I’m a prolific writer. It’s legit to ask: How do I do it? Well, it wasn’t always like that. I learned the hard way; so that now I can describe the easy way how to write.
True, one needs some time in order to write even a little. While drowning in work and home responsibilities, even writing a little is impossible. However, writing is often hampered by other things first: you don’t feel like it, you’re not ready and you don’t know how/where to start. But even then, one can write with ease. (And when you’re on fire and when it’s fun to write, finding time for it may suddenly become easier.)
Writing is much harder when you’re really not ready and much easier when you are. Like when I wake up and think: Hmm, that’s a nice start for writing about X, and I begin and the whole thing comes pouring out, more than I ever thought I would have to say about it. That’s not only the easiest. That’s the way writing should always be done. Reality, though, is that you can’t always wait for that to happen, for the brain to cook everything to completion on the back-burner.
Then, what to do when you’re not that ready? Can writing still be done with some ease. Yes it can.
There are many books against the “writer’s block” to inspire you. I find them unnecessary. There is one rule to follow to make writing easy. The rule is: Don’t mix up the creative and the corrective phase of writing.
Don’t mix up the creative and the corrective phase of writing.
1. The creative phase: Start writing. Write down what you think. If you think “I have no idea how to start” write that down. Maybe after that the thought comes “because …” – write that down. Then later you can replace the first part by “At first, it may seem complicated to think about …, because …” and you got your start – which may change later. Just write. Don’t worry too much about style, spelling, structure, order, clarity, foundations and defensibleness of the thoughts, etc. Be wild. Enjoy the brain storm. Corrections and improvements in general all can be done later. For now, just create. Don’t erase words to replace them; first replace, then erase – if you must.
When this outpouring seems done, reread what you’ve written. Don’t be critical – you’re still in the creative phase. Add. Restructure the order if that makes you more happy (not because it’s imperfect) or would enable you to add other thoughts. You’re way beyond a writer’s block – you’re creating. You can add a critical voice, arguing what you’ve written so far – and argue back. The text is alive – enjoy seeing it grow naturally, organically. This is the nicest part of writing – enjoy it.
When time gets up and deadlines loom, or when you’re close to the number of words allowed to you, go to phase two: the corrective phase.
2. The corrective phase: Here you can sable down and edit the text to your heart’s desire. I admit that it’s never as much fun as being in the creative phase. You might still discover things to add, but in the end, you must do enough editing.
Editing is being mean. Nitpicking. Being unappreciative. If you’d do this in the creative phase, you will have no creative phase. You’ll have a writer’s block. But now you must. Look at style, spelling, structure, order, clarity, and defensibleness of your arguments. Make it as good as you can. Don’t be pleased too quickly if at all. If you want to know the meaning of well-edited, read well-edited texts that interests you. (I learned a lot from reading Associated Press texts.)
First replace, then erase.
Still, first replace, then erase. Don’t throw out anything – only replace it by something better. Don’t “start over again because this is no good” – unless you can replace it by something better immediately. I remember writing this book for one-and-a-half year and it was a dreadful read. I felt obligated to write it and you felt it at every page. I restarted the whole thing from enthusiasm. Instantaneously it became a fun read too. (The book was about Free Will! Humor should never be far away, even in serious writing.)
The worst part is when you’re finished editing and you need to go to the top and start over again. Hairsplitting, trying to improve the words you improved so many times already. How many reruns you do, depends on how perfect it should be. Though there never is an end to editing, obviously, a proof of competence should be self-edited 20 times, while for a private letter to a good friend only once or twice might suffice (this piece I reread trice). Proper editing shows respect for your readers.
The best and hardest part of editing is insisting on the text being to the point and focused, to leave out what is unnecessary. Skip. My mother was a simple writer but an excellent editor of her own texts. She reduced her writing to 50% in her first editing and in another round skipped yet another 10%. Her letters to editors were always published.
This sweet comparison that doesn’t really work, the fun episode that doesn’t clarify, the dear pun that distracts from your point – if it’s hard to throw them out, move them to an empty sheet, maybe for another text. Or maybe later you’ll find a place in the same text to reintroduce them.
Even if an editor will go through it after you, you must make it the best you can before s/he receives it. If you have friends or professional editors willing to review the text, always value their feedback. They don’t criticize because they are bad readers but because your text could be misunderstood or confuse – funny as that may sound. Your text should be clear enough even for people who read hastily. Their remarks are always signs that your text needs to be improved.
To sum it all up: Don’t be too critical while being creative, don’t be too creative while being critical, and first replace, then erase.
Best of all: When you do this enough, it becomes your default writing mode and writing will always be fun and easy for you.
I wrote this for you guys because I understand how busy you are and how scientific and intellectual demands may weigh you down. That it may help make your writing fly!
NB: Imperfections here are not from sloppy editing. My writing can’t be much better because English is not my native tongue. And I can’t afford professional editors. And it’s only a blog post, not a Book.
Between 15.1.2017 and 1.2.2018 I wrote 300 blog posts for the TOI.