The best laid plans

I just checked some stats on my blog (the ones I really care about).

This will be my 80th post, and when I finish it I’ll have cracked the 35,000-word mark. That’s about 30,000 more than I expected to write (I’ve tried blogging before and failed miserably), and I’m sure every one of them has made me a better writer.

So why are my posts taking longer and longer to write?

One problem is obviously coming up with ideas. My life isn’t very eventful (though I’d like to change that), and so I often struggle to come up with something to talk about. And the more I post, the worse it’s going to get.

Then there’s the problem of repeating myself. Every so often I’ll be working on a post and suddenly think I’ve said it all before—especially if the writing is going really well. So I’ll spend the next ten minutes doing searches to convince myself otherwise. (For the record, I’ve only done it a couple of times which, considering how shocking my memory is sometimes, isn’t too bad.)

But I think what’s really slowing me down is that I no longer come to the keyboard thinking, Okay, this is what I want to say. These days it’s more like, Okay, this is what I want to say. Now, what’s the best way to say it?

So I’ll think of a lead, and write it down. Then I might write down a few more leads that could also work. A possible title comes to mind, so I’ll put that at the top of the page before returning to the bottom.

Later on I might remember an anecdote I can use, and I’ll type that up. Later on I might decide I should use it to start the post, and so up it goes. Whole paragraphs get pushed around, and new ones get added to fill the void.

And then I might find what I thought was a perfect sentence, or even paragraph, just doesn’t fit any more, and so with the push of a button it disappears forever—or at least until I realise I can use it somewhere else and start hitting “Undo” a dozen times to bring it back.

After what seems an eternity (especially as I tend to start late at night), I have my first draft. The structure is pretty sound, and it seems to flow.

Then I start looking at the paragraphs, making sure they’re as short as possible, and say only what needs to be said. Making sure everything still flows as it should.

Then I’ll look at the sentences and the words, making sure they work together, and create a nice rhythm, a nice sound. If something doesn’t sound right, I’ll keep tweaking the words until it does. (My favourite quote at the moment is from Elmore Leonard: “If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it”.)

From here I give it a final read (to hopefully pick up the typos), think of a title (which can take another ten minutes or so), and then post.

If I’m lucky the whole process has only taken me an hour or so. If I’m not, then I’m going to very tired when the alarm goes off the following morning.

I’m not saying this is how it should be done. Believe me, I’d love to have the whole thing fully-formed in my head so I can just type for ten minutes and it’s done. But for me writing has always meant rewriting, and if it takes me a bit longer to get there, then so be it.

After all, this isn’t a sprint. It’s a marathon. And I’ve still got a long way to go.

{ 1 comment… add one }
  • Susan Lambe March 24, 2010, 6:54 pm

    Bill – you once told me that you have to write out all the bad before the good stuff can come out. Good writing takes time – you know that, so don’t be so hard on yourself.

    At the moment, I still have to walk away from a draft post and come back to it with the benefit of some distance and fresher eyes before I’m happy to publish it. Usually I need to sleep on it – and often, I’ve been writing it in my head days before I sit down to write it!

    Don’t think of it as re-writing. Think of it as refining. And know that it’s worth it.



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