How to be an Effective Writer

SUMMARY: Ed Wilson talks about the number one tip to be an effective writer

I am not sure who said that writing was 90% perspiration ad 10% inspiration, but that seems to be correct. The inspiration part is “I would like to write a book about …” The perspiration part is all the writing, editing, re-writing, additional editing, submission, page proofs reviews, and subsequent publicity efforts. In short, the easiest thing in the world is to get an idea for a book. The hardest thing in the world is to actually write, and to get published.

Over the years I have mentored literally dozens of aspiring writers. Only one has actually had his book published. It may be that I am a terrible mentor, but I also think that there is a huge misunderstanding as to what it takes to actually get a book written, edited, and published.

One of the first things I tell an aspiring writer is this: “Are you willing to work every night after work, and all day on the weekend for six to nine months, with no hope of obtaining any return on your investment in time?” If you were doing consulting during that time, instead of writing a book, you could easily earn a significant amount of money. Writing a book is not a get rich quick scheme. At best it is an earn a little bit of money over a long period of time scheme. This fact by itself is often enough to dissuade the faint of heart.

So what is the number one tip to be an effective writer? The secret lies in the order of the work. Keep each step separate for maximum efficiency. So, while writing, just write. Don’t edit. This trick was, perhaps more important in the old days when I wrote on an old fashioned type writer. But it is still important today – maybe more so. When I am writing, I write. I do not check grammar, I do not check spelling, I do not look up facts. I do research all at once. I do a grammar pass all at once. I check spelling during a different phase of the writing.

In the old days, when I had a 45 pound of Webster’s New World dictionary, it might take me two or even three minutes to look up the spelling of a word. If I later, during the edit phase of the writing project, decide to use a different word, well, that two or three minutes was lost. But the impact is even more.

In computers we have a term, context switching, that refers to the performance hit to a computer when it changes from one operation to another operation. The computer unloads a portion of memory, and then reloads a different set of memory. Humans also take context switching hits. This occurs when switching from writing mode to edit mode. All of the efficiency gained through “getting into the groove” is lost when I change to line editing.

So, my secret for effective writing? When writing – write. When editing – edit. But do not combine or confuse the two tasks. Tomorrow I will give you my secret for staying on track.

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