NBI: Writing With Power – Freewrite First, Then Revise

Alright! You’ve started a blog.

You’ve figured out what your goals are. (More or less.)

Now you need to keep producing content.

Say what?

Yes, you need to write.

And write.

And write some more.

And I have to do this daily, or every few days or weekly?


But… but…


A casual perusal of the web will give you a lot of Nike ideas. “Just do it.” “Sit your butt in the chair and don’t get up till something is written.” “Make it a habit.”

Easily said, not so easily done.

I”m going to try and share with you a little more than that.

First off, a book. This man wrote one of my writing bibles.

Writing With Power: Techniques for Mastering the Writing Process by Peter Elbow

I picked it up a long time ago in college, where I found it invaluable for squeezing out assigned essays that didn’t want to be written since I didn’t have the faintest clue where to begin or what I wanted to say regarding a topic that was uninteresting to me.

One of the things I learned from Peter Elbow was that if you scribble down enough rubbish about why something bores you to death, you may very well eventually reach an angle that -is- interesting to you, and -that- is where you can make the first inroad and attempt what I call “a zeroth draft” (because a “first draft” was still too intimidating to consider. I have crippling perfectionism sometimes.)

Today, it is browned and well-thumbed through.

Anytime I feel stuck and need some writing inspiration, I get out of my chair and reach up to my shelf of “important life books,” open it at random and flip to any section that makes the most sense for my problem.

The crux of his book is that the writing process is actually two stages.

  • Getting words onto the page, in whatever form.
  • Then revising and editing.

Too often we try to do both at the same time and this gets in the way of each other like two cooks in a cramped kitchen.

Practicing them separately stands you in better stead if you decide to take a shortcut and combine the two with “the dangerous method” later. (And if it doesn’t work, you can go back to basics and break it down into the two processes again.)

To get words on paper, Peter Elbow is a huge proponent of freewriting.

The goal is to trust that you have something to say and get to your raw content without worries about grammar, spelling, other people criticizing or whatever else is holding you back getting in your way. He also breaks this down into a number of stylistic techniques to try out – open-ended writing, loop writing and so on, and pump-priming ideas for getting started.

Then he shares a number of methods for revising, which can be worth playing around with, to see what works for you.

Critics sometimes lambast Peter Elbow for not practising what he preaches, that his writing style is too verbose and redundant and could use some applications of his revising exercises.

For me, I find that his wordy conversational style is rather a comfort. This man is someone who has had difficulty in writing, but had something very important to say and share. He pushed through, got himself published and made himself understandable all the same.

If he can do it, we can too. (Thus destroying the critic that can often hold you back.)

It’s okay to get comfortable with messiness.

Create first, then clean up and cut later.

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