HDE has strengthened my process

Darren Matthews
Oct 3 · 5 min read
Writing the draft using pen and paper
Writing the draft using pen and paper
Photo by Álvaro Serrano on Unsplash

Writing is a wonderful art, hugely perplexing, but wonderful all the same. Since I began writing it has allowed me, as it does others, to turn thoughts into sentences. Sentences which in turn help me clear my mind and evolve my ideas.

I loved reading as a child and still do. There are authors out there that can just hook me into a book like nothing else. To this day, when the right book lands in my hands, everything falls before it.

Tiredness, time and even my wife — they all lose to a great book.

Many a long night has been made to feel like a blink of an eye as I read. Consumed by the power of the story before my eyes.

Years later I found myself with some time and a desire to write. I had so many thoughts in my head at times, it seemed to make sense to get them out. The opportunity to share them with others would also be fun.

So I picked up my laptop and started to blog.

The Pain of Being a Bad Writer

I realised quickly that my exam results hadn’t lied. I wasn’t a good writer and there was a particular limit on my ability to string words together. Reading my words back to myself was like a visit to the dentist: painful.

It was made worse by the time it took me to write even a few words. I could spend hours writing and then re-writing every word.

My writing was gripped with an editing frenzy I couldn’t contain.

The outcome was that it took me weeks to finish an article and, even then, it wasn’t that great. The problem, I discovered, was that my writing process was non-existent. It was fair to say I was a little out of my depth!

But I am not someone who is easily defeated

I wanted to learn how to improve as a writer. To my delight, I found a solution that changed everything. Not only the way I wrote but, crucially, what I ended up with on the screen.

The solution was in an acronym.

A Lesson From One Writer to Another

All too often in life, you find solutions when you least expect them. That’s what happened to me.

I was listening to a podcast from Tim Ferris. He was interviewing Safi Bahcall who had recently published a book titled Loonshots. Safi explained the logic behind an acronym and how it defined his writing process.

That acronym was H.D.E.: Hunting — Drafting — Editing.

Here’s how it works.

1. Hunting

Everything starts with an idea, remember that light bulb going off in your head before you started reading? An idea, a thought or maybe something that someone said.

Whatever the inspiration, you have to capture those ideas

Keep a notebook by your bed ready to write down that idea, before it gets consumed by all the others. Maybe even keep another one in the bathroom cabinet.

Pull those ideas together, assess them and maybe even write them down to figure you them out. An idea proposal can help explain your idea on paper, in a way that sometimes your mind cannot do alone.

2. Drafting

There doesn’t have to be anything good about a draft. It should be written quickly, badly, and wrongly. Safi has another acronym for this: F.B.R.

It means write Fast, write Bad and write wRong. The incorrect capitalisation is a prompt to remember the message loaded into F.B.R.

A draft is exactly what it says: a draft. Many writers, myself included, try to write a finished article from the start. It’s wrong to do this.

A draft written without any focus on presentation or quality allows for a flow of words. Once you’ve finished the draft, then you can start to edit.

3. Editing

Editing is the art of taking a mass of words and sentences and making them readable. This means so much more than running the words through a spell-checker.

Editing is adding structure, prose, and refinement to the draft to enable the article to flow for the reader.

Think of a stream and moving all the little log jams, allowing the water to flow freely. This is the flow your editing is looking to achieve.

How My Writing Improved

Hearing all this on the podcast was a eureka moment for me, and oh how I needed it.

I was going from the idea to the finished article in one step. No wonder it was taking me so long to produce a finished article. I realised that I needed to separate each stage and operate in a more disciplined manner.

As I separated each stage so my articles changed, improving beyond recognition.

As I hunted for ideas and logged them, I started drafting idea proposals. As a result, I produced much stronger themes to write about. Then there were the changes to the actual content I was producing.

Drafting with Pen and Paper

When I was writing before, I would become tied up in detail. With every new sentence, I would check the spelling or change the words rather than focus on the story.

To break this habit I started producing my drafts with pen and paper.

This was a big change, but one that made such a difference to the content I produced. The words flowed, allowing me to build and evolve the initial idea into a story rather than a scribble.

From the page of a writing pad came a collection of words that I could then sit and type up, editing as I went. This gave me the capacity to build structure into my writing. I could develop my story as well as selecting the right words.

To help improve my content I used the Hemmingway app and Grammarly. These tools are great for keeping a handle on my wayward witterings!

One Last Thing

As Steve Job’s would say at his amazing Apple presentations, there is one last thing.

This one last thing also came from the podcast and left a profound impression on me. Safi explained how he studied great pieces of writing at length. He wanted to understand how great writers went about their art.

For example, he would select a paragraph from a popular book that he enjoyed reading and then study it.

By studying the text he observed the structure of what he was reading. How the words flowed and how the story was assembled.

This process of study helped shape his writing ability. Having read Safi’s book Loonshots, it’s fair to say the studying was successful.

He had discovered the hook as I call it.

The hook is the story. It’s how you get addicted to an article or a book. Successful writers seem to instinctively know how to do this.

This is my ongoing practice, not only to write using a strong writing process but to find the ‘hook’.

The hook that gets readers addicted to my writing. Oh to dream…

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Darren Matthews

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I’m a passionate writer who normally finds angst within the world of leadership and strategy. All framed within subjects such as business, politics and writing.

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