“A good story cannot be devised; it has to be distilled.” – Raymond Chandler, Born Jul. 23, 1888.
How many people think writers know exactly what they are going to write before it starts coming out of their fingers?
We don't. It would be boring if we did.
Sure, you research and plan loosely. But there is a point at which planning and preparation are useless, and therefore wasteful.
Because once you start producing, it's not going to match a strict plan anymore anyway. That's not how it works.
It's kind of like going out to meet someone to date. You may have an idea of what you are looking for, but you will meet people who don't quite match that – but yet aren't NOT a fit… And these surprise connections might even have appeals you never imagined or considered.
Writing is the same. You can be pleasantly surprised if you just stop devising and start composing as it comes…
It's important to clarify here – I'm not saying you're going to get it right the first time, either. That happens almost never.
The editing and assembly and refining are what will take raw output and turn it into a finished piece. That's the distillation.
But there's nothing to polish if you haven't sawn wood and built a piece of furniture TO polish. You can't distill nothing into anything.
So start churning out the work. As soon as you can. Maybe you're making bits that will eventually be scrap. It doesn't matter. Get it out. Distill it later.
For example, if you're reading this essay as a Facebook post, you're reading the raw, hardly edited, rough draft of it. There are probably typos or clumsy phrases here and there.
Some of you are reading it a blog. Maybe as an email, or both. Maybe I added this sentence later when that happened.
But maybe you're in the future, reading it in book form. You lucky folks are getting the sharper, purer, less-rambling version.
If I had tried to “plan” to write this, I never would have thought of the topic on my own, much less would I have presented it in exactly this way.
Instead, I pick a quote from a famous person born on this day – something that sparks an idea that falls under the umbrella of what I do – of what the Cult of Copy is about, and I just write.
I let it happen. Not devised or conceived until it comes out right now, as I write it, literally minutes before the timestamp says I posted it.
And then later, when I make something more permanent and final out of it, it will be a “complete” work.
If you write for a living, and you need to produce to be paid, I highly recommend you adopt this mode of production instead of planning and devising and thinking things out way too much.
Get to the raw material as fast as you can.
The magic is in the distillation. Most people trying to hack it in this field won't ever PRODUCE material sufficient to distill down into something that does what they ACTUALLY wanted.
But you're different, right? Yeah.
<!—- lagniappe Here are some other ways I work on improving my writing over time. First, if the goal is to get better at writing first drafts in the first place, you have to practice at just that. I do it by publishing what I write, right away after I write it. That creates a conversational version up for discussion with my audience. Second thing is that when you are composing, compose conversationally. I originally read everything I wrote out loud to see if it was working in the “mind’s ear” - now - I think - I have gotten to the point where the voice in my head is dictating the writing just the way I would speak it aloud. Third, it’s always useful to be able to set something aside and be able to come back to it later with fresh eyes. Yes, you may think this would contradict #1 above, but it doesn’t. I use social media memories and my own piles of notepad documents with dates to know when I last published/worked on something. I revisit it some time later and see if I can’t improve it. A couple of expansions on this. For client work, you don’t have the luxury of setting things aside due to deadlines. So I try to write a complete DRAFT as fast as possible, then I have the whole period before the deadline to let it sit while I think on it instead of not leaving myself any refinement/thinking/away time. Second thing on this one - don’t make the mistake of not waiting long ENOUGH to come back to it. A lot of times, if you come back to it too soon, you remember the struggles you had in writing it in the first place. So you can get too focused and trapped again in small things and have an inability to back up and see the “big picture.” But when you set it aside long enough to FORGET having written it, so you can read it objectively, the edits can become simple and quick. Final note on this one - when you practice creating first drafts in the flow, speaking good copy on the fly and documenting it in real time - you will “forget” having written it FASTER. Because you wrote it faster, didn’t dwell on it or get stuck. Let readers point out speed bumps via comments. Then when you come back to it later, incorporate their ideas if it makes it better, or else you can have the mental distance to say, “whoa, PRETTY GOOD!” That’s enough for now, but I hope these tips help. Let me know! —->
3 thoughts on “Creation Is Only Part One of the Process of Producing Quality Work”
What I hear you saying is: "Stop trying to be a perfectionist and just get your shit out there…"
Message received…loud and clear.
"You can't distill nothing into anything."
I just printed that large and hung it over my desk.
A perfect poker for this ready, aim, ready, aim addict.
Love the Daily Devotional emails. Please continue them.
It is just amazing how things are put together as if all done without much thought. I guess that I have to keep making corrections in the middle of things and losing focus. This reminds me of learning to ride a bike and only paying attention to the possibility of falling