As some of you may know, I am taking a free course from Future Learn – Start Writing Fiction. It is a fun course filled with many others at various stages of their writing careers, from those who are just hobbyists wishing to further their knowledge to those who have legitimately been published.
The assignment yesterday was to sit down and write anything; just see where your thoughts took you. It was to be between 200-350 words and then uploaded for peer review.
No problem, I thought. I knocked it out in about 15 minutes around 2 AM. It wasn’t too bad, although I could tell it didn’t read ‘quite right.’ I read it a couple of times, but nothing was jumping out at me what the issue was. This morning I took another look at it – and the problems were immediately apparent. I had used the same expressions and phrases more than once in the first two paragraphs – namely ‘the fact,’ ‘still,’ ‘different,’ and ‘always.’ I fixed them immediately – but, I had already turned it in.
Both of my reviewers were very kind and said some wonderful things about my writing and the story beginning itself, but they also had to say what the least appealing aspect of it was. I found it humorous that they both used the term ‘clunky.’ Criticism can suck, but I had to laugh at that – neither had seen the other’s review and they both said that! Of course, they were right. I had already corrected the mistakes on my end, and they had both immediately seen what I could not directly after writing the piece.
This conundrum is what I refer to as ‘writing blindness’ – when you put the words on the paper or screen, and then immediately re-read it and cannot see what is wrong. Sometimes, the mistakes are so glaringly obvious they jump out at you immediately. Other, more subtle errors slip right by. The words are so fresh in your brain that you clearly know what you wanted to say, and it looks as though that is what you have put down. We all have a tendency directly after writing to read what we ‘meant,’ and miss the little mistakes that slip through.
I already knew this, of course, it is one of the reasons that all through school teachers push to not do the first draft to final edits all on the same day. Writing has always come naturally to me, and usually, my first draft was what got turned in. All of those A’s were more a detriment than a blessing in the long run – I learned that I could wait until the last minute, work well under pressure, and the first thing I come up with is generally good enough.
Except when it is not. Writing fiction, creative non-fiction, and any other glorious masterpiece that you are putting out into the world is notoriously not going to be good enough the first time around. It is so much different when it is your heart and soul going out – to be judged – for so much more than a grade. We want it to be loved, cherished, for the reader to have that aha! moment, to share in the laughter and tears, to follow along with perfect harmony. We want the reader to understand and empathize, to envision in their minds the world we have created and live there with us for a while. Moreover, we want this to happen seamlessly, without them having to take a step back to re-read what we have constructed because something is not quite right.
To accomplish this, we have to be the ones to take a step back first. When the words are down, let them rest. Let your mind take a break from them before releasing them to others. Go back to them with fresh eyes, as a reader, and see how well they transport you into that world you have imagined. Was it seamless? Or, did you have to pause to understand? Was it ‘clunky;’ did it read too slow or too fast? These problems will be obvious to you – if you allow yourself that break.
Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there with your writing. Just remember, no one is perfect the first time around. It is from the editing where masterpieces emerge!