How to write it right the first time

by JC

As much as we’d like to think so, we’re hardly coherent in our first attempts to articulate an idea or tell a story. Yet just imagine how nice it would be to speak and write fluently, clearly, and beautifully any time we tried. It’s in this that I would like to excel. Wouldn’t you?

…freewriting also brings a surface coherence to your writing and it does so immediately. You cannot write really incoherently if you write quickly. You may violate the rules of correctness, you may make mistakes in reasoning, you may write foolishness, you may change directions before you have said anything significant. That is, you may produce something like “Me and her we went down and saw the folks but wait that reminds me of the thing I was thinking about yester oh dam what am I really trying to say.” But you won’t produce syntactic chaos: language that is so jumbled that when you read it over you are frightened there is something the matter with you.
However, you wouldn’t be frightened if you looked more closely at how you actually produced that verbal soup. If you had movies of yourself you would see yourself starting four or five times and throwing each start away and thereby getting more and more jumbled in your mind; finally starting; stopping part way through the sentence to wonder if you are on the wrong track and thereby losing your syntactic thread. You would see yourself start writing again on a slightly different piece of syntax from the one you started with, then notice something really wrong and fix it and lose the thread again; so when you finally conclude your sentence, you are actually writing the conclusion of a different sentence from the ones you had been writing. Thus, the resulting sentence— whether incorrect or just impossibly awkward—is really fragments of three different syntactic impulses or sentences-in-the-head tied together with baling wire.

– Peter Elbow, Writing With Power

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