Writing Techniques: Part I

January 15, 2009 in On Writing by pacejmiller

Die Hard 5: My old habits

Recently when working on my fantasy novel I’ve reverted to a bad habit of trying to get each sentence or paragraph perfect before I move on to the next one.  It’s slowed my writing down to a pathetic crawl, and has really taken the fun out of it.  The stuff I’ve written hasn’t been too crash hot either, suffering from a complete lack of creativity and originality.  It’s very depressing.

I thought it would be a good time to remind myself of some fundamentals of good writing I’ve read or learnt from books, websites and courses.  As I add each one, I’m going to make a mental note to observe the technique in the future.

Writing is a 4-part process

Today’s reminder is a rule I learnt about effective writing which states that writing is a 4-part process consisting of:

1. Planning

2. Writing

3. Re-wrting

4. Editing

Importantly, each step is a separate task, and we must avoid mixing them up.  I’ve successfully completed the first task of planning (took about 6 years, on and off), and I’ve moved onto the second task.  My worst problem has been the burning desire (recently resurfaced) to mix the second and third tasks, ie, to edit and write at the same time.  I know it’s wrong but I can’t seem to help myself.

Peter Elbow, Professor of English at the University of Massachusetts, offers this advice:

” The habit of compulsive, premature editing doesn’t just make writing hard.  It makes writing dead.  Your voice is damped out by all the interruptions, changes, and hesitations between the consciousness and the page…Trying to write well for most people means constantly stopping, pondering, and searching for better words.  If this is true of you, then stop trying to write well.  Otherwise, you will never write well.”

Well put, Professor Elbow.  I’ll do my best from now on.