• Do You Swoop or Do You Bash?

    Posted Posted by David Duhr in ABCs of Writing     Comments 31 comments

    TL;DR version: Are you a swooper — a writer who races to the end of a draft — or a basher, a writer who sweats blood making sure that every line is perfect before moving on to the next? Does this tell you anything about yourself as a writer, or as a person?


    Last week we had cause to lightly touch on Kurt Vonnegut’s semi-famous division of writers into two categories: swoopers and bashers. So this week, let’s talk a little about this and see if we can learn anything.

    First the definitions. This comes from Timequake, KV’s last novel, and, I do believe, the first one of his I ever read. Before I immediately went right out and read them all, and then read most of them a second time, and a few of them a third, a fourth…

    “Tellers of stories with ink on paper, not that they matter anymore, have been either swoopers or bashers. Swoopers write a story quickly, higgledy-piggledy, crinkum-crankum, any which way. Then they go over it again painstakingly, fixing everything that is just plain awful or doesn’t work. Bashers go one sentence at a time, getting it exactly right before they go on to the next one. When they’re done, they’re done.”


    Swashers & Bwoopers

    In our household there is one swooper and one basher. Kind of. Because I think there’s some middle ground here, some gray area. As with most things.

    I am a swooper. I write quickly, sloppily and poorly, in a veritable race to the finish line. Once I finish a draft, I return to the beginning and work through that bad prose, line by line, until it becomes something resembling coherent and competent.

    Justine is a basher. I can write pages in the time it takes her to write a paragraph. She’ll type the beginning of a sentence, stare off into space, type a few more words of that sentence, take a sip of coffee, pet the dog, type a comma, take a shower, delete the comma, then finish the sentence.

    When she reaches the end of a draft, whatever she’s working on is of publishable quality. (Which doesn’t stop her from revising and editing, but hey.) That’s the basher way. “When they’re done, they’re done.”

    My drafts? They smell like runny cheese.

    But I do wonder if anyone is a basher only or a swooper only? There are times when I bash and times when Justine swoops. You?


    What in Heck

    Does swooping or bashing teach us anything about who we are, as people, as writers? Vonnegut tried to make some connections. “Writers who are swoopers, it seems to me,” he wrote, “find it wonderful that people are funny or tragic or whatever, worth reporting, without wondering why or how people are alive in the first place.

    “Bashers,” he goes on, are “in search of answers to these eternal questions: ‘What in heck should we be doing?’ ‘What in heck is really going on?'”


    Your Turn

    OK, so are you a swooper or a basher? Or are you something in between? Or something outside of both?

    Are you happy to be the kind of writer you are, or do you wish you could swoop instead of bash, or vice versa?

    Perhaps more importantly, what does any of this tell you about who you are as a writer, or as a person?

    Maybe nothing! I don’t know. I’m just feeling around here.

    Either way, let us know your thoughts in the comments section below. Whether you swoop your comment or bash it, we want to hear from you.

    For the record, I swooped this post. So if you’ll pardon me, I must now return to the beginning and “go over it again painstakingly.”



    WriteByNight co-founder David Duhr is copy editor and fiction editor at the Texas Observer and has written for the Dallas Morning News, Electric Literature, Publishing Perspectives, and others.

    WriteByNight is a writers’ service dedicated to helping you achieve your creative potential and literary goals. We work with writers of all experience levels working in all genres, nationwide and worldwide. If you have a 2016 writing project that you’d like a little help with, take a look at our book coaching, private instruction and writer’s block counseling services. Join our mailing list and get a FREE writer’s diagnostic, “Common problems and SOLUTIONS for the struggling writer.”


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    John Liebling

    Is it possible to swoop the basher or bash the swooper? Based on your definitions I am 100% swooper. Once I sit down at my computer the words flow. While I am writing, I’ve learned not to be self critical. While I am thinking, brainstorming ideas I try not to impede that process. From the time I was a little kid, all my dreams have been action packed. I started writing my first Novel about two years ago. My first draft, 250 pages with a limited constantly modifying outline. Not once did I go back and re-read and alter Chapter… Read more »

    David Duhr

    So you plan to turn basher for the fourth go-round? I’ll be curious to see what happens with that. There are times I try to be a basher, and I understand the appeal, but sooner or later I get impatient and before I even know it I’m back to swooping. But maybe it’s a good idea to become practiced in both styles. I’m not really sure. Interesting connection, being a swooper and being impulsive. I’m a swooper and I dislike scheduling, in much the same way. Then again, I do better — just in life, in general — when I… Read more »

    Glynis Jolly

    I am more of a basher, although there are those rare moments when I swoop. Yes, I do think it reflects some of my personality. I am a perfectionist wanting everything in its place, sticking to schedules I have had since I was a child. I am, also, persevering. I may stop for a time but it is only to regroup, rest, and rewrap my head around whatever I am doing.

    So far, my times as a swooper is limited to things that pop up and have a deadline just inches away.

