Saturday, May 28, 2011

When Writing Gets Ugly

  Everyone has had a moment where they looked back over something they wrote and went, what the hell was that supposed to be? Sometimes it was just gibberish; other times you just ended up with a completely ungrammatical sentence; and still other times, you managed to mangle a word so badly with your 120 WPM skills that the auto-correct didn't even know what to do with it. I do that last one frequently due to the dyslexia my brain seems to pick up when it's trying to get something written in a hurry. Except my WPM is far from 120.
    But ugly writing, though it may seem useless and frustrating, considering you have to go back and fix it later, is not a bad thing. It's a start, and for those who write compulsively or regularly (and not compulsively), a start composed of crappy writing is WAY better than a blank page/screen. But that ugly writing isn't going to get pretty on its own, and revision, for some writers, is almost a dirty word.

"What? I didn't write it perfect the first time? 
You've got to be kidding. 
That is 100% quality prose right there." 

    Once we put our egos in check, however, there's a rare occasion when everything comes out brilliant and with no revision necessary the first time around. So while I love editing, I love it only as long as it's not my writing. I am pretty good at giving constructive criticism on other people's work. But when it comes to my own writing, I procrastinate to an obscene amount. If it's shorter, like an essay or a poem, or a blog post, I can do it because I know it will be quick and relatively painless. Every blog post is at least a second draft. And every 2 or more page paper I've written in the past eight years has been a 2nd, 3rd, or 4th draft.
    But the truth is, it can always be better. The question we must ask ourselves is: how much time do we want to/are we able to commit to making it better? To this end, I'm currently enacting a new strategy in my creative writing project, though I didn't set out to do things this way. I wrote--a good 2500 words or so in a day--and then steadily tacked on a few hundred words a day until I got blocked. I suddenly found myself writing the story into a corner (forgive the mixed metaphor) and I stopped. I thought about where I had gone wrong and made notes about where to fix it. And then I did. It took me about two weeks, off and on, to do the rewrites and the make the changes, but I think it's improved. And it's put me back on track. On a track I didn't realize I was going on, but a forward moving track that is not headed for a corner, or dead end.
    Revising 3500 hundred words or so is a lot easier than writing upwards of 30 or 40 thousand words first and then trying to go back and revise all of it. It's a lot of ground to cover, so much ground that it seems impossible not only to try to reread all of it, but to do more than fix a couple commas here and there.
    So, whenever writer's block sets in, going back and revising (and revisiting) what you've written can get your brain unblocked. It may not be pretty, looking at how far off topic you've gone or how ridiculous that string of dialogue sounds (people don't talk like that, do they?), but it helps. It is one day, or one set of however many pages/words you typically write in a day, at a time. Get through it and you can move on in a direction that may be even better than the one you originally had in mind.
Even the ugly duckling turned into a swan.

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