I am a writing procrastinator. Just ask my husband and business partner, who was one of my first newspaper editors.
I used to rewrite a story’s lead over and over again before moving to the next paragraph. And if that second paragraph didn’t fit with the first just so, I would go back and rewrite the lead yet again.
“Stop dinking with the story!” one editor would tell me. Another editor leaned over me on election night, yelling, “Just hit send, Barbara!” It’s a wonder I wasn’t fired.
Years later, I accidentally sent an editor the first draft of a story and — to my shock — the writing was pretty good! In fact, it was more readable than the polished version I’d meant to send her. That version I’d reworked a dozen times, worrying every phrase, verb and transition.
That experience taught me something important, but it wasn’t until I encountered some advice from the writing coach Daphne Gray that I really changed how I wrote.
Gray recommends that you start by outlining what you want to say. She suggests a visual outline or story mapping, which are helpful to some writers. Thinking through what you want to write is always important, but I’m iffy about outlines. It was what she said next that rocked my world.
Just write. Turn off that grouchy — and in my case paralyzing — internal editor and write the hell out of it, as an editor used to tell me when I was onto a good story.
Don’t worry about whether the first paragraph is exactly or even remotely what you want it to be. Don’t bother getting names, dates and other facts exactly right. Just fill that blank screen with words until you’re done.
If you have monkey mind and can’t stay focused, set a timer for 25 minutes and tell yourself that you will do nothing but write for that time. Nothing. That’s the Pomodoro Technique, and I find it works wonders. Usually, I find myself resetting the timer again and again without break until the project is done.
Once you have completed the writing, put it away or a day or two…if time allows. Then wake up that perpetually dissatisfied editor inside you. She might be surprised and maybe even pleased with what she reads. If she’s not, let her go to work, perfecting the lead, smoothing out the language, checking names, dates, spelling and grammar.
I’m still a writing procrastinator, a problem compounded by the fact that I often work at home where dishes, laundry and dog hair on the floor beckon. The other day I set out fresh boxes of Kleenex in every bedroom before I settled at my desk to write a blog post.
But thanks to the ideas of Daphne Gray and others, I’ve developed my own approach to writing that has made me better, more fluid and faster.
If you have a severe editor inside you who keeps you from writing, just set a timer and write. Tell that editor you’ll get back to him when you’re ready for his services.
— BARBARA LeBLANC