    David Duhr

    Kind of the opposite of John, right above you here. He’s a swooper and hates schedules. You’re a basher and want schedules and structure. I wonder if there’s something here? I’m more like John — impulsive, bucking against structure — while Justine (a basher) is more like you, scheduled, “everything in its place,” like you said. Interesting.

    But yes, sometimes deadlines can prevent a basher from bashing. I can also imagine procrastination and bashing being a difficult combo.

    Doreen Poreba

    Because I do a lot of PR writing, I have learned to become a swooper. Deadlines will do that to a person. That said, I take more time in the editing process. I almost always find something to edit and rewrite. Being a swooper benefited me greatly when I was hired to write my first book, which was more than 300 pages, and the publisher only gave me three months to write it! What I “bash about” is the writing itself. I find myself procrastinating when I know I should be writing but once I start writing, the process goes… Read more »

    David Duhr

    Hi Doreen. Thanks for stopping by and sharing. You say you learned to become a swooper. Does that mean you’re a natural basher and that you had to get out of the habit? How did you do that? Were there growing pains? Three hundred pages in three months? That’s cuckoo. I can’t imagine bashing my way through that. But even swooping through that much in so little time is daunting. I’d like to think that if I really got into it, and cleared the decks otherwise, I could knock out 10+ pages per day. But, of course, the first draft… Read more »

    Doreen Poreba

    Hi David. To answer your questions, I’m not really sure if I’m a “natural basher” because in my first position upon graduating from college, which was a TV news reporter, I really wasn’t given a choice and I was too young (20 years old) to have really formed much of a writing habit. As a reporter, I was writing three to five news stories per day for the various newscasts and had to do it “on the fly.” The photographer drove the news vehicle while I wrote my stories in the car. So that’s what I meant by I “learned”… Read more »

    Carol J Bro

    Definitely a swooper. I have to get the words down on paper before I lose the flow of thoughts. I know it won’t be a pretty sight the first time through, but that’s okay because I’m also a perfectionist when it comes to my writing – meaning it will be edited and rewritten and tweaked until the very last moment when it is finally pronounced finished. I suppose if I used a detailed outline, I’d have no reason to fear losing my thought flow. I suspect anyone who is a ‘pantster’ is also a swooper.

    David Duhr

    Ooh, good call on pantster = swooper. That makes very much sense. Might we also suspect that plotters are also bashers? I’m not sure the connection is as strong on that one. But it still feels right.

    I’ve swooped/pantsed my way through two chapters of a novel and am now stuck in Chapter 3. So I’m considering going back to the beginning and doing some plotting. (For once.) And if that happens, I figure I may as well try this bashing thing as well.

    Sounds like a recipe for disaster.


    So when I’m writing for my job in the tech industry, I can write as a swooper and get good, near-final quality pretty darn quick. But when I deconstruct what’s happening when I write for my job compared to the painful process when I’m writing fiction, I realize that for my job, I already know the parameters and the values assigned to variables from the outset, whereas with fiction, the discovery process is happening as I write. So that explains it. The solution is obvious. WRITE FICTION MORE!

    David Duhr

    Ah, if only “WRITE FUCTION MORE” were the solution for everything. I note that I typed “fuction,” but it makes me laugh, so I’m keeping it. That’s a swoopy typo. I expect this is common, swooping through work that, in a way, has a template. Or that you’ve become painfully familiar with. “Swoop what you know,” said Mark Twain. I can write a draft of a book review in minutes and it won’t be far off from where it needs to be. That’s because — unfortunately — it’s very easy to make a review sound like any other review. And… Read more »

    Eleanor Gamarsh

    David, that is so funny! Swooper or Basher. hahaha :-) Well, I think I sit on the fence (no pickets, BTW.) But I swoop in small batches. It could be a page but I do have to peck quickly at a typo I see if I happen to glance at what I wrote. My best and easiest swooping comes when I create dialogue (including correct punctuation and minimal he saids/she saids.) Don’t know how that has happened. I must have a lot of conversations stored in my brain’s memory bank. Then there are those times when I’m hashing out some… Read more »

    David Duhr

    Hi Eleanor. Swooping in small batches. That’s interesting. Will you stop every few paragraphs and read what you’ve written before moving on, or do you notice things — like the typos you mention, for example — as you’re writing/swooping? I think I tend to look at the keyboard while I’m writing fiction, rather than the screen. Or at least 75/25. So that cuts down on the typos I spot, and prevents me from slowing down to fix those pesky things. Whether that’s good or bad, I can’t say. Maybe part of what keeps us interested in writing is the pursuit… Read more »


    I’m a Pantser/Swooper/Write-into-the-dark kind of gal. I couldn’t have published 25 books unless I was, right? For me, at least, it’s the only way to fly!

    David Duhr

    Hi Jill-Ayn. Thanks for stopping by. Yeah, publishing twenty-five books doesn’t make me think “basher.” Have you ever tried doing it the other way? What were the results? I’m considering trying this bashing thing, but I’m not expecting good results.

