Jake LaCaze

Great writing is iterative

So many of us have this habit of romanticizing great writing.

We dream of the genius writers sitting alone at their desks, sipping on a cappuccino as the perfect words flow from their minds through their hands and onto the page.

And so, when we sit down for our own writing, this is the image we’re seeking to emulate.

Romanticizing great writing is harmful for a couple reasons:

  1. It makes us feel as if we can’t write great works because we’re not the same kind of genius.
  2. We’re set up for failure because we think great writing should come so easily.

Great writing is hard. Great writing is work.

And great writing is iterative. It comes in steps.

Study the habits of great writers enough and you’ll probably read or hear the point that the secret to great writing is rewriting. That’s right: Your first draft is probably not going to be on par with the idea of the genius writer in your head.

So you’re going to have to write and write and write again. AKA rewrite.

Structuring for iterative writing

I recently started a new job as a marketing specialist at an IT support firm. Our first order of business is to revamp our website.

We’ve already established a basic framework for our new website. But now we need some copy.

Time to put on the writer hat.

I don’t want to let perfectionism get in the way of good ideas.

So I’ve started with a scrap file.

Originally I started writing in Notepad on Windows. Then I moved to using Markdown in Visual Studio Code.

Then my boss said he wanted to see my ideas and collaborate, so I migrated the scrap file to Microsoft OneNote.

All of that to say you can structure for iterative writing in a variety of apps. Doing so doesn’t require any technical ability. Instead, doing so requires the proper mindset.

I have three main topics I’m juggling and trying to write copy for.

So I’ve structured my scrap file as follows:

  • Unorganized
  • Topic 1
    • Subtopic 1.1
    • Subtopic 1.2
  • Topic 2
  • Subtopic 2.1
  • Subtopic 2.2
  • Topic 3
  • Subtopic 3.1
  • Subtopic 3.2

As ideas pop into my head, I simply sort them underneath the appropriate topic or subtopic.

“Unorganized” is just what it sounds like—that’s where I keep the ideas I can’t quite find a home for yet. Or maybe they pertain to parts I’m not writing for yet.

This is not the time to focus on one thing and one thing only.

This is the time to let ideas flow. I don’t want to reject what may be a good idea because it doesn’t fit at the moment.

Don’t worry too much about structure and the final product. Save formatting for the end.

Besides, finding the perfect font before you start is not going to help your writing.

This is not the time to be precious about your writing.

Why iterative writing works

Iterative writing sets up more realistic expectations.

By demystifying the writing process and seeing how it really works, I can acknowledge that anything I put into my scrap file will likely need a ton of polish to have any chance of making it onto the launched website.

I now know that my writing needs to start with an ideation phase, where I’m free to throw everything at the wall and see what sticks.

And from there, I’ll work through a series of rewrites until I feel I have something worthy of publishing.