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Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Swim Like a Shark: The Time-Boosting Impact of TK

I’m going to let you in on one of my biggest time-saving strategies. When you're writing a first draft, I want you to swim like a shark.

If you've seen the movie Annie Hall, you may already know what I mean. There’s a scene near the end of the movie where lovers played by Woody Allen and Diane Keaton are on a plane, returning to Manhattan from Hollywood. Allen’s character realizes the relationship is over, explaining to Keaton: “A relationship, I think, is like a shark, you know? It has to constantly move forward or it dies. And I think what we got on our hands is a dead shark.”

What does this mean for writers? Keep moving. Keep writing. Don’t let yourself get blocked or stopped while you’re writing a draft—you’ll lose valuable time, momentum, and motivation. Can’t think of the right word? Need to add a statistic, quote, or example? Use the old editor’s “TK” trick. If you get stuck, type the letters “TK” and keep going. The TK means “to come;” it’s basically shorthand for “fix this before we go to print.” Then, when you edit your initial draft, you can fix the TKs. (The letters TK don’t appear together in any word in English, which makes it easy to locate them by using the “find” function in Word.)

Robert B. Parker, author of the Spenser novels, used to say, “I can’t edit a blank page.” Get the words down. Write what Anne Lamott would call a shitty first draft. Just get the words on the screen—you can fix it and clean it up and make it beautiful later.

My shark-swimming tendency makes me a faster draft writer, and for me, the first draft is the hardest part of any piece of writing. Ease up on your perfectionist tendencies, if you have them, and just keep writing—and swimming. You’ll boost your productivity and your bottom line.

p.s. Did any readers notice that my last post, on writers’ mistakes, was about mistake #4? It should have been #5...I've corrected it. You’ve got to appreciate the irony!