Sixty second writing tips: fast writing and sedate revision

There is an old adage that author should write fast and revise slowly. It’s a good habit to get into.

A picture I took in 2008 of a Katherine Mansfield quote on the Wellington writers' walk.

A quote on the Wellington writers’ walk.

Writing fast preserves the immediacy of inspiration – it has a freshness about it. The ideas pour out. Of course it’ll be rough, maybe very rough. But, as we know, a rubbish first draft is better than no first draft.

That, I think, is where National Novel Writing Month comes in. A quick blurt of 50,000 words, not much polished.

The quality comes from the revision. Like it or not, a finished first draft is usually only the beginning of the writing journey. And that quality can take time.

Maybe it’ll involve a re-write, possibly a substantial one. Is there a percentage – 20 percent writing, 80 percent revising? Not really. It’ll depend on the individual author and  how they write.

How much time do you usually put into revisions, after drafting?

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2013

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15 comments on “Sixty second writing tips: fast writing and sedate revision

  1. I agree whole-heartedly, which is why I find myself trying to talk people into doing NaNoWriMo.
    I suspect my percentages would be around 5-95 in terms of how much time I spend revising after writing my draft. Ask me in another ten years, I might have a more accurate figure then hahaha!

  2. Your advice is write fast then revise is sound – I know it makes sense yet find myself most nights in front of my computer not even knowing what I’m going to write about. I start with a sentence or two, walk away while they rattle about my head, then proceed – most often in a totally different direction than intended. I tend to revise as I go because my point of view morphs as I revise.

  3. Jake Adler says:

    Similar to Notes to Ponder, I revise as I go. It is a slow and laborious way of writing but I can’t write any other way as if something doesn’t quite sit right, it nags at me until I polish it (it might be a form of writer’s OCD!). When I (finally) finish a chapter, it is (to my mind) 99.99% publishable, with a final re-read of the entire book only once before it is published. It can take days to write a page, but I know that page is ready. It also gives me time to foreshadow what happens next in the plot as lots of scenarios mull in the background while I am doing it. Not for everyone, but it fits my writer’s personality (and possible my personal one too!)

    • The way people write is definitely a personal matter – and must be, if they’re to write effectively. On a time basis, I’m prepared to bet that there is little difference between the time it takes to prepared and polish a page to final form before the next is tackled – which is how many writers do work – or to actually finalise a page blurted out with a lot of others, and then worked over later. What counts at the end of the finished form…the journey is important, but it’s going to differ for different people.

  4. Yes, the bulk of my time is devoted to revising.

    • It’s well worth it. A lot depends on the personal approach to writing, of course – certainly for me, the advantage of pushing out a quick first draft is that it nails the necessary structure; I can then go back and back-fill or otherwise develop the specific wording. Technically that’s ‘revising’ but the better term might be ‘more writing’.

      • I agree, for afterwards I add and subtract as needed. It’s much like a building. Without the framework there’s nothing to hang onto, but once that’s in place I can place rooms where I like and then start decorating.

  5. Robyn LaRue says:

    My drafts come out fast. I take my time with revisions and always “rest” a draft, which really helps me get a fresh perspective. I’m glad to see the fast/slow process talked about. I don’t know how many of us there are, but it feels like we’re in the minority. :)

    • I think it depends on the individual writer – what works for them, what they’re comfortable with. For me the advantage of a quick writing process is that it preserves the freshness of the inspiration and gives a proper overview of the structure, which is a key part of it. To me, the written piece – of whatever length – has to be considered as a whole, and a writing process that works over each page or section until it’s done, then moves on to the next, risks losing perspective on the wider picture. However, that’s just me (and maybe others) and I know other authors will be more comfortable doing that than they are with the blurt-and-revise method.

  6. KokkieH says:

    The write fast advice makes sense. My problem is I seem unable to switch off my inner editor – I think way too much which means I get a few thousand words in and then I convince myself it’s not working and have to start over. Maybe I should try writing with the screen turned off so I can’t see what I’ve written…

  7. I haven’t finished enough stuff to know how much time I spend on it, but so far it’s looking like I’m probably the kind of writer that plows through a first draft, but then do the heavy lifting during revision. I don’t write at NaNo speeds, but I basically just do the best I can without getting hung up on any of the words, and if a new or better idea comes up, I’ll put it in without worrying about going back and making any changes needed earlier in the draft to support that idea.

    When I was much younger, my inner editor was so bad that it eventually became crippling and I gave up on writing for many years. Now that I’m writing again, I’ve learned to listen to it only enough to make a mental note about what I might want to change during revision, but otherwise I just ignore it during the first draft.

    Sometimes I worry if I’m doing it wrong, but first drafts seem to work best for me as a discovery process best done at a brisk pace. I do like to have a rough shape for the project in mind before I start, but I think the first draft helps shake loose a lot of cool ideas that never would have occurred to me during preplanning.

    • There’s no right or wrong – what counts is what works for you. But I do think that the ‘quick write’ principle is a sound one, followed by that heavy lifting in revision. There is a life – a structure – a buoyancy that writing has when its fresh. (Awful mixed metaphor – but you get what I mean!).

      Writing at NaNo speeds is a learned skill that takes a long time to develop. Journalists *have* to have it – for instance, I’ve been asked for pieces with hours on deadline, and had to produce. But it’s not innate.

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