Are you a Backward Writer or a Forward Writer?
Several previous postings have examined the specifics of the way people approach the task of writing. Being an editor and writer makes one a process guy. That means I spend a great deal of time thinking about the best, most efficient ways of getting things accomplished.
In this piece we examine how one goes about the process of writing: are you the sort of writer who writes a chapter then goes back to perfect it before moving on? I used to be that kind of writer. I used to write paragraphs, then go back and reread, reshape, rewrite, massage, tweak, edit—do anything that would enhance my perception of those paragraphs. Unless they were good enough, gosh darn it, I was not moving on. For what good is it when you have nothing but crap on the page? How can you build a house if the foundation is full of holes, muck and mold? That’s how I felt about it and nobody was going to change my mind. I was a “backward writer.” I spent far more time turning the pages back than forward.
There’s only one thing wrong with a backward writer (there is actually many things wrong but we’ll leave that for another day). They never finish anything. I remember my first book (which ended up being my fourth book for a variety of reasons). I spent days and weeks, even months on every chapter, making sure I was happy with it before proceeding on to the next. The worst part was that when I went back to read those “perfected” chapters much later I didn’t like them very much. Not only had I spent all that time regurgitating the same material but I had deluded myself into thinking that the chapters were actually good. This is why more experienced writers are “forward writers.”
A forward writer (as opposed to a “foreword” writer—one who writes a book’s foreword) is somebody that is forward-looking. He or she does his best on a chapter and then moves on to the next. While they may spend some time making the chapter right, they don’t let themselves get bogged down in the minutia. They realize that the key to writing a book on a deadline is to keep the book moving in the right direction. Like a great running back who always keeps his legs pumping and moving toward the opponent’s goal line, the forward writer is always cognizant that putting chapters on the scoreboard is the only way to finish the book on time. The forward writer is no less interested in quality than the backwards writer. She just has different ideas on how to achieve that goal.
The forward writer will revisit all of those chapters—-but, and this is the big one— not until she finishes the first draft of the book. Once a draft is in hand the writer has a much more complete picture of the things. She will know what needs to be done to polish and refine the book. She will know which chapters are better than others, which require the most work, etc. There is also one other great advantage to being a forward writer. She does not have to brave it alone at that point. With a draft in hand, the writer can work with her editor (or perhaps someone else, such as an expert in that field) to enhance the quality of the book.
Do you find yourself falling more into the backward writer’s camp? Then consider doing the following:
* Don’t look back: This may be the best cure. Write the chapters as best you can, and then move on. Don’t look back and re-read any chapter until the book is done. At least this way you will end up with something of a working draft.
* Map out the chapters ahead of time: The more detailed your outline the better the end product will be. Write out a specific, descriptive plan before you begin to write.
* Make liberal use of subheads: Subheads break up the chapters while providing signposts to help readers navigate their way through them. It also helps business readers to read smaller chunks of material at a time.
By following this advice you just might break the backwards writer’s syndrome and finish the book that has been sitting on your desk for years.