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A writing schedule to help you write from the body and edit from the head

A writing schedule to help you write from the body and edit from the head

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Woman Surrounded By Indoor Plants while Writing on a Notebook

When writers first come to me for literary coaching, they are usually writing AND editing from the head (i.e. intellect)—and often trying to do both at once. They come to me filled with (intellectually driven) ideas about what makes a good first draft, about what the ‘market’ will want, about who they can and cannot be on the page. Often, the first few weeks of working together are about getting them to unlearn all of these stories, and to get out of their head and into their body when setting up a writing schedule.

This is not to say there is no place for the intellect when telling stories. There is—but the intellect comes in when editing (second draft onwards), not when writing (the first draft).

What is ‘writing from the body?’

Writing from the body is when you stop letting your brain dictate what your fingers want to type. You write from intuition, not intellect—usually by vomit/speed/free writing.

Writing versus editing

Writing and editing are not ‘basically the same thing’ as many aspiring writers think. In fact, writing and editing are, quite literally, opposite processes. Your writing is about letting go of control (you want to be surprised by what comes out). Editing is about taking back control (to think about craft, clarity and audience).

Writing (a first draft)

A first draft—writing—is about holding space for the tangents that want to rise from your body. It is your subconscious surfacing. It is messy (which is how we get the nuance), and often lacks logical cohesion. This is a green flag. Don’t make it into a red one with the mental stories you tell yourself.

Editing (second draft onwards)

From the second draft onwards—editing—we begin removing the tangents. This is the conscious brain coming in to organise the mess that your subconscious has vomited onto the page. Editing is about imposing order, structure, and beginning to bring some form of logical cohesion to the work. Editing often entails throwing out much of what was written in a first draft but knowing that those two or three pieces of gold that are now the centrepiece of your work would not have been revealed had you not first made space for the messiness.

How much time to devote to each

For every one hour I spend writing, I spend an average of five hours editing. If you’re just starting out as a writer, I’m guessing your numbers are the opposite, right?

Balancing your schedule

Here’s a schedule you might like to try instead.

Day 1 (write – from the body / intuition)

Vomit or ‘free write’ your first draft. This means: set a timer for 30 minutes, start writing and don’t stop until the timer goes off. Don’t pause to think about what you’ll say next, just write out each thought as it wants to come, even if you’re jumping around without completing the thoughts. Allow the tangents. Tangents in a first draft are what leads to the magic. If your brain tries to tell you to stop writing, type ‘I don’t know what to write next’ and keep going anyway. Don’t think, just do.

Day 2 (edit – from the intellect)

Identify the emotional heart of the piece (i.e. which bit brings up the most emotion in your body? Cut out any throat-clearing or background info that isn’t essential (it’s more than you think).

Day 3 (edit – from the intellect)

Re-write the emotional heart of the piece in the singular rather than plural. This is ONE specific occurrence of the event you’re narrating, instead of a summary of multiple. E.g. This morning, I had coffee with my father (singular = one specific occurrence). NOT: On Fridays, I drink coffee with my father (plural = summary of multiple occurrences).

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Day 4 (edit – from the intellect)

Highlight external (plot/action/dialogue) in green, internal (thoughts/feelings) in yellow, setting in blue. Check you have 40/40/20% respectively. Edit your work to roughly match these percentages.

Day 5 (edit – from the intellect)

Do a specificity edit. Your brain will try to tell you that vague, abstract and cliché phrases are the key to ‘universal appeal’. This is a lie. It’s counter-intuitive, but the opposite is true. Be specific. Be concrete. Remove all cliches. It might feel less ‘fancy’, but I promise you the writing will be better.

Day 6 (edit – from the intellect)

Convert your writing to an audio track and listen back to identify any gaps in how you’re holding the reader through time and space. Do a final edit. Proofread for grammar, punctuation, sentence structure etc.

Write from the body, edit from the head. Your work will be much deeper, complex and nuanced as a result.


Chloe is an award-winning author who helps aspiring writers REALLY learn how to edit. Sign up for a FREE one-month trial of her editing membership here