Leaving blanks

An easier version of drafting without revising involves leaving blanks in the text to be filled in, either later in DRAFT or in REVISE. Again, the idea is to get it down, then get it right. Maybe we should call this technique “Get it down, then fill it out.”

Here’s an example about Admiral Nimitz about to award the Medal of Honor:

[[DATE?]]
Four senior naval officers stepped tentatively into the hospital room. “Commander Fixx, I’m Admiral Nimitz,” said the tallest one, extending his hand. “Let me introduce XXXX.”

In this case, we’re not sure of the date , so we leave it blank. We know the names of the other three officers, but not their exact titles, so we simply type “XXXX.” Using consistent codes, such as “XXXX” or double brackets around the blanks, makes it easy to find them later with the search function. My wife Joan codes by changing the color of the font, usually to red.

You can also specify what you need in the blank, such as “[[MAYOR’S HUSBAND’S NAME?]].” Some writers send messages to themselves in the blank, such as “[[IS THIS CORRECT?]].” Many coaches and editors use coded blanks to send queries to writers inside the text: “[[CHECK SPELLING IN FRENCH]]” or “[[CONVERT TO INCHES?]].” I use ALL CAPS to make the insertions easier to spot during revision.

Wouldn’t it be quicker just to find the information as you need it and type it in? Maybe, but you’ll lose the flow of rapid drafting. And you might get distracted and come back an hour (or day) later. Undisciplined and disciplined writers need different techniques.

One caution: at the end of revision, check that you’ve filled all the blanks and eliminated all the codes. You don’t want your editor or reader to see something like “[[WHERE DID I FIND THIS?]].”

[How do you use blanks?]

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Published in: on May 29, 2010 at 9:58 am  Comments (2)  

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I put XXX and a short note to myself if needed. I used to change the color but it takes using the mouse, selecting and clicking around and it’s a real time and flow waster. Beside that, when I go through the draft to find blanks, it’s easier to use find than to look around for a different color.

    I absolutely need to leave stuff for later research. Once I open the browser to find what I need, the flow is gone and most probably I’ll find myself stuck somewhere on the web. Research and writing are two different processes and I need to keep them apart.

  2. Thanks, Dandelion.

    I never use color because it’s not seachable. I use Search for that final check to see if I filled all the blanks.


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