Writing Advice

There is a lot of advice about writing. From style guides like Strunk and White to the musings of authors like Ray Bradbury or Stephen King. I love this kind of advice, and I’ve read more than I care to admit. I even like journal-writing advice, or philosophical tangents about writing itself. Writing is an area where there exists a ton of good advice, and certain themes emerge that are usually spiritual or mystical in nature (even when not intended).

Write Fast and Edit Slow

In most areas of life we start slow and then get faster with practice. Writing is the opposite. Start fast, get the ideas flowing. As you revise and edit you’ll slow down, slower and slower until the very bitter end. The more you’re writing and exploring ideas, the faster you’ll move. And likewise, the more you’re revising, the slower you’ll move.

Let’s break this down.

Write Fast

Write freely (and badly) to get everything out, especially in the first draft. Later, you can delete what doesn’t work. Deleting weak ideas is strangely pleasing, especially considering the alternative: anxiously worrying about missed ideas.

Write daily

Set a (very small) minimum time limit but never a word limit. Some days you can write for hours and hours. Other days you won’t find time. Set a daily minimum, say, 10-minutes. That’s it. Just 10-minutes per day. Sit down and write for at least 10-minutes. Even on a really busy day, a really bad day, you’ll find 10-minutes to write.

In practice, this can turn into hours. Hours that you never would have found had you not committed to that 10-minutes.

Discover the Shadows

As you’re writing fast, let the ideas truly flow and confront every fear and anxious thought that pops into your mind. Discover the story as you go, or as Ray Bradbury says, surprise yourself.

Invoke the Muse

Say a quick prayer before you start writing, and do it every day. Do this to show respect to the brilliant writers and storytellers that have come before you, those that inspired you to write, whose words call out through death and imbue wisdom into your life. Writing is magical in ways we barely understand. Don’t hold back. Invoke the Muse and don’t be apologetic about it.

The audience is you

Write to your past self, the one that was aimless yet seeking. Write what you would have wanted to read. Write to that part of you that is still aimless and is still seeking.

If you’re writing to a generic “other”, you’re writing propaganda. Stop it.

Edit Slow

When you’re letting ideas flow onto a page, you’re writing. And when you’re revising what you wrote, you’re editing. If there’s a process here, it’s in the interplay between these two forces. It is the mingling of order and chaos (editing and writing).

When editing, take your time, 1-word at a time, 1-sentence at a time. This is why you shouldn’t set a daily word limit. On some days you can write a few thousand words, on other days you’ll end up a few thousands words shorter than when you started.

Say it out loud

Read to your past self in soaring voices befitting the quality of the work, and listen for when it works and when it doesn’t. Delete what doesn’t work, and strengthen what does work.

Beware the Curse of Knowledge

Functional fixity.
Creatively break down forms and functions till they don’t break down further.

Don’t sweat the big stuff. Trust in powers beyond yourself.

Clear, Concise, and Coherent

Aware, Align/Sacrifice, Boldness/Act

You can see music, and odors, and taste
You can feel images
There are more than 5 senses.

Well formed sentences
Big concepts at the end (to the right)
Concepts flow for the reader

Know tenses

Re: punctuation
Pick a convention and use it, e.g., oxford commas.
… unless breaking the convention is fun, but if you’re going to break convention, be bold and obvious about what you’re doing.

Put a little order in the chaos.
Put a little chaos in the order.