I am a serial writer. I can write 4000 words in an hour on pretty much any subject that I have some knowledge of. I can pull a 20 page short story out of my overactive imagination on a moments notice. Once I wrote 35,000 words for a speed-novel writing event over a 3 day weekend and still had time to go for hikes, hang out with friends, and prepare and eat great dinners each of those days. I took a year off in 2010 to write a novel. I wrote five, all over 100,000 words. Word count has never been a challenge for me.
It’s the editing and polishing that slow me down. Very little of the writing I have done has been seen by anyone other than my close friends and family because I am still working on everything. My first draft is all that creative energy and excitement spewed out like canned cheese because there is so much pressure to release it. It seems so good when I am writing it. Then two days later, when that initial enthusiasm has waned and the hard truth sets in, it’s still canned cheese and needs a lot more work to make into something authentic, like a cave-aged fine cheddar.
This was my challenge today. I am co-authoring an eBook with one of my homesteading heroes. The subject is fascinating and the writing was easy. (More details to follow when it is published). But, now I am in the dregs of shaping, crafting, refining, eliminating, clarifying, and second-guessing every word I’ve written. Four thousand words that took me only an hour to write will take me 11 hours to tweak to the point where I feel comfortable showing it to another human being. Even when I know something to be absolutely true because I’ve done it myself a hundred times, I still find myself questioning whether I said it wrong and will research it 16 different ways to convince myself I didn’t.
I realize that this is a kind of sickness or fear. I spent so long working with lawyers who have are professionals at arguing, that I research every angle, anticipate every argument, and carefully craft every word to avoid the risk of having to fight for something I know to be right. Halfway through this process, I have to remind myself what my position is because I’ve been so concerned with everyone else’s that I lost track.
This is a habit I need to kick. Because although those 11 hours will result in some improvement, every writer knows there is a point of diminishing returns. That raw thing that moved you to write in the first place gets stripped away and perverted with each rendition. And readers can feel that. They can feel the technicality that results in loss of passion for what you are doing.
I’m not writing for lawyers anymore. And I need to unlearn this bad habit of overthinking writing. That’s part of why I started this blog. I wanted the pressure of a daily deadline to force me to publish raw work. I give myself up to 45 minutes a day for this. That includes coming up with the idea and figuring out photos to use, if applicable.
It’s a good discipline. And in fact, what I find, is that I edit as I write rather than saving it for later. I only give it one quick read over before hitting publish. It takes more time to load images than anything else because we are on DSL (really!).
I know it will take time to undo a habit that was 12 years in the making (longer if you count college). But this was my blog subject tonight because I really needed to remind myself that all that extra editing is not necessarily adding value. Tomorrow when I tackle the work again, I think I’ll approach it with a different mind-set, less apprehension, more enthusiasm to get it ready to go out into the world, and eagerness to make the old processes I am writing about (ancient in fact) accessible to new learners.
Writing well is important, but ultimately it is the sharing of ideas and information that really matters.