Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Business Writing v. Writing Fiction

One day recently I spent more than 15 hours at work over a three day period writing a six page letter. After that my boss spent a few hours deconstructing my draft and rebuilding it from scratch. That may seem like a lot of time and effort to spend on one letter, and it is -- but, it's a really important letter.

I didn't do a word count on the letter, but it's six pages, the first of which has the address block and the last of which is not full, so it's not that many words. I labored and struggled and fussed over every word and comma. I arranged my argument. Then I rearranged it. Then I put it back the way it was, after which I moved it around again. I moved the end to the beginning for emphasis, and then back to the end for a big finish.

It can take me hours to do a first draft of a simple letter. In a business letter, once I sketch out the first draft, the editing process goes pretty quickly. Once I have the structure I want, the words flow fairly easily. Two or three revisions usually does it (with the knowledge that my boss will make the final edits).

Fiction writing is almost a mirror opposite of that process. For me drafting happens in a blaze of energy and creativity that often leaves me both spent and exhilarated when the story is flowing. On a good Saturday, when I have plenty of time to write and a fresh new story to tell, I have been known to crank out close to 10,000 words of fiction in one day. Forty to fifty thousand words in a month is more or less normal for me when I'm working exclusively on writing something new (as opposed to my usual practice of working on stories in several different phases of development all at once). That's pretty impressive, considering I do all my fiction writing and blogging during only a couple of hours in the evenings and as much as I can over the weekends. The first draft of fiction stories flow freely and rush out of my fingertips onto the screen.

The editing can take years of fiddling with tightening here, adding detail there, laboring over punctuation (who the hell invented the comma, anyway????), eliminating adverbs, punching up sentences with action verbs and better nouns than the first ones I chose.

I hate to write business documents. I love to write fiction. Interestingly, as I have struggled and labored to improve my business writing, my fiction writing has improved as well.... and vice versa.

For me the bottom line is that writing is hard work, but when you end up with a finished product that "flows" it's a thing of beauty. Whether it is a persuasive business document or a story, good writing is difficult, but for me it is worth the effort.

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1 comment:

  1. I think writing is like playing a musical instrument --- you keep your writing mind limber by exercising it regularly, your fingers dextrous by practising every day --- wen