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The Stephen King Drawer Method for Writing Better Copy

Image by Flickr user Mo Riza

Image by Flickr user Mo Riza

This is a post from ProBlogger.net Managing Editor Stacey Roberts

When I was studying journalism, it was pointed out to us very early on that our first drafts of anything were never going to be printed. They just weren’t. They were to be edited by professionals with no emotional ties to the content, and we were to accept the final product as it passed through their experienced hands.

If we were going to get precious about our words and our bylines, we were in the wrong profession.

As a result, I learned to detach from my writing. To write well, but also to see it from another’s perspective, and to be able to take edits and cuts with no offence. The subs weren’t trying to be cruel, they were doing their job by making my copy better.

When I began blogging, and had no editor or filter to pass through before I published my work, I still would read back over my work with a sharp eye to tidy it up a bit before launching it into cyberspace. What journalism taught me was to write cleanly, boldly, and in the least amount of words possible. I could no longer waffle, and I wasn’t precious about cutting my copy where I thought it might be extraneous.

But what about blogging?

The nature of blogging and journalism means you’re usually in a rush to get your content in the hands of readers while it is still relevant. We’re staying on top of trends and we’re riding the waves while we can. But for more evergreen content, or things that aren’t time-sensitive, then Stephen King’s editing method is one of the most useful things I’ve ever practised: the art of putting time and space between you and your words.

In his book On Writing, King describes the methods by which he creates fiction novels.  A manuscript should take a season to write, he says. Then he will put a physical copy of it in a drawer and forget about it for at least six weeks.

What does that do?

  • It puts just enough time between you and your writing to ensure you’ve become somewhat unfamiliar with the words and can read it with less bias.
  • It ensures you’re looking at the work with fresh eyes, not in the heat of the moment where your brain autocorrects the errors it reads so they fail to register.
  • You disassociate yourself somewhat from what you have written so it doesn’t hurt to cut it.
  • Your brain has had time to percolate on some of the ideas and thus can flesh them out more.
  • You can immediately see simpler and clearer ways to convey your message.
  • You can finally remember those things niggling at you in the back of your mind that you wanted to include but couldn’t quite put your finger on what they were.
  • You might have learned something new you could add.
  • You might decide you hate it all and start over again.
  • It means you have a deeper feel for what works and what might be received better by your readers.
  • You can publish knowing you’ve produced the best work you’re capable of.

Now, obviously there are small differences between a behemoth fiction manuscript and your blog post. You might not want to wait six weeks, and you don’t think it’s necessary to print it out. That’s not important. What is important is that you are distancing yourself from your work in order to come back to it with a more professional attitude.

Your blog might be personal, and your words an extension of yourself. It is ok to feel a bit of emotional attachment to them – this method only ensures you’re editing with a clear head as well as a full heart.

The takeaway:

Save your work and close your laptop. Forget about your writing as fully as you can, and put as much time as possible between you and it. Re-read your copy with an open mind and make quick notes about edits you’d like to make as you go. Then you can go back and change. Don’t be afraid – be bold and decisive. These are words to be molded, sentences to be crafted. Go with your gut and rearrange what you want until you feel it is right. Then hit publish.

Tell me – do you let your posts rest for a bit before going live? Or are you churn-and-publish kind of blogger?

Stacey Roberts is the Managing Editor at ProBlogger.net, and the blogger behind Veggie Mama. Can be found writing, making play-dough, reading The Cat in the Hat for the eleventh time, and avoiding the laundry. See evidence on Instagram here, on Facebook here, and twitter @veggie_mama.

 

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Comments

  1. Amanda says:

    I read this book in college and definitely used this technique on bigger projects. Since then, though, I’ve fallen out of practice a bit. It always helped my work, though, so I will try to ramp it up again! Thanks for writing.

  2. *Do you let your posts rest for a bit before going live? Or are you churn-and-publish kind of blogger?*

    I let my posts rest a little as part of my editing process.

    Writing & editing should be two separate processes (preferably separated by a couple of days at least).

    I have found that if I am in a rush to get the article live, I end up doing a sloppy job editing wise.

  3. Shane says:

    I started using this a few months ago. It makes a big difference. 1st write for flow. Get the ideas out there. 2nd go back and revise. 3rd edit for grammar and punctuation. Amazing what a few days in-between does.

  4. Paul Serwin says:

    Great post, Stacey. I enjoyed On Writing very much, and think that this was a great takeaway. Putting time between what we wrote and when we edit it helps to clarify our focus and our message.

    I used to fall into a trap of perfectionism when it came to my writing, so I would be editing and rewriting a piece until I realized that I was spending too much time on that. (And often the final results wouldn’t be near as good as the original draft). Thanks for bringing this tip up!

  5. Mariel says:

    This is some really useful information. Because I usually only have 15 minutes at a time to write, I usually begin and then let it sit for a day or two and revisit it and finish it and then let it sit again till I can go back and edit it. It really does help when you separate yourself from your work for a period of time. Thanks for sharing!

  6. Danny Adams says:

    Churn and publish … but then once it’s out there I almost always see something I want to edit.

    This has almost become intentional, though – that publishing first. For some reason I see things I want to change after it’s gone live that I missed the multiple times I look it over before publishing.

    I take King’s advice with books, though.

  7. Lilybett says:

    I think I do a little bit of both. Some I churn out and publish as soon as the last word’s down and others I let simmer away on the backburner for a few days or a week or so. I think that’s the result of my own journalism training and experience. I studied journalism and creative writing at uni and got the same sort of advice (love that Stephen King book), but I also worked as a radio journalist, churning out hourly bulletins for two stations (one live and one prerecorded) and there was that rush to get it out and once it’s out, it’s out – you can’t get it back and you can’t worry about it, you just move on to the next one.

