The Two Stages of Writing
I don’t know about you, but I’m the type of writer who is a perfectionist from the get go. I want my sentences to be perfect. I correct typos as I write; I aim at constructing good sentences the very first time around – and I get very distracted by all the squiggly lines that Word uses to point out all my imperfections. I am also a great fan of structure. My work rarely (if ever, any more) lacks direction. I know where my story is headed before my fingers type the first word.
Writing like this is strenuous. It is a constant: go-stop-go way of writing with jerky movements. Not very pleasurable. Not very productive. And to be honest, not very good.
I can go days, even weeks, without achieving “getting into the zone”. This amazing state where the words flow and the lines fly off the keyboard. Or rather: I could. Until I rediscovered something extremely essential when it comes to writing.
Somewhere along the way, I lost sight of the fact that there are two stages of writing:
Creative, free flowing
It seems that most people are prone to spend predominately more time in one of these stages. Some rarely ever make it into the other.
So, as you probably have guessed – I spend too much time in stage 2.
As elsewhere in life: there is a time and a place for everything. When it comes to writing (and probably all kinds of creative processes), there is a time to get into the creative flow and a time to edit. The only time that doesn’t truly exist, is for the two of these to happen simultaneously.
Heaven only knows, I’ve tried to convince myself that I can work both stages at the same time. I can’t, of course. I very much doubt that anyone really can.
My focus on “immediate perfection” (which is a joke, because all later reading only reveals that my editing skills while cold writing aren’t especially good…) only trips me up. For some people who have this same tendency, it actually prevents them from getting much done. I’ve only recently come to realize that I don’t get as much done as I would like to. Being stuck in stage 2 is the reason for this.
The free flowing types might have issues with the opposite. They rarely get around to editing, thus producing texts (sometimes mounds of it!) that are only rough drafts. Or should be considered as such. (This is one of the sad downsides to self-publishing via Amazon, Barnes & Nobel etc. Too many people churn out lots of poor quality work, because they skip too lightly over the editing phase.) The happy-go-lucky writers seem to believe that they are masters of writing and often have problems when they don’t receive recognition as such.
If you really want to write great texts, regardless of format, you need to spend time in both stages. Start by allowing yourself to get into the creative, free flow. Write. Write. Write. And if you are prone to structuralism as I am, free yourself from the yokes of structure and let your writing run wild!
My natural instinct to this piece of advice is: “Hold on: How can I get anything sensible done if I am all over the place?” The point is just that. It’s not supposed to be sensible. It’s supposed to be creative. The most amazing creativity is impossible to plan.
Structuring comes later. As does editing.
If you need to hold on to a sense of structure, not to feel completely lost, write an outline first. Then place it to one side and let go of the reins. Trust your subconscious to hold on to the vital stuff. After all, you are free to return to the structuring afterwards.
What you gain by allowing yourself free flow first is that unexpected visions and voices might surface. This is what you deny yourself when you control the process. Consider it the writer’s equivalent of jamming. Musicians do it all the time. They allow the music to flow through them. As writers, so should we.
Believe it or not, you’ll probably produce better quality texts and a higher quantity compared to when you strive for perfection at the get go.
As for you naturally free flowers, don’t skip the editing process. Or close your eyes to structure. Boring as it may be, your diamonds must be polished to shine.
Balance these two stages, and I guarantee that your writing will improve way beyond your imagination.
In upcoming blogs, I’ll be sharing several ways of getting into the flow and how to use structure and editing to improve your writing.
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