I’ve heard plenty of writing advice over the years. Most has been useless, some has been good, but there’s only one piece of advice that ever fundamentally changed the way I write.
My Old Process
The way that I used to write was by opening up a notebook or a blank document on my computer, thinking about my first sentence for a while, and then writing it out.
Next, I read the sentence back, and decided whether I wanted to make any alterations. If so, I immediately edited the sentence, then read it back again. I would keep repeating this step until I was satisfied.
When the first sentence was to my liking, I’d start thinking about the second sentence. I’d go on and on like this for pages, until finally typing out my last line.
There might be a little exaggeration here, but only a little. My writing and editing processes were completely intertwined. I’d edit as I go, trying to get as close as I could to a final draft on my first try.
The advice that changed my writing came from a lawyer at one of the agencies I interned at in law school. He told me to break my writing down into four steps: brainstorming, outlining, writing, and editing.
I followed this simple advice and immediately realized that it made writing far easier than ever before. Although breaking the process into multiple steps sounds like it should take longer, I was actually able to write faster than ever.
Why It Works
Our brain uses a different mode of thinking at each step of the writing process. When brainstorming, we’re in a wild, creative mode. When outlining, we have to think about rigid structure. The writing itself is back to creative thinking, and the editing is back to rigid rules.
Trying to alternate back and forth between these ways of thinking is really difficult when done on a sentence by sentence level. It makes it impossible to get into the “zone” or achieve any “flow.”
When I used to write, I’d cut off my creativity every time that it got started. Then, as my brain shifted to thinking about the rigid rules of grammar, I’d cut myself off again and force it back to creativity. Each time I tried to think differently, I’d slow myself down.
By trying to do everything at once, I was doing it all poorly. By learning to segment my work, I grew as a writer faster than at any other point in my life.
If you’re still attempting to write and edit at the same time, I’d urge you to at least try breaking it into separate processes. You’ll likely be amazed by just how much easier writing becomes.