Blink. Blink. Blink
It took me thirty seconds to write “Blink, blink, and blink”. I have rewritten this introductory paragraph three times now and it will likely be rewritten many more times before clicking the publish button. Medium is a great content production website, and it makes me want to write more often than I do now. Despite the beautiful typography, imagery, and presentation, Medium cannot help me overcome the challenge of putting words on the page.
Part of the problem stems from my historical writing process. As an undergraduate at the University of Texas Austin, a majority of my essay writing occured the night before or two nights before the paper was due. When I was a college freshman, I employed a much more rigorous process. Write Monday and Tuesday. Edit Wednesady. Print Thursday and make fun of my friends starting late. Turn in Friday. The rigor dipped as a sophomore and evaporated as a college senior. I wrote papers the evenings before and coasted comfortably with A’s through all my courses.
I’d like to break the habit, but I know that it is very difficult for me to spend four days on a piece of writing when I can get away with an evening. I also know that I am very good at writing first-drafts. One of the side benefits to routinely procrastinating 5-10 page essays is that you start to treat writers block as a myth. You put words on the paper. If the words don’t convey the message you want them to convey, you hit delete and start the sentence over. Never stop typing.
We have all read that changing bad habits is incremental. To successfully change a habit, you have to not only do it repeatedly but also leverage some of your core skills. Mine happen to be putting words on paper. A process I began recently has helped me with my writing, and I think it is because it relies on my strengths. When editing an essay, I begin by splitting my screen in half. The left side contains the old draft. The right side is blank. I start copying the left-side almost word for word. When I do, I notice that the sentences become more concise. The first time you write a sentence or paragraph, it is very difficult to express the ideas you want to communicate. The second time, it becomes a little bit easier. For me, the second time is easier beacuse it feels like a rewrite of the first time. As the rewrite progresses, I abandon entire paragraphs. A byproduct of concise writing is concise thinking. By the second draft, I notice areas where I rambled or did not sufficiently explain what I wanted to explain. These I rewrite entirely. When I am finished, the second draft may look nothing like the first draft, or it may remain surprisingly similar. If it is similar, I either did a poor job editing or the first draft was much better than expected.
First drafts are challenging. The second drafts become a little bit easier. For me, the toughest part was building a transition to even get to the second draft. Undoing three years of procrastination takes time, but I am confident that this approach works. It does for me anyways and I suspect it will work for writers like me — fast first-drafters, unwilling second-drafters.