Bash first, craft later

There is a “law”:

Ninety-nine Rule of Project Schedules

The first ninety percent of the task takes ninety percent of the time, the last ten percent takes the other ninety percent.

I never really understood this in the context of “projects” as normally understood. But in the context of a writing project or assignment, it makes perfect sense.

Not much writing going on here! Photo by Mr Thinktank http://www.flickr.com/photos/tahini/

Take this morning, for example. I wrote 240 words in 11 minutes. Amazing! Good stuff it was, too! Maybe you’d like to pause in silent reflection and admiration for a couple of minutes? No? Well, please yourself.

Anyway, the document as a whole, which was around 900 words, took another hour and a half. A quick calculation will tell you that it should have taken around 44 minutes. Instead, it took over twice as long.

How come?

Well, Elaine and I sometimes have a conversation that goes something like this:

Elaine: Go on, bash out an article. You’ve got around 30 minutes.

Me: I don’t “bash” anything. I craft my articles. Each word is hewn, moulded in the furnace of my merciless judgement, weighed both for meaning and balance…

Elaine: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Whatever.

Me: … while I offer prayers and sweetmeats to my Muse, imploring her not to desert me in this time of pressing need, etc etc.

But the truth is, I do both: bash and craft.

I have found that the best way to write anything is to bash first, and craft later. This works for me. Moreover it works for any kind of writing, whether an informal piece of writing like a blog post, or a formal report on a school’s ICT/Computing provision.

I find, for example, that if I stop to check the spellings of words, or rearrange the wording in a sentence, or – worst of all – what the document actually looks like, it slows me up terribly.

Even fact-checking is not necessary, unless the text that follows is predicated on those facts. That is, if the fact I wish to cite is simply an example, and not critical for the direction in which the text is going, then I check it later.

If you think about it,this is a very practical way of going about things. Unlike (I imagine) something like working with solid materials like wood or metalwork, it doesn’t matter if you make mistakes, because you can always undo them. If you take out too much text, for instance, you can simply put it back, whereas I imagine that if you saw off too much wood of a door, say, you can rectify it, but not without a lot of hassle. That being the case, you have little to lose, and much to gain, by getting as much down on paper (as it were) as quickly as possible, because then at least you will have something tangible to work with.

I think there is a very strong psychological element to this approach too. Maybe it’s just me, but if, after a whole morning’s work doing research and reading, all I have written down is a title (and probably a working title, at that), I feel that I haven’t done any work. On the other hand, if I have several pages of stuff, even though it needs editing and refining, I feel I have used my time well.

I have found 4 Ways to Write Quickly that may work for you too.

On the other hand, if you prefer to craft rather than bash, right from the outset, then good for you!