Thursday, December 10, 2015

Lies They Tell Writers, Part 22: Vomit on the Page.

Our last effusion, outpouring, gush, upchuck of “Lies” talked about the physical process of writing.
Here we go again.
I cannot count the number of times I have heard writers and writing instructors advise other writers that when writing it is important, imperative even, to write write write write write write write.
Do it quickly. Don’t slow down (hence, the absence of commas above). Don’t stop. Don’t worry about spelling, grammar, punctuation, word choice, or anything else. Just get it on the page (or screen) as fast as you can. You can always fix it another time.
A popular way of putting it is, “vomit on the page and come back later to clean it up.”
That doesn’t work for me.
It could be because I have written advertising copy for so many years. When you are confined to a fraction of a page or a half-minute of air time, you don’t have a lot of words to work with. Every one has to work hard on its own and play well with others. So, you carefully consider and contemplate every word, often before you write it.
Writing poetry is much the same, which is where I went next. Then short stories and magazine articles. By the time I got to novels and history books it was too late. I was already trained to examine each word, mull over every phrase, and think about every sentence. If something isn’t right, I am not capable of moving on. (Which is not to say everything I write is right; anyone who’s read my stuff knows better.) I can try, but it nags and niggles at me like a burr under a saddle blanket and I have to make it as right as I can before I can move on.
It’s more like playing with your food than vomiting on the page, I suppose.
The point is, writing is something you do by yourself. You have to do it your way. If that means barfing verbs and nouns and adjectives, fine. But if ruminating over every jot and tittle works for you, that’s fine too. 


  1. Colorful technique, Rod. Never quite put it in those terms. I can believe people use a word dump approach. I get on a roll at times; but it's not a deliberate strategy. When it happens, I run with it. Most of the time my writing follows a thought out plan. I draft, rewrite and polish. I call it word-whittling. Once again it's a personal thing.

    1. Different strokes, as they say, Paul. I tend not to plan (or outline) much--most of the time, I can only see ahead a little ways. Whittling is a good way to look at making things better. As long as what ends up on the page doesn't stink like a puddle of puke, any technique will do.

  2. To my wonderful former creative director: I could not agree more. Because there in a sense is no "later" for fixing all of this stuff -- not just writing -- and it makes more sense to write what you mean to say as you are writing. The computer has made it so easy to vomit rather than think. I'm not sure this is working out so well for us as a culture...

    Enjoy your work so much!

    Kindest regard,
    Lisa Bolton

    1. Thanks, Lisa. Good to hear from you. It surely seems true that in so many places there is too much writing and too little thinking these days.