Infamous Gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson once said:
Writing is the flip side of sex: It’s only good when it’s over.
This is a quote every writer can relate to. We love the finished product, but the act of putting words on a page can be painstakingly slow.
There is an inherent level of tedium and frustration that goes along with the writing process, but we often make matters worse. We do so by making subtle mistakes.
We don’t intend to make them. In fact, we often do them because we think they will make our writing more efficient. But in the end they only slow us down. Eliminate these 5 habits from your writing process:
Not Creating A Plan Or Outline Before You Write
Most writers hate constraints. I know I did for most of my career as a writer. And what could be a bigger constraint than having an outline: a blueprint for how your organize your piece. Writing is about about freedom! Why am I limiting myself by creating an outline?
Oh boy, was I wrong! Outlines not only make you write quicker, but they actually give you more freedom to express your ideas.
There is no bigger constraint on your writing than “too much freedom”. When you have no constraints on your writing it allows your bad habits to take the wheel. You can end up spending an inordinate amount of time trying to think your way to the perfect idea. Or writing aimlessly for hours, only to realize that you’ve gone in the wrong direction.
Outlines take time up front, but they save you hours on the backend. They make your work precise. They remove the busywork of thinking of what to say and allow you to focus on the act of writing. Your inner “free spirit” may not want to write one, but pay them no heed. Outline your work!
Revising Your Work As You Write
Ernest Hemingway’s famously said:
“All first drafts suck”
Oof! If a writer as good as Hemingway’s first drafts suck. What hope do you or I have?
This is something that all writers know on some level, yet many of us sweat and toil over a first draft that won’t be good no matter how much time we spend on it.
This is the writing sin that I am particularly guilty of. I used to spend hours scouring my first draft. Picking apart every sentence, tweaking every word, and generally making my life a living hell in the process.
The writing and editing process are two different things. Once you create an outline (see step one), your next job is to write a first draft. And write one quick! Your best ideas come when you’re in the flow of writing. If things don’t sound perfect from the get go, don’t worry. You can polish your work when you edit.
Trying to pitch a perfect game the first time around will only slow you down and make you want to chuck your laptop at the window
Doing Research While You Should Be Writing
Got a quote you need to look up? Maybe a juicy statistics your readers will enjoy. Or a fun fact that will pump up your piece. You may be tempted to open up another tab and do some fact finding.
DON’T DO IT!
By our nature many writers are curious people. Doing research while we’re writing often puts us on a wild goose chase; it sends even the most diligent writers down a mental rabbit hole that will distract you and add hours to your writing time.
Worse yet, it is often an excuse to procrastinate. When we don’t want to sit down and write, we convince ourselves to do more “research”. This is usually code for firing up dozens of windows in our web browser. It’s more likely to end in us getting angry about the latest political news, than to aid in our writing.
If you need to get quotes and stats for your work, do it either when you’re writing an outline or when you’re revising. These things take little time and will power to look up. So never get distracted by them when there is precious writing to do!
Trying To Cram Your Writing Into One Sitting
There is a part of the writing process I like to call the “dark night of the soul”. This is when you’ve spent hours hunched over your computer. Your eyes are glazed, you’re burned out, and most of all you’re convinced what you just wrote is the biggest stinking heap of garbage that anyone has ever created. Moments like this make you question not just your career but your very existence.
There is only one remedy for this “dark night of the soul”: it is to step as far away as you can from your keyboard.
It’s really that simple. Giving yourself and your writing a little space to breath allows you to see your work with fresh eyes. Most of the time you realize what you’ve written wasn’t that bad; oftentimes it’s pretty good! If it does suck you can edit it with a sharper mind. You’ll be more calm and objective about what you need to change.
Trying to write something in one go robs you of perspective. Your time would be better spent getting some fresh air, petting your dog, or doing anything other than cursing at your work.
Not Hitting “Send” At 90%
Look, here’s the ugly truth about writing. Nothing you write will ever be perfect. You look through it again and again and there will be subtle things you can improve. Should you make sure everything you create has standards; absolutely. But this is a sorry excuse for not shipping your work when it is “good enough”.
There are obviously exceptions if you are writing a final paper, PHD, or about to finish the next great novel. But in most cases after outlining, writing, and revising your work a couple of times it is good enough to put out in the world. If you’ve done the previous steps, you’ve done the most difficult parts. Making small tweaks is just adding another garnish to a dish that’s ready eat. It’s time to shut off your inner perfectionist and hit “send”