Thursday, May 19, 2011

Writing Habits

This is what I learn about my writing process from my post on how I write English papers:

ONE...      I never start until the last possible moment,
TWO...      though maybe it's not really the last possible moment since I always have time to whine to my friends about how screwed I am,
THREE...      in addition to waste time on the internet instead of actually working,
FOUR...      except I tell myself I’m letting my ideas marinate and that my subconcious is generating all sorts of brilliant ideas while I play Insaniquarium,
FIVE...      and it might be kind of true because, after all that procrastinating, I’ll somehow think of a thesis and an outline that's basically my entire paper, except not in prose,
SIX...      but readers like prose, so I turn my bullet points into sentences and edit each one to make sure it’s ok before I move on,
SEVEN...      because I totally don’t have time to do revisions.

Eek. Not only is that list a humongous run-on, but it also includes many bad habits. Procrastinating? Whining? Terrible. Letting my inner editor run rampant? Turning in a first draft? Scandalous!

And I think I might be a compulsive outliner. Sure, I free-write journal entries, personal emails, and brief blog posts, but I always try to decide on what I want to say before I write, even if I don't make an outline (my friends have remarked that my emails tend to be very organized).

But there are times when a blog post (or even email!) becomes longer and more complex than I anticipated, and then I totally regret not outlining first.

I dislike reading drafts in which my ideas are all jumbled up rather than flowing logically from one point to the next. I feel like my brain melts into a disorganized mess, and while some people thrive best in creative chaos, I can't wait to straighten out all my thoughts. I see my ideas so much more clearly in summarized notes than in pages of unwieldy paragraphs, so sometimes I'll turn my rambling draft into an outline, draft again, rearrange the outline, then write a final version that I tighten and polish before sending it out into the world.

But at least that tells me I'm not completely incapable of revising, despite how little time I allot for it when I write papers. I find that I enjoy tweaking sentences, eradicating careless mistakes, and — most of all — deleting unnecessary words. The hard part is creating the outline and churning out the words so I have something to edit.

Here are things I'd like to change about how I write:

Less whining!
Or at least not on my blog/Twitter (and I'll try to give my friends a break, but sometimes I can't help it). When the going gets rough, I'll write a blog post about the difficulties I'm experiencing, why I think it's happening, think up a few ideas to deal with it, and ask for advice from more experienced writers.

- Less procrastination!
I am very deadline-motivated. I used to start personal projects and forget about them for long stretches at a time since I felt like I had forever to work on them. I started this blog to keep myself accountable, and I'll be blogging about my plans and progress every week. Hopefully, my own (flexible) deadlines will motivate me to work and stay on track.

- Don't be a perfectionist on the first pass.
I can't imagine allowing myself to write anything riddled with spelling and grammatical errors (I still make dumb mistakes sometimes though). Still, I understand why writers advise turning off the inner editor for the first draft. I will prioritize getting the words down and leave fixing awkward sentences to the revision stage, no matter how tempting it is to try to get it perfect. I'll have plenty of time to fiddle with the writing later; the important thing is to finish a first draft.

- Use a blend of outlining and free-writing.
I don't think I'll be outlining every piece of dialogue or action. I want to figure out the major scenes so I don't feel lost or get overwhelmed, but I think it will be good for me to do more exploratory writing in order to learn about my story and characters. That means I'll probably change my outline as I write, but I still like starting out with a basic structure.

By now you can probably tell I like to plan things out in advance (never mind how good I am at actually following through). Next week, I'll talk about planning for my novel-writing project. I made a lot of false starts when I was younger, but this time I'm determined to finish!

Do you have any bad writing habits? How do you overcome them?


  1.  Hi Linda! Thanks for following (I'm following you too). 
    My bad habits? Procrastinating, of course, and gaming.  As you, I need to outline too, I get lost in the mess and give up on the job.
    - EEV

  2. Your friends enjoy sharing the experience with you, though!

    I have to second the "don't be a perfectionist on a first draft" bit. Being a perfectionist on the first draft is a fabulous way to ensure the full story never sees light of day. :)

  3. Yay, thanks! Yeah, procrastination is hard to beat. Glad to know I'm not the
    only one who needs an outline to keep my ideas straight. :)

  4. Haha hopefully they do, but I think they'd appreciate it if I tried to be
    more positive while sharing. :)

    I think blogging is good training for focusing on putting ideas into words.
    If I waited until I thought my blog posts were perfect I would probably
    never publish anything. :P

  5.  it's funny how different we are. i hate outlining. i know the importance of editing rough drafts but i'm usually too lazy/impatient to wait and i feel like my rambling conveys the way my thoughts flow pretty well... hahaa

  6. Yeah, I realized that when we talked about your video. But give it a shot
    some time! Maybe you'll find that outlining after your rough draft can help
    you present your ideas even more clearly and succinctly. (Or not. Haha.)

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