Creating vs Editing: a writer’s challenge

Context switching between writing and editing is often a challenge for me as a writer. When I’m in the creative flow, the words come easily, without hindrance. However, when I shift over to editing mode, to polish the words, the well seems to dry up. The hypercritical internal editor does not seem to be compatible with the internal novelist. I know, I know. It’s a little weird to call them out as separate characters, however, they’re so very different. They feel like different characters in a story.

It seems like the only way to balance the two ways of perceiving is to give them their own stage. For the most part, I am finding it useful to schedule my time month by month – a month of outlining and writing, followed by a month of editing and polishing. When I’ve tried switching between the two on the same day, neither the writing nor the editing seems to be any good. The editor is so very picky.

This is in addition to the more normal challenges of switching between being in work mode for my full-time job and carving out two hours a day to attend to the various aspects of being a writer.

At work, where I manage a team of designers, I context switch all day long. There are meetings, consultations, design work and planning sessions. Sometimes I’m thinking as a front-end web developer, which is very specific about the code and the alignment of every pixel. Sometimes, I find myself staying late at work, where I am already in the mode of looking at the details.

There’s a sweet spot at the beginning of the day, before work begins, when the world is new. That’s the time I find myself writing in my journal. It’s freeform, about the world I find myself in. Occasionally, I’ll finish up writing journal entries, and will find myself writing a scene from a book. During the month of November, when I’m doing the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo.org – a challenge of 50K words in 30 days), I go into work at least an hour early each day to get the fresh time of day to write. My goal is around 750-1000 words for session one. I do another 750-1000 words in session 2 after dinner. However, during that month I don’t plan to do any editing.

Gradually, I was finding a rhythm, however, life events made it challenging to keep up. I was doing:

  • Early morning free-form writing for two months
  • Late day editing for a month
  • Back to free-form writing for a couple of months

After a six month hiatus, where nothing went according to plan, I am working out what my new writing rhythm looks like. Somewhere in there, I hope to create at least one blog post a week. Blog posts are short enough that those might fit the early morning time slot. Getting an editor (someone other than me) would also be a help. If I’m honest with myself, I like doing the developmental edit, and then the final edit at the end, polishing the commas. All the other steps in the middle are about as exciting as stirring a pot of oatmeal. That’s terrible of me to say, isn’t it? Still, other folks tell me they feel much the same way. One friend says he leaves a piece of work alone for six months after he’s done the first draft, giving it time to settle. That’s not an entirely bad idea, in my humble opinion.

For a while, I’m going to try breaking out of the month-long assignment of time. I’ll try outlining in the evenings and writing first thing in the morning for a week at a time. Then I’ll try a first pass on editing on a weekend afternoon. We’ll see how that rolls along. The advice I’ve read goes like this

  • Write at the same time every day
  • Write in the same place to establish a habit
  • Outline first, even if that’s just 40 sentences
  • Type fast – 60 words a minute becomes 3600 in an hour.
  • Do micro-sprints. Write for 20 or 25 minutes at a time. Many times a day.
  • Write without editing to keep up the pace
  • Edit what you did yesterday, then outline and write for today
  • Carve out at least 2 hours a day to write – 10 hours weekdays / 4 hours each day on weekends
  • Try a transcription app. Temi is great. For a couple dollars, you get quick transcripts from hands-free recordings. Car time is made productive.

What I’ve often said at work is, “There is only one thing, that being the work in the moment”. I need to remind myself to worry less about the task that is out of sight at the present.

I wonder if others have the similar issues in context switching between writing and editing? I’d love to hear tips and tricks others have found to level-up in writing and editing with complete focus on one or the other.

Sketching with the iskn tablet

isknpackageIt was a quiet day at home on Saturday. Picked up the iskn tablet for the first time and installed the software. It was a bit mysterious at first, with some back and forth to the manual. Once it was connected and charged, I was good to go. The tutorials were surprisingly helpful. The only thing I had trouble with, at first, was the orientation of the tablet and screen. I wanted portrait, and it kept coming up landscape. If all else fails, read the directions. Got that sorted, and started drawing. It was an intuitive and expressive tool to use. I’ll be giving it a good try out over the next week, to see where it fits into my drawing patterns. My first impression: how easy and fluid it was to use. It felt just as natural as drawing with a pen.

BrolgaStandingRiaLoader2018WebMy first drawing, using the iskn, was about getting used to the pen device. I played around with pressure and such, angle of the pen, and pretty much stuck to the default pen setting this time around. There’s a ring that fits around your own pen, and a couple of magnetic rings around a stylus and pen that comes with the iskn. The drawing tablet has all these magnetic spots that line up with what you are drawing. It’s really quite smooth. Using any paper of your choice, you are freed up to draw and have the illustration appear on the screen as you draw it. It felt quite a lot more expressive than a Wacom tablet, which I already have. It also has a cord-free mode and some online storage, so you can use it on the go. Haven’t tried that yet, but will do so in short order.

I’m in the midst of illustrations for a kids book that’s set in the Australian Bush. The place is Billabong Flats, a mythical place where everyone gets along and has fun. The story I’m working on is about a Brolga, a kind of crane, who likes to dance. She meets up with Koala, who has been wistfully watching her from her perch up in the big gum tree. Koala wants to dance too. The set up illustrations are of Koala and Brolga, down near the water. I decided to draw Brolga in a steady stance, much like a dancer being in first position, before movement.

The iskn will record a movie as you draw, showing the process. That’s a fun and unexpected delight. It records all of your movements throughout the drawing and allows you to export it at the end.

Lists: Write faster by using patterns

A chum of mine at work asked how I manage to get so much written. I write specs, emails, documentation and how-to guides at work; I write novels, short stories, game outlines, nonfiction at home. Each of these pursuits has a different focus, however, there are some things in common:

  • Everything has a particular audience
  • In each case, there is a specific goal for the writing
  • Every kind of writing, for me, has a subject
  • There is always a beginning, a middle and an end
  • The writing is less about me than about the topic

Identify common writing patterns

Identifying common elements in a particular type of writing helps me to write more quickly. Until I know the audience, I can do research, but it is not time to start the email, the document or the story. When I have worked out who I am writing to, then it is easier to work out what needs to be said.

The pattern for documenting a meeting decision

When I am documenting a decision from a meeting, all I need to do is

  • State the problem we identified in the meeting
  • Outline the various positions on the topic (pros and cons)
  • Make sure there is an image or sketch to illustrate the cases
  • Summarize the decision and follow up actions.

Simple, right? Knowing those steps, I make a quick set of headings and start putting bullet points under each area.

Let’s look at another kind of writing and figure out the patterns that apply – blog posts for example, as that’s what I’m doing here.

Pattern for writing a blog post

  • Which blog am I writing it for – that tells me the audience
    (based on the theme of the blog)
  • The goal is to write an article that people will enjoy, one that shares actionable or thought-provoking information about some aspect of the theme
  • The subject should be descriptive and have key words
    The subheadings should also have key words to help people find the article, without being ‘click-bait’ or too catchy
  • I work out what I want to discuss and say that in the first paragraph
    The meat of the article should discuss the main elements to consider
    I ought to recap at the end and summarize – or not, depending

I’m working out the patterns for each of the types of writing I do, and will be putting it all together in a short guide.

What are some of the patterns you’ve noticed in your own writing?