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Writing Techniques: Part I January 15, 2009

Posted by pacejmiller in On Writing.
Tags: , , , , , ,

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.


1. flighttoinsanity - January 15, 2009

this is a very common mistake for artists also. you will see all the new freshmen at art school going over and over one part of their drawing trying to make it look finished while they leave other parts absent. you will see figures with eggs for heads and no hands and feet, but delicately rendered torso. the result of which is all kinds of problems. i’m trying to import what i have learned in drawing and painting into writing. a

2. cantaffordacarriage - March 3, 2010

Hi Pace,
I share the awful habit of attempting to write the final draft on the first go. I outline all of my papers, but I think I need to reincorporate steps 3 and 4 into my writing process. As a final semester undergraduate, I’m taking English for the first time in four years and my professor tears apart my work every week. Thus I started a wordpress blog as part of my ten thousand hour quest for greatness.
I’m very glad to have discovered your writing tips; I’m in great need of reviewing the fundamentals.
Thanks much,

pacejmiller - March 3, 2010

Will – hello there! Thanks for visiting my blog. Like you, I am a learning how to be a writer. Good luck!

3. Chazz Byron - March 23, 2010

I totally agree with your 4 step writing process, but until recently I didn’t realise how much was involved in each step. My biggest problem is I blur the line between step 2 and 3 so much that I lose any momentum and eventually lose interest in the story

pacejmiller - March 23, 2010

I’m struggling with that myself. I’m still stuck in the first step!

4. Chazz Byron - March 23, 2010

Planning and researching can be alot of work, I find that sometimes I even get stuck at where to start when it comes to planning.

pacejmiller - March 24, 2010

For me, planning is not too bad. The worst part is getting the courage and motivation to start!

5. logangrey20 - December 16, 2010

I’ve never been much of a planner. I just wanted to sit down at the computer and power through it. Usually, the result would be that I ended up with a half finished project. I would write half a novel and get stuck because I couldn’t get to the end. Of course, it’s hard to get to the end if you still aren’t sure what happens in the end..

I just finished my first novella and that was only because I finally made myself do an outline and research. This was beacause I read your blog and then spoke to a colleague of mine who is massively organized and does an impressive amount of planning before trying to write.

So thanks for shining the light on why I was having such a hard time finishing anything!

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