Towards A Master Writing Program

The last few weeks I’ve been under a lot of strain in terms of writing. It’s given me some additional clarity.

NaNoWriMo has honed my ability to bust out a first draft in record time. But that’s not enough. I see writing mastery as a linear game.

Level 1 - Draft Writing
Level 2 - Rewrite 1 - order, transitions
Level 3 - Research
Level 4 - Rewrite 2 - Word choice, how things are said, scamping
Level 5 - Proofing.

Various websites, including THIS one, divide the process into revision, editing, and proofreading, but I’ve seen it described in other ways as well.

This relates to an article I know how to do. This would change depending on the essay’s purpose. For example, writing a story is different than writing a pitch. A story may not need research per se, but may need more depth in regards to character development or world building. So this order might be altered in different scenarios, but generally the conception seems useful so far.

This NaNoWriMo I was under a huge time constraint and writing a draft was particularly painful. I found that in doing 20 (rather than standard 25) minute Pomodoros, I was able to consistently output 1,000 words per session for 3 sessions, after which I needed a break. I feel pretty damn good about that.

I found that in a more recent article, the pain period arose with the rewrite rather than the draft. And the same exact emotional problems arose: the need to do it all at once and the need for it to be perfect. In my mind at the time Levels 2 through 4 were jammed together. James Patterson’s Master Class sneak peak got me past that.

I also found that the pain of editing was very high. I noticed a pattern, that for every 20 minute Pomodoro editing session I paused at 12 or 13 minutes. That pause would break my concentration, and the remaining 7 minutes would be incredibly draining. It really reminded me of what I’d read about Flow states - that keeping in them requires constant positive and progressive stimulation. I appeared to go into mini flow states while working, but jump out of it at  around 13 minute mark.

At this point I didn’t seriously think anything of it. But I decided to experiment to see if anything changed if I instead did 13 minute Pomodoros. The results were quite staggering.

I was able to easily do 6 or 7 sets. I was able to more readily bypass the pain and work forward. I could go longer at a higher level of concentration, even if I didn’t pause after the alarm in order to take a break. It really reminds me of my breakthrough with waking up early - it’s not the alarm that wakes me up since I usually wake up close to an hour before it. It’s the act of setting the alarm and recording my sets that makes a mark on my mind.

I was also eager to squeeze in a Pomodoro even when I didn’t have much time, because, hell, it’s only 13 minutes, right? That is an incredible difference from constantly putting off the work. My failure to start issues evaporated.

It makes me feel, perhaps prematurely, that I’ve nailed the next level of writing. In the last few weeks it caused me to take more assignments than I thought I’d be able to do (what with jet lag and travel), and complete them successfully on a deadline.

There are a few other questions and points going forward.

I’m curious how this affects other levels. Research is the next lull I experience in my writing, and it’s something that I believe requires a strict cut off point, which is slightly different than simply recording 13 minute Pomodoros.

Other techniques, like scamping and a thesaurus at the ready with sentence wording and rubber duck decoding for proofing should be a default. For more complex articles, I’m also having problems with keeping transitions and open loops all in my head, and am testing out an idea that involves a distilled symbolic logic notation - like a programming language - to concisely summarize prose. That way I can easily see the global progression of an article complete with themes and specific transitions. It has still has a lot of kinks, but I hope it will really come in handy for the revision level.

Metrics really help with all this - knowing I can do 3,000 words in a rough draft per hour is relieving in its predictability. I don’t really have that with the other levels involved in completing a piece - yet. It’s something I should perhaps measure. I’m beginning to think I should keep a writing master log so I can better assess this.

This master plan also does not address skill pushes for other types of writing. I believe this is where classes come into play, replacing the role challenges play in other habits (or NaNoWriMo did for me with the draft level). Luckily there are plenty of resources -  I am taking a Gotham class on querying next month, and I’ve already bought the full James Patterson course for Lydia that I’d like to go through as well. The same goes for the specific Holly Lisle courses.

The point of all of this is that often enough knowing where you’re going takes so much of the stress out of endeavors. I often feel totally lost with writing, and have a sneaking suspicion that there really should be a more efficient way to progress in the skill - when I’m not drowning in panic. I think this is the beginning of such an efficient progression.