Nibble Writing is a life hack for people without time to write. This post covers the essential practical how to’s. I kept them loose to fit the diverse chaos most people call life. My earlier post introducing Nibble Writing gives context to the tips in this post. Reading it will help you make better use of these pointers.
Time is the main constraint of Nibble Writing. So these tips are about creating workflows. Their aim: making writing a few minutes at a time productive. The final goal is piling short bursts of writing into a greater whole.
The core of this approach is about:
- breaking writing into small actions so you can write at any moment
- assemble your output into complete works without going mad, turning alcoholic and/or putting your brains on a wall with a shot gun
Write short sentences
Nibble Writing is a response to a harsh writing environment. Where you are starved of moments to jot thoughts into words. So short sentences make the most of the time crumbs you manage to steal.
It’s not just about getting thoughts out fast. Short declarative sentences flog specifics out of fuzzy thoughts. The ideal: one thought, one sentence. Every word must count or die 1. If a sentence won’t fit in a Tweet its too long. Chop it.
Each sentence must act as a brick of meaning. Between three to six of these must build a paragraph a bigger coherent thought. The resulting thought pile must lead to a summit of greater understanding.
The overall goal of writing this way is turning thought into coherent word structures. Another is developing an instinctive scent about where your writing is going and how to manage it. That instinct is a stew of balancing acts between control and letting go.
It will give you a “feel” when you are building towards that summit of greater understanding. Or if you are wasting time. In both cases you will develop an instinct for when to stop. Another powerful instinct is knowing when to break the short sentence rule.
Such instincts are developed with a steady flow of self contained units of writing. Hone it with regular use.
Use short paragraphs
Short sentences make editing easier. You need to group them in short paragraphs for this to work. A rule of thumb: a paragraph should fit on a mobile phone screen. You should read the whole paragraph without scrolling.
Edit as you go
How you edit will save your words from drowning in incoherence. Thus saving your sanity or the catastrophe which passes for it. Don’t wait till the word flood ends to edit. It will overwhelm you. I have managed to cling to sanity by editing in three stages.
Stage 1: Figure out what’s being said
Go over what you have spewed. Have it read back to you if you can. Most digital devices have some kind of text to speech function. Use it. Forget the awful sentences and typo disasters. Focus on spotting:
- distinct themes
- key underlying thought(s)
- places you can break what you say into smaller self contained units of writing
- move these into separate files as distinct stories, blog posts, or articles.
The first three points will give a working sense of where the voices in your head are taking you. This is your primary thought sorting process.
The last is a practical tip for stage two. It is a quick way of making your Nibble Writing time productive.
Stage 2: Work on the most interesting idea first
You pigeon away seconds/minutes from the torrent of the daily life for Nibble Writing. Give those precious time fragments to the ideas that pulls you the most. They deserve it and so do you.
During this phase:
- Break each sentence into something concrete. Airy metaphors waste time. They breed long sentences (see previous tip on SHORT sentences)
- Kill beautiful sentences if they don’t add to the whole. As Stephen King said: “Kill your darlings”2. It will save you from getting word drunk and mired in pretty mush
- Put off research for moments you can’t write. Don’t waste you’re writing time Googling. While writing, just add a note to yourself to look it up later.
Stage 3 : Focus on getting the thing finished
Have your writing read back to you by a machine (text to speech)
Over familiarity with your own words makes proofreading unproductive. Getting your device to recite your words lets you proof read while doing dull tasks like millimetring3 along in traffic. This will help you speed up the completion process by
- cleaning up sentences
- picking the ideas you want to keep
- find good points to break up the text into another post/body of writing
Serialise your text
A big hazard of Nibble Writing is wasting time “stirring the pot”. Where your few minutes of writing time rot away in endless tinkering. Serialising your text into chunks under 1100 words gives focus over a large body of text. It lets you create more finished “product”. Which is both satisfying, and placates the voices. Focusing on smaller chunks also preserves the frayed strands of sanity. Yes I’ve said that before but it’s worth repeating.
There is nothing wrong with serialising a single body of writing. All my posts on Nibble Writing started out as one post. Anna Karenina, Sōseki’s “I Am a Cat”,Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, major works of the Qing dynasty and Duma’s novels came out this way. That’s the closest I’ll get to great writers. You might edge a bit closer. Even join them.
Will Nibble Writing make you a better writer?
The answer depends on you and your writing. Would a frequent output of focused completed pieces of writing make you a better writer? I will never make that claim.
Nibble Writing is just a tool. It’s meant to leverage writing time from the 86,400 seconds we have a day. Nibble Writing has let me write when the other priorities of life killed any chance of a “traditional” writing process. The 745 posts (as of July 2016) in this blog is the evidence.
Has such an output made me a good writer ? I’ll leave that for you to voice via the comment box. The most accurate answer is that after two years of it I began to enjoy reading my own writing.
Next up: Tools that helped me Nibble Write.
- Check out a short take on Orwell’s rules for effective writing ↩︎
- More on what “Kill your darlings” means ↩︎
- I’m a big fan of the metric system ↩︎