    Jerry Schwartz

    I’d have to say I’m a basher. I typically have a style manual open while I write. I also (and I know this is not good for a fiction writer) don’t generally know where I’m going. I string words like beads, trying to make pretty patterns and hoping that plot and characters will occur to me as I go. Whenever I get stuck, or pick up a project after being away from it for a while, I start at the beginning and polish it as I read through to where I left off. I’ll usually build up enough momentum to… Read more »

    David Duhr

    Hi Jerry. Thanks for sharing, as always. You’re a basher but a pantser (no plot, no outline, etc.), which, I am guessing, is not very common. Seems to me that most bashers would have a plan and most swoopers won’t. I almost never have a plan, outside of some vague character traits and dim ideas for future scenes and conflicts. Like you, I hope “plot and characters will occur to me as I go.” Sometimes they do. Often they don’t. I’m not sure this is necessarily bad, though. The question is, does it work? And if it does, then don’t… Read more »


    Clearly a basher, always struggled with this. I ‘m surprised when I finally come to the end, I’m never sure about it, then suddenly there it is and I can’t believe it. I struggle with the gobbly-gook that first comes out and leaves me to wonder after rereading it, what was I thinking? What am I doing? I should just hang it up, I have no business doing this….., then suddenly inspiration hits me and I’m back on top of the world. To me, intuitively there’s a flow to the prose and a cohesiveness that comes out after re-re-re-re-re…..re-writing a… Read more »

    David Duhr

    JoJo, good to see you here. Basher or swooper, we (and I imagine most writers) share a lot of the same feelings at the end of a draft. The gobbledy-good, the “What was I thinking?” etc. Not finding flow or cohesion until revising seems more of a swooper trait, so I’m curious about that. When you’re writing, or drafting, as a basher, what are you thinking at the time? Does it seem cohesive as you’re writing, and it all makes sense and seems to be headed in the right direction, and it’s only upon reading the draft that you find… Read more »

    James M Mcgee

    I am a swooper. And for better or worse rarely chart a course. While the good people at WritebyNight aren’t soliciting compliments, I have to give a big thanks to Justine for her steady, precise hand in helping me market my two novels. It’s a godsend to have her on the other end helping to find a harbor this swooper’s work.
    Mike McGee

    David Duhr

    Hi Mike. Thanks for stopping by, and thank you for the kind words. I’m so glad we’ve been able to help. And hey, as long as you get to where you need to be, who cares about charts and maps? Even if it can sometimes take you (i.e., me) a little longer to get there. And besides, all the charts and maps in the world can’t keep you from being blown off course from time to time, right?

    Justine Duhr

    It’s my pleasure and privilege, Mike. Thank *you* for the opportunity to play a role in your writing life.

    Lisa Estus

    I’m a basher attempting to integrate swooping into my writing practice. Bashing can be lethal for someone as perfectionistic as myself, and my intrepid coach Jessamine Chan encourages me to write more and write faster because she knows I will edit the bejesus out of it later anyway. (Yes, I wrote this deliberately and edited it a couple of times.)
    Lisa Estus

    Jerry Schwartz

    I’m glad to hear I’m not the only one who spends more time writing an email than some folks spend writing a novel.

    David Duhr

    Hi Lisa. I do wonder if there’s something to be gained from learning to be both a swooper and a basher. Maybe we should keep each other posted on our progress: while you practice your swooping I’ll be practicing my bashing. Starting… NOW!

    Barbara Mealer

    I am a cross between the two. It doesn’t take me long to write but i have to make sure it doesn’t snow somewhat correct. I won’t be one to write 5000 words per hour but I am able to complete a full novel of 100k words in two weeks. It will need some editing but I have most of it planned out prior to writing.

    David Duhr

    A book of 100,000 words in two weeks? And you follow a course, an outline of some kind? That’s impressive. But not a surprise, coming from you! So when you write a first draft maybe you’re more of a swooper — but with a plan — and when you revise you’re a bashy basher?

    David Duhr

    And here’s a question I got for you via email from a fellow reader:

    Barbara Mealer, How do you do that?! I think having that ability is amazing. What is your technique to be able to finish a novel in 2 weeks? I have been working at revising a Long short story (10,000 wds.) over a month and haven’t finished yet.

    I can write only 3-4 hours a day on average. perhaps that’s my drawback. How long do you take for the planning stage?

    […] (For more on drafting, and on swooping versus bashing, join last week’s super fun discussion.) […]

    Annie Sargeant

    I am a basher. I am a basher because I never learned to type. I must look at the screen because the only key I’m really sure of is the backspace key. Oh I know the keyboard sort of, but my fingers cannot possibly keep up with my brain which is another story by itself. All that combined with an all consuming desire for perfection – right *now* I have decided that perhaps bashing is a form of procrastination- I mean if I’m obsessing over a comma… I have just read over some comments and came to the one David… Read more »

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