Edit While I Write
(And other unsavory things I do in the face of endless writing advice)
Like you, I write.
And by that, I mean I check my email, browse social media, read countless Medium articles that all say the same thing over and over and over…basically, I do anything but write.
But also, I do get words down on the digital page. I’ve been doing so for a few weeks now. And what’s more, I’ve done it by effectively dissing 95% of the advice found online, this wonderful platform included.
I’ve been using Medium as a place to get all angsty and whatnot, with a dash of Jake humor. I’ve also been reading Medium articles, fully aware that they are not teaching me squat, but reiterating what I already know in various word counts. So, might as well join the crowd.
I am a very peculiar writer.
I feel like most writers can say this about themselves. Peculiar = unique. Unique = good for writing. You don’t look at your favorite book and go, “Oh, wow! I loved it the first ten times I read something similar, this one is the same and terrific!”
However, when I say “peculiar,” I mean downright, really f*cking quirky. My voice is nothing that I’ve ever read (probably a bad sign; this article should be titled “How to Not Get Published). My writing process is an amalgamation of famous literary geniuses and my own personal f*ck-it mentality.
The biggest part of my process is consistency.
I am the hammer, consistency is the nail. Here, let me pound it into your head. The only way anyone can write something longer than oh, I don’t know, 5000 words is by stringing together multiple days of writing. And the only way you can do this without the writing turning stale or disinteresting is by doing it day after day, without stopping. You go, Jerry Seinfeld.
You’d think this gets boring — and trust me, it did drive me into the wall that is either writer’s block or thinking my writing is absolute shit, I’ve reached the middle, oh Lordy why do I even do this, I can’t write to save my life. But this is where my second peculiarity comes into play:
I write what I would want to read.
This actually means two things:
- I write with a voice that really piques my interest, keeping things fresh by finding new metaphors and getting really creative with sentence structure, flow, dialogue, etc.
- I don’t know what’s going to happen next (more on this later).
Why write something that, in my opinion, is super stuffy and bland and not my style at all? Because Ernest Hemingway said so? Or Nathaniel Hawthorne? I’m sorry, but shoot me in the face if I ever try to publish something along the lines of The Scarlet Letter.
By writing something that actually excites me or keeps me deep in the story, writing my 2000 words per day is easy-breezy. It takes me a few hours max, and I move on with my day.
I go back to yesterday’s writing to get back in the story.
This one I learned from August Birch. His article is also where I got the idea to write like a reader. Essentially, I read (as a reader) the previous day’s writing to see if anything can be altered. This would also be known as Editing While I’m Writing. (See? We’ve come full circle.)
The cool thing is, I find areas where the language can be boosted, or I find places where the flow falters and I cut some so that my reading experience is an enjoyable one. Then the hamster wheel is already moving when I get to where I left off. At that point, I’ve added about 300–400 words to the writing from yesterday, leaving me with 1700–1600 words to propel the story forward.
If you didn’t figure this out already, I write 2000 words.
I could write more, but this shall make it a habit.
The 2000-word mark is what Stephen King — the person we all aspire to be — does. Of course, we aren’t King, but we can emulate the things that make him tick.
Maybe, when I don’t have to be a freelance content creator/editor and I am writing my fiction full time, I will bump it up to 3000. Maybe.
But that is for a later time.
I have no idea where I’m going.
True to writing like a reader, I have no clue what’s going to happen next. I may have a general idea based on trajectory, but my subconscious hasn’t concocted the event yet. That’s why reading the previous day’s work is crucial; I get back into the story, then I figure out what the natural progression of things is within the story.
This allows my muse — the fickle bitch — to play catch-up with me, getting on board the same city bus so we go to the same place together. Then, figuring out what’s going on a split second before writing it, paired with my off-the-wall voice, makes for a wonderful adventure. The consistency makes sure I have an adventure every day.
Once I’m done with a project, it goes bye-bye.
Hello, proverbial desk drawer. I shut myself off from the completed first draft. It’s like a baked good: You have to wait for it to cool a little bit, Billy, before you can bite into it.
I continue onto other projects, maybe some short stories (or another novel if I’m so inclined), for a week or two. Then, when I feel like the story has cooled and hardened into something tangible and not my own, out comes the printer.
And no, I don’t own a printer. I’m a Millennial. I bum off other people’s printers.
Out comes the pen, out comes my Save the Cat! Writes a Novel book for overall structure — to make sure I have an internal story, external story, and that the two are connected — and out comes Chuck Palahniuk.
Chuck Palahniuk? you might be asking.
Yep. He wrote a few think pieces on the craft of writing that I really dig and are available for free online. I feel like I do too many “thought” verbs (like “feel”), and Chuck says to not cheat; instead, expand it into showing the reader.
So Chuck, Save the Cat!, and common grammatical, spelling, and continuity check. There’s my editing process. Done and done. (This might take me a few weeks.)
Bring out the beta readers.
I have a small group of people in mind who get to read my work first. One is my wife (duh). The second one is my sister (double duh). The third one is another budding author whom I’ve verbally (social medially?) agreed to swap manuscripts. It shouldn’t hurt to get the perspective of another author.
I’m going to provide them with a questionnaire at the end of their reading with certain questions I feel are important regarding the book. One such example: What do you think the title should be? Literally. At this point, I have zero ideas as to what this novel should be called. Help!
I’ll take their notes and suggestions, ignore the sting of healthy criticism, and do a final round of edits.
Time for the query letter.
This is my process.
Does this mean it will work for you? No. Hell no.
But it shows you how I have constructed my process from bits here and pieces there. I use some of Stephen King’s suggestions, but not all. I do some of August Birch’s things, but I definitely edit after the fact. I write 2000 words because that’s what I’m comfortable with. You’ll be different.
At least, I hope so. ’Cause I’m unique. So back off. (But also, take some of my stuff that works for you.)
Until next time.
There’s more where this came from:
I’m a would-be writer…and a Millennial…and an American…and whatever else you would fill out on a medical form.
The Flaws of a Would-Be Author
I’m the poster child for the Millennial American dream…and the amount of work you need to put in to achieve it.
My first article since coming back to Medium. I think it’s good. So does my wife.
Want to live a balanced life? Well, this won’t help that…