I present to you the Write in Three Steps Rule.
Okay, so maybe it’s not your rule. But it’s my rule. And maybe it’s not so much a rule as a habit that works. And maybe it’s not so much a habit like that Pop Rocks addiction I once had, as it is a magical unicorn that makes writing easier and less scrambled in my brain.
Writing in three’s is something I’ve always done, but have only recently come to this “Oh-hey- I-actually-have-a -process” newsflash. I use these three steps for flash fiction, blog posts, for my day job copywriting, and to a more liberal extent, as I’m writing my novel.
Do with them what you will.
Step #1: Death Gurgle What You Think You Mean
Word vomit is your friend. Go on. Just upchuck the words. No matter the thought, the random, unintelligible sputter, get it out. Don’t worry about how it sounds, what you mean, if it contains numbers or bad spelling, it ain’t no thang.
I like to think of this part as the skeleton. The base outline. A small paragraph, even a sentence, helps you formulate your thoughts. Get that shit in order, son. Leave blanks where you don’t know what to say. I usually put ‘XXX’ as a placeholder so it looks exceptionally dirty, but that’s just me.
Step #1 is like the death gurgle of writing. No one will understand it except you, and I say, let it gurgle.
Step #2: Say What You Want to Mean
This is the lengthy, drawn out, JUST FUCKING WRITE step.
Elaborate upon what you death gurgled in Step #1. Fill in, flesh it out, make the sentences fatty-fatty. Try to get some semblance of shape and meaning.
But still, as you say what you want to mean, just write. Still, just write. Don’t worry if you’re wrong yet. Don’t let doubt interrupt your blather. Make it up if you don’t know it. This part can take a few go rounds. This will be never ending until you get it right.
Now you’re probably wondering how this is different than the first step…well, you’re fixing and shaping it into a paragraph, a bullet, or a story, when Step #1 is just getting it out.
You’re shaping it into what you want to mean, what you want your words to stand for.
Step #3: Say What You REALLY Mean
This third step contains murder. Blood on your hands when you’re done so get out the body bags and the bleach. This step is being cruel and kind. Kill your (word) darlings with a hatchet. A buzz saw. Or my personal favorite a mace.
I let Step #2 sit for a few minutes, days, hours, weeks, depending on how much time I have, and then I go back to clean. Let there be nothing extraneous, confusing. Cut out the shit. Finesse words and polish it up to be clear. Read and reread, chop out extra words.
Sometimes, not all of your story, your writing will need this step. Sometimes you’ll luck out and get it right in Step #2.
Say for example in Step #2, I wanted a character to be hangry so I wrote: “Discovering he was all out of snack cakes, Gus shouted at his woman to head down to the Piggly Wiggly.”
But when I comb back over the sentence in Step #3, it’s what I wanted to say, the boring gist of it, but not what I REALLY meant. Gus needs to be hangrier, more dickish, his love of snack cakes more obvious.
So working on the description, I revise to: “Discovering he was all out of snack cakes, Gus bellowed at his lazy woman to march her fat ass down to the Piggly Wiggly for a box of the finest Little Debbie’s she could scrounge up.”
Now if that sentence doesn’t earn me a Pulitzer, what will?
Next, fill in those triple X blanks. Do research in this step. And not Wikipedia research. Branch out from that and really dig around on the internet like they taught you to in those libraries back in school. And for anyone born in the 90s/2000s and don’t know what I mean, suck it.
The key here is to say what you REALLY MEAN. Your character’s reaction zeroed in on. Your plot point crystal clear. Your call to action obvious. All finessed, smoothed out, prettied up for your boss, yourself, your blog, your audience, your basement gimp.
Make sure they get it like you do.
Got the inside scoop on some of your own writing tips? Have Little Debbie snack cakes to send me? Give me either in the comments below. Remember, sharing is caring. Especially when it comes to cake.