Sunday, May 15, 2011

Planning vs. plunging -- part 2

Last week I wrote about the difference (according to a writing teacher) between planners and plungers -- and how that distinction in working style is equally valid when it comes to art. Several people left comments that make me think I’ve hit a chord. I want to respond to some of their points, and will do so in a couple of subsequent posts.

You may know that last week Blogger had a technological crisis, was off the air for a while and had to scramble to retrieve many old posts and comments from the bazillions of blogs it supports. I know that at least one comment about planning/plunging has apparently disappeared in the Bermuda Triangle of cyberspace, along with my reply. So I'll reply again.

Someone asked what specific tips my writing teacher had for those who plunge.

His main advice was that you should not revise or edit your writing while you’re in first draft mode, aka thinking. Why waste time polishing up stuff that may not make it into the final draft? Instead, write as fast as you can, trying to capture every thought in your head. If you realize in mid-paragraph that you’re going nowhere, or off on a tangent, just space down and start a new paragraph with a new train of thought.

In particular, he advised that you not worry about the beginning until the end. The beginning of a piece of writing is important, worth a significant investment in time and trouble to make sure you hook your readers and properly advertise and lead into what’s ahead.  But you can’t possibly write it until YOU know what’s ahead.

The teacher did point out that your tolerance for first-draft looseness will probably vary. (He, for instance, is perfectly willing to let misspelled words sit there on the screen while he gets his thoughts down. My dear departed dad, who wrote 27 books but never learned to touch-type, was the same way. In his early pre-computer life, he knew that Mom and I, his designated secretaries, would fix the errors when we retyped his drafts. In his later life, he was legally blind so misspelled words on the screen, even in 30-point type, didn’t distract him one bit. Many writers, though, including me, can’t stand to see those zits in front of them and have to take the time to fix what autospellcheck doesn't, or what autospellcheck does wrong.)

But he advises that you correct only what you absolutely must. Later on, after you’ve written your way to understanding what the essay will say, you can go back and fix your sentence structure, edit out your redundancies, correct your spelling, improve your organization.

1 comment:

  1. I once heard Kurt Vonnegut Jr. speak to a small group in Atlanta and he said the best advice he could give us was to take the first 5 pages of anything we've written, throw them in the trash, and start the story there, on page 6. Very dry sense of humor but he wasn't kidding. I've always remembered that.