One of the problems that plague writers is planning too much. Spending a lot of time thinking about what to write instead of writing is a form of writer’s block. You know the first draft is not going to be the final, yet there you sit searching for the perfect word. Let’s consider the same situation in reading and studying, related fields where you aren’t tempted to think before acting.
When you’re reading and concentrate on every word, you read much slower than when you take in entire sentences and phrases. If you’re saying every word in your head as you read, you can’t read any faster than you can talk. Speed reading courses teach you to get over that block and a few other tricks. The time saving benefits of speed reading are paid for in a loss of comprehension. Read twice as fast and you comprehend half as much. If a book turns out to be important, you can always speed read it again.
When you learn a new subject, you need to read the important texts three times if you want to keep the knowledge forever. You don’t need to memorize every last detail your first time through the textbook. You fill in what you miss on subsequent readings, stopping to memorize where your knowledge is weak. You learn the main concepts first, integrate them with what you already know, and build up the details on subsequent study passes. As you master the subject, memorization disappears as a study method because you keep adding new information to your existing big picture for the subject.
When you write about something you already know well (or fiction you’ve plotted well), you may feel like you’re writing perfectly on the first pass. That doesn’t stop you from revising your work later. Why do you let yourself get held up on first draft writing when you don’t have a clear plan?
You have something you want to write about or you wouldn’t have started. If you feel you must present the topic or story in the right order, write an outline first. That will have the same problem of order, but it’s easier to move things around. Whether outline or first draft, all you need to do is get everything written out. The mess can be cleaned up later. I’m talking to myself as much as to you. I often get caught by perfectionism. The solution would seem to be switching from over-thinking to under-thinking. How is that done?
Thinking gets in the way when you write something you don’t know very well, something you just researched, or something you know well but are presenting in a new way. You ask, What is the best way to get my idea across? How can I make the transition to the next step? What details should I be adding to finish this paragraph? Your internal editor works overtime and can stop your writing dead.
When you write, you’re thinking on paper. The thing is to write in first draft style with editor-mode turned off. We know that, but how do we do it?
– When you’re writing an idea and another idea pops up, finish the current sentence, start a new paragraph and write the new idea out. If you find that you sometimes lose ideas that way, write them immediately. Put them inside brackets or use a different color text if that helps.
– When you need more info, type NEED MORE ON THIS or RESEARCH and move along to the next step.
– When you could go in many different directions, type all of those directions as a list. Then continue. You’ll find all of your orphaned notes and ideas when you revise.
This is nothing more than switching from making plans for every step in your writing to just writing. Make the plans while writing by writing too much. When you write it all out and put too much information down, you’ll have something to work with instead of just ideas in your head. It is far easier to sort written ideas than thoughts.
Once you have an idea on paper, you have it forever. Learn to have the gift of gab on the keyboard. You can always edit later.
Sitting down to write and not thinking about what to write is an evolutionary step for a writer. Learn to write what you’re thinking immediately and your productivity will take off.