You write a word, then delete it.
You go back and write another phrase but erase it. Back and forth until you write a word that works; you repeat this pattern for 20 minutes–then glance at your clock and realize you wrote 4 sentences in 50 minutes. Does this sound like you? Are you writing the first draft until midnight? It was me until I read these two sentences: Write Hot. Edit Cold. It proved to be the best writing advice I ever received.
To write hot is to write without stopping and changing your words. You avoid the problem of going back to correct things and make your words sound ideal. To edit cold means you detach yourself from your writing and cut and change things without mercy.
Writing hot is almost cheerful and blissful. Editing cold can be brutal. But through this process of doing both, your writing becomes clear, direct, stronger, and more compelling (even if it’s an academic paper).
Do you want that for your writing? Then read on.
The Best Writing Advice I Learned from Writers
I didn’t learn about writing hot and editing cold in school. Instead, this wisdom came from reading books about writing fiction. A side note: some of the best writing advice I learned about academic writing comes from fiction writers. If you want to develop great essay or academic writing skills, read and learn from writers in all genres.
The hardest thing about writing hot is getting past the mindset of wanting every word or sentence to be perfect. It helps to think about a first draft as the first scoop of ice cream in a sundae. You need ice cream as it’s the central ingredient, and without that first scoop, there is nothing to build up and perfect. More will go into your sundae, like 2 or 3 more ice cream scoops and your favorite toppings (chocolate fudge, caramel, whip cream, cherries, etc.). Now your only goal is to write a draft—put words on paper (or in a document).
So how do you write hot? These are the tips that I use for any piece of writing.
- Prepare to write with notes on what you want to cover (especially if you are writing an essay or paper).
- If you cannot let go of the need to fix things as you write, use the commenting features to write down what you want to do. I make notes about wanting to fix a sentence, add more details, fix the spelling of a word, awkward writing, or if I have no idea at all, I type: “Fix this!”
- Don’t stop to follow your grammar checker’s suggestions or corrections, no matter how tempting. Better yet, turn off the grammar and spelling checker.
- Set a timer, and don’t stop to take a break until the timer stops.
- Create a distraction-free writing environment except for the things that encourage you to write (ice coffee, aromatherapy oils, a lucky elephant, etc.)
- Freewrite at least 3 times per week. A freewrite is where you write without stopping to change your writing. These are pieces of writing you don’t hand in or publish. The purpose of a freewrite is to get you in the habit of writing and explore ideas. In essence, freewriting is writing on fire.
The second part of the best writing advice I received is, “edit cold.” The word “edit” encompasses both editing and revising. When you revise, you focus on changing the ideas, supporting details, etc., and changing your essay or paper’s organization.
After writing a draft, wait at least a day before you start editing. Read everything over and focus on content and your writing organization. When you revise, you focus on changing the ideas, supporting details, etc., and changing your essay or paper’s organization. Check out my post, https://www.academicwritingsuccess.com/academic-revising-101-the-essential-essay-revision-checklist/ for a list of things you should check for when you revise.
Next, become a ruthless editor. I suggest using an editing checklist of errors you need to spot. Follow this process:
- Read your checklist and then read your essay or paper to see if you have made grammar, spelling, or punctuation mistakes. Compare your essay to the checklist. Also, look for sentences that seem awkward.
- Read aloud and notice if you are out of breath. It helps you spot places where you need punctuation. As you read aloud, you’re more likely to see omitted and repeated words and spelling mistakes. A bonus tip: I learned is to record yourself reading the essay and play it back to see if there are differences between what you see and the words in your essay.
- After checking your essay, use Grammarly or Hemingway Editor https://www.hemingwayapp.com tools to help you find confusing sentences, excessive adverbs, and passive voice. This step helps you make your writing clearer.
- Read your essay backward from the last sentence to the first. This technique makes you focus on a sentence without thinking about the meaning of the essay.
You probably noticed that revising and editing is a detailed process. It’s because you want to be “cold” and look at your draft almost as if you’re another person—a mean editor.
This meanness serves a purpose. It helps you see if you need more scoops of ice cream (more critical content) and see what toppings(words, sentences, grammar, punctuation) you need or don’t need. When you revise, you’ll also see if you need less ice cream because your essay or paper’s body has too much fluff or repetition. Editing helps you find the perfect toppings (words, spelling. punctuation, etc.) for your sundae.
Use the Write Hot and Edit Cold Approach
As you see the results of writing hot and editing cold, you’ll see why this is the best writing advice I ever received. It saves you time and takes the stress out of writing. As you write hot, you’re not worried about perfection—you get it done. You know that there is time to revise, edit and polish your essay or research paper.
Letting go of perfection frees you up to create. And once you have your creation, you can shape it, mold it and transform it into something inspiring and powerful.