Writing Tip: Let it go

Lady with arms out on rocky beach.
Photo by Fuu J on Unsplash

Today’s writing tip (let it go) is one that I have only recently understood. By trying different types of prompts and working on beloved ideas, I’ve realized that my best writing comes when I’m able to get out of the way.

It sounds counterintuitive, but the work I don’t care as much about is easier to put on paper and easier to edit. I think this is because I’m trying to control it too much instead of letting the voice come naturally.

I’m also more willing to make hard decisions, like deleting large blocks of text, when I’m ready to give up on the piece.

This isn’t to say I don’t care about my work. I’m still a firm believer in the adage, anything worth doing is worth doing correctly. However, I also believe that we can overcontrol and overwork and definitely overthink creativity.

Here are some writing tips that have worked for me.

Speed Write

You’re probably already familiar with speed writing from doing ten to fifteen minute writing prompts. We can use this same technique on our other projects.

There are at least two ways speed writing is useful. First, it gives our brain warm up time. Taking time to ‘exercise’ at the beginning of a writing session will help ease us into working on our work in progress (WIP).

Second, you can use it on your WIP when you feel stuck. Go ahead and write more words than you’ll use. You are free to write nonsense and then delete it later. The act of moving will help you get into the zone.

Take a good break before editing

This is another popular piece of advice that I used to shrug off. However, the more I write and edit, I realize how important this is.

I wrote a short story last year and tried to edit it multiple times, but the story was missing something. It wasn’t until I set it aside for several months that I was able to see it from a different angle. When I came back to it, I told myself that this was my last edit. If it didn’t work, I was done.

With that attitude, I let myself chop away. It went from a twenty page story told from a male protagonist to a thirteen page story told from a female. It is a much better story now.

Give yourself time for clarity.

Set it aside, Repurpose, File it Away – Just Keep Going

When I was a young writer, I either never finished a piece and/or never edited. At that time, writing was more about the feel of creating a story and getting it on the page rather than writing for an audience.

Over the years, I became obsessed with finishing and making my short stories as good as possible. In short, I spend more time editing than writing. This has helped me hone editing skills, but it has also kept me from writing as much as I could. There needs to be a middle ground.

We should be aiming to finish our pieces and to thoroughly edit them. However, we also need to know when to let them go and move on to another story. We are very lucky to live in a time with computers and tons of storage. Set up a folder system. File your work into categories ‘like take a break’ or ‘archive’. You can always revisit it later or steal chunks to add to another story.

Copy and Label

Finally, copy each version of your story and come up with a labeling system so you know what version is what. Also, highlight your text if you’ve used it in another piece. And use the comment tags if applicable to your program.

By doing this, nothing is really lost. With a new copy, you can freely let go and edit with abandon. You can always go back to a previous version if you don’t like the new edits you made.

We grow as we write. Keep writing, edit, but also keep moving.

As always, these writing tips are my opinions and they may not work for everyone. I welcome any discussion on how they did or didn’t work for you.

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