Someone asked whether I write the same way as when I began this column 16 years ago.
I explained the morphing of my ‘musings’ emailed to my daughter and six friends that first day.
Without a real plan, this daily writing morphed into website and daily distribution to thousands of subscribers. Their follow up question, of course, was – that’s good to know, but how do you write – has that changed or not?
Of course it has. Those who’ve followed this column for any length of time would easily confirm that – but this is a worth question, and maybe I’d want someone to press me for an answer.
When I began, I just wrote. Sure I would proof-read, but not edit. It was quick: write, read, send. Error content declined as I proof-read more carefully. In time, proof-reading evolving into genuine editing ~ not the kind of slash/cut I might do if it was someone else’s piece, but a more critical eye to be sure. Then came ‘re-arranging’. While editing I would look for ‘best paragraph’ and ‘second best paragraph’ – moving the 2nd best to the top and best to the bottom. That worked really well sometimes but it wasn’t a formula. Annie LaMott’s advice helped – and now I would describe it as: first draft is getting every thought on the page without worry about sequence, without thought of the reader or how it might flow.
That first-cut helps me focus on ‘keeping those parts which fit the theme’. Sometimes I need to cut a line or paragraph I really like – so I put DRAFTS in the ‘basket’ for considering another day. Second cuts deals with flow and readability. Third time through I question whether that piece has sufficient merit at all which sometimes kills it or sends it back to my basket for further polishing.
I write every day. One column for sure, sometimes two.
At any given time there might be five or six pieces I’m working on ‘in the basket’ though I frequently publish what I wrote the day before – this leads to ‘basket’ pieces getting stale. Sometimes they need more ripening, or to be reconstituted before publishing.
In answer to the question: I write differently, and much better, than I did when I began. Each year I hope to be writing better still. The methodology is a bit fluid and the source of subject matter is all over the map of the inside of my head. One thing that is consistent and contributes a lot – is the habit as much as any mental process. I sit down first thing every morning and write. It might be a couple hundred words, or it might be a thousand.
First thing every morning. Every morning. And a walk, every morning. Which comes first varies, but always those two things. And coffee. Then, that makes three things.