I meet a lot of people who don't think that they can write, or at least don't think that they can write well. I've been blogging for the better part of a decade, both here and elsewhere, so I thought I'd throw together a few words on the subject.
I'd like to start with someone else's words. Stepehen King, in his book about writing, aptly titled On Writing, has this to say:
Write with the door closed, rewrite with the door open. Your stuff starts
out being just for you, in other words, but then it goes out. Once you know
what the story is and get it right — as right as you can, anyway — it
belongs to anyone who wants to read it. Or criticize it.
Or, perhaps more succinctly: first you put the words on the page, then you re-arrange them.
Now, King was concerned primarily with fiction (hence the bits about "story"), and blogging is foremost a non-fiction genre, but the message still fits.
First You Put The Words On The Page
This is absolutely crucial. When I write, I write. I don't edit. I don't spell-check. I don't check my grammar. I don't fret about Oxford commas or double-spacing. I just get the words onto the page.
If a particular tangent strikes my fancy, I'll follow it. If an idea is coalescing, I'll run with it. I can be quite long-winded, and the first draft of any piece of word-smithing is (for me at least) almost always twice as long as the finished piece.
Editing (which comes next, in a completely discreet phase) is hard, so why make it harder by denying yourself more raw material to work with?
To be fair, putting words on pages often ends up with some pretty horrendous, meandering, unfocused, ponderous, incomplete, unclear, and downright awful writing. That's the point. Awful writing can be edited into good writing, with enough patience and fortitude.
A blank page cannot.
Then You Re-Arrange Them
It takes (ahem) a special type of person to be able to take writing (someone else's or your own) and ruthlessly, mercilessly critique, modify, reword, and restructure it.
I grew up in a print shop -- my mother was an pre-press technician and an off-set press operator. I spent many a long weekend colating books, sorting prints, and (if I was well-behaved) stapling. I was also a voracious reader as a child, and being surrounded by that much written word so regularly helped me to develop an eye for detail. I have yet to read a book (fiction or otherwise) in which I didn't find a typo.
But that's not editing. That's proofing, and there's a big difference. A colossal difference. A HUUUUUGE difference.
In college, I worked as a copy-editor for the college newspaper. I didn't write for the paper, I re-wrote for the paper. Student reporters and desk editors would submit their stories to me, and I would red-pen them into something publishable. From that experience I learned the following about editing:
- Some people hate their editors.
- Some people love their editors.
- The latter improve as writers.
Editing is as much a part of the writing process as writing itself is. It is through the lense of editing that you get to take the raw wordstuff of your writing and forge it into a thematically sound, tonally correct, rhythmicly delicious piece of writing.
Now, Go Write Something
I can't wait to read it.