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Writing

Idea-first or word-first writers

Replied to What are some tips for advanced writers? How do you push your writing into by Venkatesh Rao (Quora)

You could divide the world of advanced writers into a 2×2, based on whether they are prioritizing developing their thinking or their writing, and whether they are focusing on fiction or non-fiction.

Prioritizing thinking or wordcraft is an intriguing way to divide writers. (I usually find what Venkatesh Rao has to say interesting, though I often disagree with him.)

This mind garden is thinking-focused, often an unrevised braindump (sorry anyone reading πŸ˜…). I revise as I write, the writing process being largely a thinking process for me as well, with most of my edits to reflect changes in my thinking as I draft. I try to cut out my pet issues, which are usually asides tangential to, and distracting from, my main path of thought (of course, always after I’ve spent ten minutes writing a rant πŸ˜‰) — although in casual writing like blogging I do like a more stream of consciousness, conversational style.

In my fiction, too, I’m an idea-focused writer. One of my friends writes lyrical prose that castsΒ  mood beautifully — a writing style that serves her well for short stories. I don’t care enough about wordcraft to put in the work to develop gorgeous prose — and fortunately my workman prose is suitable for the commercial genres I write in, romance and science fiction. (I wonder if my indifference to finely crafted prose contributes to my distaste for literature πŸ€” Other readers derive a lot of value from beautiful writing, but I’m honed in on the action and skim-read on fast forward to get to the good stuff, so the prose doesn’t really register for me unless it beats me over the head like Raymond Chandler πŸ€·β€β™€οΈ)

What matters to me in both my fiction and nonfiction writing is clarity — a mark I miss more than I’d like in first drafts πŸ˜‰ In fiction I tend to write in a reverse order from what makes sense to the reader, so revision involves a lot of moving sentences around. In non-fiction, I tend towards overlong, overcomplicated sentences. Em dashes, semicolons, parentheticals, give em to me πŸ˜‰

Learning to recognize your personal writing patterns and tendencies is a key aspect of getting better at revision; when I worked as a writing tutor we listened for patterns we could point out to a writer, so they could focus on spotting and revising those in future works.

How much, and how quickly, does practicing revision improve your first draft writing? In fiction writing I can focus on improving one aspect of my drafting at a time. Gradually, my initial versions need less attention. I’ve focused this way on dialogue and visual / sensory description (my fiction suffers from white room syndrome πŸ˜‚) — but also know to put extra emphasis on checking for these in planning and revision. Part of becoming a better writer is adapting your process to suit your style and weaknesses — the quality of your first drafts is less important than the finished work, as long as you’re actually revising πŸ˜‰

By Tracy Durnell

Writer and designer in the Seattle area. Freelance sustainability consultant. Reach me at tracy.durnell@gmail.com. She/her.

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