Notion's Nate Martins on Proofreading

"It’s all about writing a bad first draft."

You don't write for the sake of it. You write for a specific goal, to share a certain idea and (especially in business writing) drive readers to take some action afterwards.

That goal is what matters. The specific words you write are in service of that goal—and aren't important by themselves.

That's how Notion content lead Nate Martins approaches the writing process. With the goal in mind, he can write a first draft without overthinking it, then cut and edit it into something that achieves the original goal.

Here's Nate on his writing and proofreading workflow:

What’s your favorite thing you’ve written recently?

I’ve done a lot of editing recently, but I enjoyed writing this piece about company documentation — something most people don’t like doing, but that’s so necessary! But I have a background in creative writing, so I do a lot of personal writing as well. I did something for the NYT Modern Love section several years ago, and that’s one of my favorites too.

What’s your standard writing workflow?

Before actually getting to the writing, I always start with a few things, like the goal of the piece, the audience, and what I call a “so what” (which helps uncover the importance of the piece). All of these things help frame anything I’m writing.

Then, depending on the piece, it’s all about research. Whether it’s writing about a new product feature, conducting an interview, or leading about something in the broader market, I spend a lot of time gathering as much information as I can, and trying to learn about what it is I’m writing about. I’ll pull important tidbits out of this research. I’m not much of an outliner — because so much changes in the writing process as you learn and develop ideas.

When it comes to writing, it’s all about writing a bad first draft. Cover up that delete button. Just get your ideas out and start connecting them. Don’t worry about how it sounds. I try to block my calendar to make space to write, then put things down before jumping into the editing.

Normally I have two editing passes — one for correctness (“am I making sense?”) then another for polish (“do I sound good?”). I do this as part of my creative writing processes as well, and it’s helpful because on that second editing pass, you can really focus on the words instead of the ideas.

What’s your favorite way to proofread writing and spot things to change?

The hard part about editing and proofreading for me, is that, after reading something so many times, I end up memorizing it. So that means I won’t see errors.

Every time I edit, it’s two passes, which I used a lot in creative writing. On the first one, you’re just reading “without a pen in hand,” meaning you’re not going to make any edits at all. The second, you can pick your pen up and start to make changes.

I like printing things out and taking physical notes. Reading out-loud always helps too. One crazy technique I learned is reading backwards — starting at the last word, then moving your way to the first word. That’s not feasible for all big writing projects, but it makes it virtually impossible to miss typos.

What do you do with things you cut?

Unfortunately, they mostly end up on the cutting room floor. I usually create a “piggy bank” at the bottom of anything I write so I at least have the option to pull from there. But usually, I’ll just leave things I cut out. Sometimes they’re the genesis for another piece, like a kernel of an idea.

What’s your ideal editing workflow?

After writing, I try to leave it alone for a while before editing. Then, doing that two-pronged editing approach — once without pen in hand, then with pen in hand. Ideally, I’ll have a quiet place and a physical copy.

→ Check out Nate Martins' work on the Notion Blog, and follow him on Twitter @martin_plural.

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