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Just Write, Right?

writing a rough draftI’m always telling beginning writers that a major part of the secret of writing success is to write. Which is true. After all nothing can happen in a writing career if the words don’t appear either on screen or on paper. Readers need words to read, and that’s what we’re doing, creating the words for readers to read.

As a veteran writer the admonishment to write is obvious – I conjure up an idea, sit down at the computer and natter on. But that’s after more years of practice than I really want to admit.

Back at the beginning I do remember freezing before a blank sheet of paper and then an empty computer screen. Even if I had an idea I hardly knew what to do about getting anything written, let alone anything remotely publisher.

So let me give you an example.

I conceived the idea of a column about my experiences as a single parent. I wanted to be the Dear Abby of single parenting. Since that required questions and I had no readers yet, I had to first create a series of questions. I did this by thinking about the questions I would have liked answered along the way and began a list of questions. I no longer have that initial list, but I know many of the items on the list were single words or incomplete sentences, probably like this:

  • sex
  • mowing the lawn
  • doing the dishes

After I had a good long list I turned the list into real sounding questions, sort of like this:

Dear Ann,

My kids are 3 and 4 years old. When do I tell them about sex?

Dear Ann,

My son is 15 and his chore is to mow the lawn. Right now it looks like a jungle out there – what do I do?

Dear Ann,

My 14 year old son refuses to do the dishes. Apparently on his last visit to his dad’s he was told ‘dishes are women’s work.’ I don’t even know how to begin to tell him he’s wrong.

As I recall it took me quite awhile to figure out how I wanted to form the questions. It turned out the answers were even trickier. But that’s not the point.

The point is that once I had a question I could begin to form the answer. The question gave me something to chew on to write about that. And before that was the idea of the column.

In other words, you take your idea and you begin to write a rough draft; you don’t worry about complete sentences, or spelling or even organization, you just write.

It’s similar to the hand written Morning Pages Julia Cameron talks about in The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity except you’re writing to or about a specific idea and probably with a particular market in mind.

Once you get some writing down, you can begin to rewrite and edit it, but not until you’ve put some words to paper or screen.

Yes, the rough draft is apt to be awful – that’s why it’s called a ‘rough’ draft. Particularly in the beginning, those first efforts aren’t expected to be readable prose. As you develop the habit of writing you can begin to work toward smoother drafts, but not until the writing habit is firmly established.

So quit reading, go write, then come back and tell us how it went.


{ 10 comments… add one }
  • Amy

    After months of “avoiding the blank page” and feeling blocked…I happened to pick up “The Artist’s Way” totally randomly one day, after years of not reading it. That day I was frustrated about something unrelated to writing…and decided to “write out my frustration” using her “Morning Pages” model. This all of a sudden freed my mind…I then went to the computer and opened a blank page and just started “talking to myself”…about whatever was on my mind. At the same time my Internet service was down for a few days…so each morning I just opened MS Word instead of distracting and time-consuming emails…and continued the habit of “talking to myself” for about an hour or so.
    Out of these random happenings, my mind got unexpectedly freed, and a new writing habit developed (until my old computer died, but that’s another story) and two articles I submitted and got published in two
    e-newsletters came from it within days. From one of them I was asked to write regularly for another non-profit weekly email. I suddenly felt like I could actually get a complete idea down, after months of ideas just coming and going through my mind and never being captured.
    Something about the actual “doing of it” (without having “set out to write articles”…made me “feel” what I’d always read about, and it finally clicked. The freedom to just talk to myself on a page, without any expectations of a finished article, (and I’d start a few “conversations” at once and go back and forth until one took off) freed up the “scary writer’s block” and allowed a draft to come out, with which I could then hone and finish.
    If this can work for me, (I’d been frustrated for a while) it can for anyone…write random thoughts, rough outlines, bullets of “what u want to say”…anything…just to start “talking to yourself”…and see how it will develop. THEN…you can start the actual work of writing it well.

  • jorgekafkazar

    Okay, Anne, good hook. For the record, though, Julia Cameron’s “morning pages” were originally recommended by (if memory serves) Dorothea Brande in her “Becoming a Writer” (1934). There may be an earlier origin, but I’m not aware of it.

    • Anne

      hmmm… I like Brande’s book, or I did when I read it 100 years ago… didn’t realize she originated morning pages. Thanks.

  • See I didn’t self-edit so I missed the typo–great adviCe–laughing really loudly!! 😀
    Cathy Miller recently posted..How to Write a Reference Without CringingMy Profile

    • LOL Cathy!!

      I do that too; it’s annoying. Someone turned me onto this thing called Write or Die (http://writeordie.drwicked.com/). It’s usable free on the website, or you can download it for $10. You write inside this box, and if you stop it has…consequences. You can set the punishment but don’t use it if you’re easily startled!

      The point is, it doesn’t give me room to edit. I have to just WRITE. So far I’ve only used it once and someone interrupted me, so I had to stop anyway.
      Elizabeth West recently posted..Lessons from a Master: Relentless by Dean KoontzMy Profile

    • Anne

      typos allowed here… I sure make enough of ’em.

  • Great advise, Anne. Self-editing as I write is something I constantly battle. It’s a real productivity killer.
    Cathy Miller recently posted..How to Write a Reference Without CringingMy Profile

    • Anne

      try turning down your screen so you almost can’t see what you’re writing… that’s one way to break the constant editing habit.

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