    I find thinking about images slows me down a bit more with my blogging, forces me to think more clearly about the post and its audience and its visual appeal, etc. It pulls my head out of the writing and lets me approach it again from a different direction.

  8. Hey Stacey,

    Fantastic post. I think King’s advice is spot on; I find that I produce the best content whenever I allow extra time to cool off, reflect, and edit. Personally, I think you can combine the “drawer method” with another of Stephen King’s tips for even better results. In On Writing, King talks about how he writes first drafts “with the door closed” and second drafts “with the door open.” Blasting through a first draft works well for me, and it saves me a lot of time compared to how I used to handle first drafts when I just started blogging. Then I put it away in the drawer for a day or two and revise it with fresh eyes. Great post!

  9. I find that I produce the best content whenever I allow extra time to cool off, reflect, and edit. It saves me a lot of time compared to how I used ,know to handle first drafts when I just started blogging. i read this in my students time,,,, awesome article…!!!!!!!

  10. Colin says:

    Hi Stacey

    I really enjoyed reading this article, and couldn’t agree more with you, and the legend, Steven King.

    I have in the past just hit the publish button, but recently I have been saving the draft and coming back 24 hours later before publishing.Everything I write today gets published tomorrow.

  11. Sheeroh says:

    This post has actually put my fears to rest. I’m a relatively new blogger and I was just thinking the other day that I’m kind of slow when writing my blog posts because it takes me three to four days since I go over it three or four times. I realise now that my fears were totally invalid. At the end of the day, its about adding more value to my readers. And how many times have I wanted to hit publish only to realise there’s no call to action? Thanks!

  12. I definitely try to allow time for a post to rest. I fall behind in my work from time to time, and when I do, the posts show it.

    I write about timely issues, but only rarely are they so time-sensitive that a wait overnight or even a couple of days is unrealistic. When I started blogging, I thought that shoving out raw meat was the right thing to do. It was obvious that others were doing the same thing, so I joined in. However, as I built up a history, I realized that I was not particularly proud of everything I had written. I kept finding statements that needed to be reshaped, really stupid spelling and punctuation errors, and missed opportunities to nail down an important point.

    Now I try to have a calendar several posts ahead, even on issues from the daily news. I try to write a week ahead, and I am currently cultivating some blogging friends to be critique partners. I think that bloggers need an extra pair of eyes for the same reasons novelists do. I don’t have a commitment from any of those potential partners yet. We are all very busy people. Yet I sustain the hope that somebody besides me will believe that high quality posts are worth the effort.

  13. First, that was a great book by Stephen King. I have never been a reader of his stuff but that book really helped me a lot. I do try and spend time between my writing and the time of release. In the end though, I am not a very good writer and that seems to be a challenge for me to overcome. I have great passion for my topic and that is the only thing that carries me forward.

    I have tried reading books on writing and practicing but in the end, I am not good at it. My goal is to find a writing style that relays my message without too many words.

    -Renee’
    @iteachblogging

  14. PyjamaMoney says:

    This a very instructive article, I am using this method to write my articles too.

  15. Louise says:

    I’ve been writing for a long time and there is an amazing change that comes over you when you set something aside for a few weeks and come back to it. I sometimes find myself thinking, did I write that? And not always in a good way! The bigger the piece the longer I leave it, I have even given writing to close friends to read over and find any obvious plot mistakes that I may have made because sometimes just because you understand what you were trying to say doesn’t mean another reader will. As you say above, you have to write from other people’s perspectives.

  16. jow arrigo says:

    Yes, I certainly do agree with the concept of waiting a while before you publish an article. The main reason I do it is because in many cases new thoughts and words bubble up that better express your subject, and new ideas to add to your content. That breather is valuable, even if it’s overnight. It give your creative subconscious an opportunity to work on the idea.

  17. Jayashree says:

    I tend to give time from the moment I start writing the post to the moment it gets published.When i read the article every time afresh i get new ideas which I incorporate and change it multiple times .I take anywhere 2 to three days for the content to go live.

  18. Roshan says:

    This is really great advice. Just what I needed. Most of the time, I just go ahead and publish my articles without even giving a second look. Since I’m in Tech blogging, I needed to keep up with the pace. But this actually made me think twice before hitting publish ever again.

  19. kidspace says:

    i was enjoyed this article to read this.i got some nice points to use in this.thanks to shared on this

  20. Sunday says:

    Hi Stacey,

    When it comes to blog posts, it may be difficult to fully separate emotional attachments from our works. The urge to follow the trending topic and the desire to convert readers as quickly as possible make us more willing to share.

    Evergreen contents are always admirable, and I think most blogs that make impact publish these types of content always. Stephen King’s method of editing is a profound method, and it should be applied to blog posts.

    Thanks for sharing this post. It reminds me of another approach to write and edit productively!

    This comment was left in kingged.com – the content syndication and social bookmarking website for Internet marketers where this post was shared.

    Sunday – kingged.com contributor

    http://kingged.com/stephen-king-drawer-method-writing-copy/

  21. Ann07 says:

    I’m glad I opened this drawer you just shared with us. You’ll really never know where your next inspiration will come from! :P

    This post of yours made me remember a night (3 am), when I suddenly woke up thinking of a good headline for my first press release. I immediately took my phone and saved it.

    Writers can truly be attached to their crafts. There’s nothing bad about that. But, yeah you’re right.. sharing a piece of yourself to your writeups is fine, so long as you don’t take the criticisms too personal. :P

    Glad to read this!

    Thanks,
    Rose

    Btw, stumbled upon this post at kingged.com