The Right Way to Write

So many blogs, books, and classes these days tell you how to write. Some offer craft of writing education, others (like mine), offer tips and ideas for genre-specific works. For example, I’ve offered advice from my own learning and writing experience about inventing fantasy words for your epic fantasy or sci-fi story, or researching for and writing historical fiction.

But a bigger, and perhaps more important, question is this: is there a right (and thusly, wrong) way to write? My answer is both yes and no.

First of all, in fiction writing, there are some basics that yes, you need to get right if you’re going to have a marketable (or even readable) book. Stuff like coherent plot, characters, and basic grammar and spelling really do matter. Studying writing crafts books, taking seminars from established writers, and just plain old reading well-written books are great ways to learn how to write right.

But what about the more abstract elements of writing “right”? Does that even mean?

The main reason I was prompted to write this blog post is because I’ve recently encountered a number of articles/blogs about how to write quickly – no surprise there, since we’re in the thick of NaNoWriMo, which is characterized by writing fast (how else could you reach 50,000 words in 30 days)? First of all, let me be clear that I love NaNoWriMo and everything that the organization strives to do. Helping folks to get excited about writing is never a bad thing. And neither is writing quickly.

Writing quickly has its benefits. Powering through a scene or chapter without re-reading or doing any self-editing help keep you on track for where you’re going with the story, can help keep you in the flow mentally, and can help prevent the endless polishing of one paragraph that you might eventually toss out entirely. Encouraging writers to “silence their inner editor” and write quickly without looking back is good and I know helps a lot of writers.

However, in many of the articles and blogs touting the benefits of writing fast, the opposite (i.e. writing slowly, or going back and self-editing as you write) is implied to be bad, wrong, or not the way that professional writers do it. Perhaps writing quickly without self-editing is indeed the “norm” (whatever that means), or maybe a lot of full-time professional novelists do in fact write this way.

To that I say – good for them. And good for you, if writing quickly and churning out a fast, loose first draft is the way you write. Clearly it works for a lot of people.

But if you’re a slow writer, that’s okay, too. After trying NaNoWriMo a couple of times years ago, I decided not to bother with it again (again, nothing against NaNo or those who participate). I’ve finally come to terms with the fact that I am slow writer. Could I write more frequently or consistently than I often do? Yes, of course. But the “fast writing” technique of powering through a full draft without looking back doesn’t work for me.

I can often crank out a full scene or even series of scenes without self-editing or looking back; but after a while, I stop drafting and go back to read what I’ve written. And I self-edit and make changes. This is a no-no for the “writing quickly” crowd, but I find that after re-reading and editing what I’ve written, I feel more confident about moving on to the next scene.

This also means that my first draft is more polished than some. It may take me four times as long to finish a first draft as it takes those fast writers; however, when I do finally finish, I actually have a second or even third draft because I’ve edited, rewritten, polished, and revised as I went along.

My slow writing technique is not better or worse than the much-touted fast writing technique – or any other writing technique. The most important thing about writing is to write. Fast, slow, pretty, ugly – it doesn’t matter. So find what way works best for you. Writers write – and that’s the right way to write.

2 thoughts on “The Right Way to Write

  1. You make some good points! I love drafting quickly, especially since it helps me to actually finish and keep the flow of the story instead of stopping and starting and taking forever to complete a project, but it does make for messy revisions. The couple of novels I’ve oh-so-carefully outlined and revised as I went have been much smoother, more polished drafts that aren’t quite as daunting to edit. Not enough articles talk about the slower process!

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    • I agree that slower, self-editing writing should be talked about more. One reason I like the slower, polishing process is because I absolutely hate revising, at least on a large scale. 😛 I like having a polished, tidy first draft when I finally finish, even though it takes a while to get there.

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