Thoughts on Writing: Diamond Polishers and Vomit Drafters

They say that writers come in two flavors: Diamond polishers and vomit drafters. Let me explain.

Have you ever been sitting at your desk, trying to write one single paragraph, but then found yourself meticulously fiddling with every single shred of a word and each and every sentence until you finally got rid of the feeling that something just doesn’t feel right yet? Chances are you’re a diamond polisher.

Or, are you the kind of person who just loves to get lost in writing, quickly entering that state of flow, where words just pour out in one creative burst? That’s a vomit drafter.

Of course, the reality is much more nuanced. We are all diamond polishers to a certain degree and we all might have days on which we spit out quick drafts more easily. But is there a right way to approach writing? Is it better to be a diamond polisher or should everyone become a vomit drafter? As often, the answer is: It depends.

First and foremost, we are all different and you should go with the approach that you feel comfortable with and that produces the best results in your case. There are, however, certain things that both types of writers should be aware of and there is always room to grow. Even more so, if you don’t feel comfortable with how you approach writing at the moment or simply don’t get the results you want.

If you are more of a diamond polisher, it is obvious that you care deeply about every word. And that is fine. Language has its subtle nuances and in many cases there is indeed the perfect word that exactly expresses what you want to say. Being precise and clear in what you say should always be the goal. But this attention to detail can also block you. If your first sentence isn’t right already or you only manage to get one short paragraph done in over an hour, being a diamond polisher can be a curse that keeps you from progress. In the worst case, you get frustrated, stop publishing your work, and lose interest in writing altogether. Diamond polishers should therefore remind themselves from time to time that perfection is a myth and that how they say something might not be as important as saying it in the first place. It can be extremely liberating to let go of the idea that the first draft of a text has to be perfect, already. You will have to edit your piece anyway, so why not try to start with a shitty first draft the next time you sit down to write? I used to be a heavy diamond polisher myself but I found that forcing me to write quicker drafts helped a lot to increase the rate at which I publish on my site. It also makes it easier to let go from bad ideas. As Hugh Howey notes, it’s often better to delete entire chapters and start with a blank page than it is to fix a story that’s gone awry. And it is extremely hard to kill your darlings once you’re busy polishing diamonds.

So should we all become vomit drafters, then? Not so fast! Writing quick drafts has its advantages, but never forget: Very few people vomit diamonds and you are most likely not one of them. Your draft might have a nice beginning and a compelling end and it might already look quite complete, yet it is still a draft that needs further refinement. The process of rigorously editing your work is extremely valuable. So don’t forget to take a step back and critically review your piece. Where could you be more clear? Which parts could be cut or rewritten to get your point across? What parts of your text might even be unnecessary? As a vomit drafter, you can produce quantity. Now, make sure that you also publish quality.

In the end, it comes down to one central question: Are you front- or back-loading editing? There certainly is a point to be made for writing quicker drafts and separating the process of drafting from editing your work. But this is not to say that you should stop polishing diamonds altogether, if that’s just how you roll. Whatever type of writer you are, make sure that your process allows you to be flexible and that editing is part of your routine. Whether you do your editing earlier or later in the process is not that important – as long as you’re doing it. And then, hit publish.

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