When I create something I struggle to share it with other people unless I think it’s near on perfect. If I’m honest with myself, everything I create needs at least a second opinion (if not a third and a fourth) to give me the advice enough to mould it for a wider audience. A good friend reminded me of something that helps me with this: a draft serves a clear purpose. Whatever it is we are drafting; a memo, a song, a book, an architectural plan; it is not a finished product, and is not meant to be. A draft is a work in progress. We must chip away at its roughness to uncover the beauty which lies beneath. The same can be said of our lives. As a child we are not expected to have everything figured out. Neither should we expect this of ourselves. We are called to learn as we go, tapping into what makes us who we are a little more each day.
I am three chapters deep into editing the twenty-fivemy manuscript. In those three chapters my friend helping me with the editing has already identified two major problems. The first is that I flit between past and present tense which can be jarring for a reader. My intention was to write in the past tense, and for the most part I have used correct verbs. But mistakes occur often enough to pull the reader out of the story. The second problem, is that I use too many words. Overcomplicated sentences often hide what I am trying to say. Both are larger problems than I’d hoped to find, but both are solvable.
Recently I subscribed to Jerry Jenkins writing newsletter. He is a New York Times best-selling author and offers simple, practical advice applicable to experienced writers and aspiring new authors alike. One of his suggestions has stuck in my brain: choose the normal word over the obtuse. There are times when a specific and more complicated word is important for context, but this is rare, and it is easy to write stories that are more complicated to read than they need to be. If a reader has to reread every second sentence to understand it they will quickly become tired of your book and move on to a different one.
I love learning new words. I love learning different ways of using words. But I struggle to break free from the desire to show my prowess as a wordsmith and simply write the story! This is one reason I haven’t finished nearly as many writing projects as I would like. I want my writing to be the best it can be as soon as I put pen to paper. This is an unrealistic expectation. Successful authors talk about the process of rewriting… and rewriting, and rewriting, to squeeze out all the unnecessary pulp and be left with the juicy centre. All writing is useful, but not all of it will be used in the final product.
What I’m working on this week is being kinder to myself. Letting go of perfectionism when writing something new, and letting go of disappointment when editing. Writing is a process. Even the roughest draft has hope, but it is impossible to edit the story that hasn’t been written. When we take chances we open our lives up to the possibility of great things, and this reminds me of a quote often misattributed to Mark twain.
If you’re a writer, musician, or any other type of creator, what are you working on at the moment? Let’s encourage each other to keep improving our craft!