when only a semicolon will do.
- The creative right side. This side is impulsive and unconventional and gives our copy interest and energy.
Too often, we spend our writing time only on the logical left side of our brain. That’s why too often we write it right … but we don’t write anything that people want to read.
Why the three-step writing process?
The folks who study the writing process say that writers who divide their writing into discrete steps are:
- Less likely to suffer from writer’s block
- More likely to meet their deadlines
- Unlikely to get stressed out in the process
Put your effort at the top.
Most writers invest little time in the pre writing phase, focusing instead on fixing a lame draft in rewriting.
Turn that investment upside down: Spend the bulk of your time getting ready to write, less time writing and the least time fixing what you wrote.
The result: You’ll soon be writing better, easier and faster.
Source: Richard Andersen, Writing That Works, McGraw-Hill, 1989