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Getting words on the page
Louis Brandeis said, “There’s no such thing as good writing, only good rewriting,” and Vladimir Nabokov wrote, “I have rewritten — often several times — every word I have ever published. My pencils outlast their erasers.”
All of us who sit down to lift a pen can at times barely stifle a sigh or groan at the challenge of a blank page. Also yet, we spare hardly a thought for the mountain of rewriting that always follows our page. There is no joy in the brag, “I am a good editor.” Wrongly placed commas, spaces, hidden verbs, and .50c thinking words often assault our minds like minute spiders ‘wrapping,’ as they do their prey, in a tangle of annoying silver ribbons. Correctly formed sentences and words always seem so tantalizingly elusive, and the potential we try to reach in our creative output usually awaits a painstaking load of work.
So, how does the writer begin with his or her blank page?
Here are some basic ideas from my own experiences:
- Do not try to be a good writer, write from what you like, from what you do, from what you think, from the stories you live, and from what you read.
- If ideas do not come, think more, read more, and look for it in what you like, and what you do, or look deeper for a life story that expresses the idea clearer than a thousand words.
- Do not write a whole piece; write in bits, use your phone, or dictating software. I put down every thought that lines up, and frequently also those that do not seem to fit at all. Some, however, feel right. Though even those thoughts that seem disjointed may be waiting for a bigger idea to come that pulls together four or five “bit” files of jotted notes. It is quite surprising how this happens, and is an excellent lesson in how not to give up on thoughts, the comments people make, the stories we hear, or on words and sentences we pick up from a mag, the newspaper, or TV. Become an efficient gathering machine, but do not just write what you hear or see. Write about how you relate to it, what it says to you, and how it furthers YOUR idea.
- If you hit a wall, talk to a friend. Ask them a question about what you are thinking, and listen carefully. Write down your thoughts IMMEDIATELY into your phone even if they are sitting there ghoul-eyed looking at you.
- Disjointed ideas that do not fit together can also wear you out. Working too hard at making something flow is usually the sign that we are pushing too hard, or are on the wrong track. When we feel this pressure is a good time to put down the pen and breathe a little until another idea creeps in to tie together what we are trying to say.
- A ‘finished’ piece does not exist, but as you approach an ‘end’ of sorts, the two hardest things to do are, first, to cut out the excess, and second, to make sure that the piece flows as one.
- As you edit do not delete your errors, highlight them in grey, and put them at the bottom of your article. Today’s trash can become tomorrow’s treasure.
- The writer’s greatest challenge is not to fall to the “curse of knowledge.” To ‘know’ something, usually equates to long and complicated sentences. Sadly, therefore, the ‘curse’ is that no one else can follow what we mean, and the power of our thought simply ‘chokes’ or ‘clogs up’ in complexity.
- Finally, ask yourself if what you have written uplifts, draws, is gracious, has enough sustainable value to have warranted your effort and time. Ask also, if is it worth the time someone else will put in to read it and use it.
Write with passion, edit with excellence, teach with humility.
Loys – 23rd April 2013
- © Copyright. Victory Fields
- (The conclusions, or opinions expressed within this article are entirely those of the author of this article. It is not my intention to suggest either that the authors/writers quoted, in any way agree with what I have written, or that I am expressing their full view on any of the subjects covered)