How I Write: Two

This is the second entry in a series of posts on my writing process. In my previous post I described how my “Project Box” and “Tinker Box” help me refine my writing through several drafts. 

I often impose a word count on my writing. To meet this limit, I first cut the inessential ideas, then ideas that are good but not great. If you cut the weak in favor of the strong, the writing you leave on the page will possess the potency of a powerful concentrate. Readers will have a taste and say, “Wow, that packs a punch!” If they dip their fingers into a spoonful of frozen orange concentrate dissolved in four gallons of water, they’ll barely pick up the citrus taste. And soon they will forget it entirely.

When your writing begins to solidify and you know you have firmly left the brainstorming stage, make sure you commit your ideas to the highest standards of logicality. Never say “close enough.” Only a bulls-eye is “close enough.” Stand up for your own principles of writing. Don’t take an agreeable approach. Be a critic. That doesn’t mean verbally harassing yourself. It means noting where there is a problem and fixing it. Conversely, when something reads appropriately, congratulate yourself. “That word choice conveys my thoughts precisely. Well done.”

Aim for a piece that flows nicely, drawing the reader in. If you read something and think, “Hmm, that idea doesn’t flow all that well into the next one,” do something about it. Don’t just sweep your concerns under the rug.

I easily lose count of the number of drafts I go through, and that’s a good thing! Strong ideas grow and solidify, and weak ideas fall off the page. Word, sentence, and paragraph orders shift, creating more logical and flowing prose. Slowly, a real piece of writing takes form. It’s exciting to witness.

Once the piece has neared completion, I stop copying and pasting between the Project and Tinker boxes and instead just read through the Project Box, tweaking word choice, adding and removing commas, and making small alterations until the piece reads smoothly and logically.

By this stage, I’ve rewritten the piece so many times that I’ve nearly memorized it. This is not a testament to an excellent memory — it’s simply the result of reading a slowly-evolving piece over and over and over again. You should know what you’ve written like the back of your hand (unless you don’t know the back of your hand very well, in which case this analogy does not hold). Only if you know exactly what you have written can you approve of it or not. If you’re not really sure what you’ve written, then your words are not deliberate, meaning they are left up to chance, which means you are not choosing in a conscious manner how to represent yourself.

I will continue this series in next week’s post.

16 thoughts on “How I Write: Two

  1. Interesting! Do you also write ‘long’ things, e.g. novels? If so, how does your process vary? I for one am becoming frustrated at the sheer bulk of time needed to revise and rewrite a large novel.

    • I do write longer pieces! I’ve written several novels with varying levels of success (none published), either in my free time or for school. I try to view novels in terms of their individual units rather than as a whole, though obviously all the units are interrelated and therefore much more complex than my blog posts.

      Part of the reason I decided to start this blog actually was to learn to write with a more meticulous approach. Novel-length projects tend to overwhelm me and I rush through them. We’ll see how much it helps in the future. Also, I’m out of school now, so I create my own deadlines. That helps, too, in terms of writing quality!

      Revising novels just takes forever. That’s my take! Haha. Good luck with yours, Deborah 🙂

  2. I do something very similar in my writing process and even have a test WordPress blog that is not visible so that I can try out widgets etc. Having said that it took me 10 years (with long breaks) to finish my first book… I have discovered that I really like short pieces.

    • I LIKE that idea! I will try having a double test blog in the future.
      Wow, ten years is quite the investment. I try to view novel-length works as just a collection of short pieces (in a way), but novels are inevitably more complex, so the comparison can never quite holds.

      • It was fear that provoked the delay – I wasn’t sure if I wanted to tell the world about my mental health problems but now I want to share my experience to help people. #1 tip – don’t move to a third world country in a war zone if you have anxiety issues…:)

  3. I’m at the final edit stage of my YA book. Up until a week ago, I tried editing the whole thing. Open up the file, start editing one section and then think of something four or five chapters further in, so I’d go there and fiddle with that. I was getting no where fast. So now, I take one chapter. Copy and paste it into a new document and call it “Chapter ** — Done.” Then I work on that chapter and that one alone until I am completely happy with it. Then I transfer it to a separate file called “Done.” I’ve discovered — for me — the perfect way to edit. I am so much more relaxed and I’m actually enjoying the editing experience.

  4. Tom I am enjoying reading your posts, this one was a good reminder to polish my posts for my blog before I share. Sometimes I post when I know the piece could have been a lot better. I also want to thank you for recommending Asana. Getting weekly email prompts is helping me stay on track with all of my projects Thank you.

  5. I love the idea of breaking it down into bite sized chunks, working on them in order. I often remind myself that chapters are like mini books that follow on from each other. A chapter relies on, and builds upon, what came before, not on what follows later.

Leave a Reply