Monday, October 29, 2012
Writerly Things ~ On Formatting...
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.)