How I Write

Thursday, November 30th, 2006

I’ve tried various methods of writing fiction. From the obscure snowflake method to the well known (and probably overdone) heroes journey. I was reading a post on John Rogers Kung Fu Monkey blog Writing: The Knuckleball and it made me think about the method I come back to time and again that grew out of the technique for writing essays my dad showed me when I was at school. It has a few simple stages.

  1. Getting rid of the blank screen as quickly as possible. I put down whatever the core idea is fast.
  2. Build out from the core. This can be other ideas, research notes and anything else of value. A bit like brainstorming but without the nervous moment when you think you’re co-workers may think you’ve lost it and are talking gibberish.
  3. The second blank screen. I know I got rid of this as quickly as possible in step 1. In step 3 I open a new document and start to cut the good bits from stage 2 onto the blank space. Now though I organise the thoughts into some sort of structure. For reasons that will become apparent in the next step I put each separate idea in square brackets. This is draft 1 and why no one ever sees my first draft.
  4. Fill in the gaps. I then go through draft 1 and fill in any gaping holes or simply note that I’m going to leave the hole and cut from one event to the next. At this point an article has normally fallen into logical sections and stories normally have some sort of structure. I can work out roughly how it hangs together and if I want to work to a particular act based structure and length work out how many words each part should have. This is the second draft.
  5. Now the grind of the story begin as I go through and actually write the real text of the piece out replacing the square bracketed sections as I go. If I have a bit I can’t find a way to write but which I can come back to I use sound military strategy of envelopment. I’ll add whatever extra notes I think I need about what should happen then leave the Motti to attack later.
  6. Get rid of any Motti left behind.
  7. Revise. Revise. Revise again. So all the square bracketed parts are gone and I’ve written the end. Excellent. Now the hard work begins. Now I start revising and polishing. I know some people hate this. I’d rather do this than put out a piece that I’m not happy with. Sometimes it can be a good idea to get other people to read what you’ve written at this point, as feedback can be a great help. If you can find a good editor who you can work with my experience is that is the best way to do this.
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