Monday, October 29, 2012

Writerly Things ~ On Formatting...

Many moons ago, when I was just beginning to make myself a slave to debt, thus necessitating gainful employment with a “day job,” I attended some corporate-type seminar that aspired to help us poor unfortunates make the most of Microsoft Office suite (whatever the hell iteration it was in at the start of this millennium). The fella who led the workshop was a reasonably attractive blond (as opposed to unreasonably attractive), probably in his late 30s/early 40s at the time, and bore the sun-wearied look of an ex-golfer. (You know the type.) (C’mon, you surely do.) (OK, I’ll stop calling you Shirley.)

His instruction style was affably informative and only once did he pierce us with a glare which positively dared us to do stuff like add up figures in Excel using an external calculator, rather than using formulas in the spreadsheet itself, and whatnot. Mostly, he outlined best practices for productivity and provided us with loads of helpful tips which I promptly forgot, excepting one: Write first, format later.

Now, this may be obvious to you, dear readers, but to me it was as though the sky had split wide open and the rays of heaven shone upon the PowerPoint projection, while the soaring harmonies of androgynous angels swelled about us. Write first, format later. By all that’s holy, what brilliance!

If you’re anything like me, you tend to futz with your stuff as you write it, tweaketty-tweak-tweaking every italic, every bit of boldness, every underline, bulleting furiously as you go and then swearing like a sailor (who's on leave at some seedy port and finds himself down to just one condom and no drugstore around for miles) when you can’t rid yourself of the bulleting without reverse formatting everything you’d bulleted before. It’s fun, in a way, to prettify your prose; hell, it’s certainly easier to do that than to create new prose, ain’t it?

And I reckon that’s the problem—we get hung up on what we’ve already written and dither over its comforting existence, rather than boldly moving forward and wrasslin’ with our psyches to wrench every bit of magic out of our heads and onto the screen (or paper; I don’t judge). (Plus, I compose most of my first drafts with pen and notebook, so I’m right there with ya.)

The instructor explained all this and repeated the phrase “Write first, format later,” several times, with such intensity and conviction that it, alone, remained within ready grasp in my memory banks. I find it frequently pops to the forefront of my mind, whether I’m sweating over day-job correspondence and reports, or during the sweeter toil of writing stories and crafting blog posts. It snaps me out of the break in generative flow and helps me to push on and write more, more, more. I’ll admit, though, that when I first implemented this strategy, it made me crazy to know I had to italicize a thing but mustn’t till the first draft was complete. Cra-zee. (OK, crazier than is my wont.) But I got over it. Eventually.

And because I’ve come to believe in this concept with the same fervor as ex-golfer dude, I, too, will repeat it: Write first, format later. You may feel all twitchy and out of sorts the first few times you try it, but keep at it for a bit and you also may be bathed by a celestial spotlight and transported by the strains of cosmic choirs. (Or you may simply dig it, which, though less lofty, is nothing to sneeze at.)

12 comments:

  1. I suffer from tweaking as I go, which means it takes forever to get through a first draft. I need to take this to heart and do it.

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    Replies
    1. It ain't easy, at first, but once you see how quickly you get on with things, it gets easier (it did for me, anyway).

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  2. I have a story started waaaay back in 1989 that is stil unfinished due to my excessive rewriting and tweaking - I would happily compare this to someone who is obsessed with biting their nails to the point of bleeding; they know they should stop and to continue further is going to cause great discomfort, even pain, and yet they continue.

    But I'm (hopefully) learning, as can often be testified to by the number of typos left in my blog posts today ;)

    Great article sweetie pie x

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  3. Great advice. For me, it helped when I decided the font and margins and header formatting I would use for all my drafts ahead of time and then insert the text into a set document. I wasted a lot of time formatting my first ms.

    I also like to just write the bones of the story on the first go and add the embellishments later - shiny things can be distracting.

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    Replies
    1. Shiny things = danger, danger!!! ;-)

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  4. I've never heard this particular phrase but I have been told repeatedly that I should write first and edit later. I understand the idea, I do. And I know I have sabotaged many pieces with my inability to follow that advice but I just can't keep myself from editing (as much as I do) as I go.

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    Replies
    1. We gotta stick with whatever works for us! :-)

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  5. I'm not a real writer like you and so many of my fellow bloggers are, but that concept seems to foreign to me. When I do get to writing, I format as I go!!! Never occurred to me to write first and format later!!!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You're a blogger, so you're a writer, period.

      ALSO, I'm sure you unconsciously use this basic philosophy in your craft work - you build the basic structure of whatever it is you're making first, then once that's done, you make it pretty. Amiright?

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  6. This is so true! Sometimes when I'm procrastinating, I'll pause in my writing & have a play around with different fonts, etc. It's bad yes, but I think we all need a little procrastination session now and then!

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    Replies
    1. I'm a long-time procrastinator, so I can't throw stones. :-)

      Delete

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