Deadlines, Outlines and Other Writing Fundamentals I Ignore

Breaking Writing RulesAs I write, I’m watching the counter get closer to zero. Four hours until deadline.

I’ve had days to write this piece, but I’ve put it off until now. Why, you ask? Wouldn’t your copy be better if you spent days writing, editing and polishing? Maybe, but as a professional writer for hire, I’ve found what works for me doesn’t always mesh with time-honored writing fundamentals.

Take deadlines. For me, having spent my formative writing years as a newspaper reporter, I thrive on deadlines. Knowing I’ve got a finite amount of time to complete a piece serves as a catalyst for creativity. If I’ve got ample time to work, I sit spinning my wheels and not accomplishing anything of substance.

Outlines are another writing basic I ignore. With the rare exception, I don’t make outlines before I start writing. My high school English teachers would be mortified. But outlines usually end up wasting my time. I rarely follow them because I think my copy is much better when it flows organically rather than from a preconceived plan.

I’ve also been known to spend days formulating a lead sentence or headline. I know I should just get some thoughts down on paper, but I just can’t get started unless I’ve got a pretty good idea of what that first sentence will be.

To that end, I should also keep a notepad and pen next to my bed and in my car. Inspiration sometimes hits just as I’m drifting off to sleep or while I’m running errands. I never seem to have a writing implement handy, and I just can’t ever rewrite the sentence that seemed so perfectly crafted in my head.

I also don’t journal. I know many writers do daily it to stay sharp and focused. At this point in my life though, I’d much rather spend time playing with my kids instead of writing something that doesn’t come with a paycheck. Maybe I’ll start journaling when my kids get older and want nothing to do with me. We’ll see.

I don’t contend that other writers should do things the way I do them. Mine is not an example to be emulated. But even with my myriad bad habits, I’ve managed to maintain a writing career for going on 16 years. So it’s working for me.

My point is that you shouldn’t feel trapped in a routine or a set of rules espoused by others in the writing world. Sure, take others’ advice and try on their methods to see if they fit. But at the end of the day, writing is an intensely personal endeavor, so you must find what works for your personality and preferences.

And don’t be ashamed of it. As long as you—and more importantly your clients—are satisfied with your work, it doesn’t matter how you went about creating it.

Chelsea A is a freelance writer available on WriterAccess, a marketplace where clients and expert writers connect for assignments.


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