Thoughts for Friday – 4th April 2014

Writing is hard work. A clear sentence is no accident. Very few sentences come out right the first time, or even the third time. Remember this in moments of despair. If you find that writing is hard, it’s because it is hard. It’s one of the hardest things that people do. William Zissner.

This week’s quote comes from William Zissner, a man who is perhaps most known for his non-fiction book, On Writing Well. Whereas most of the writers I quote are from the field of fiction, William Zissner is a man who knows more than a thing or two on the virtues of writing and writing well. Zissner’s bookhas helped many a writer improve their prose over several generations by providing insight as to the pitfalls of writing – both professionally and personally.

I have chosen this particular quote mainly because I have recently started work on a new project – one I hope I may be able to fashion into a publishable piece. I am hoping the project will turn into a novel-length piece and am merely 16,000 words or so into my first draft. This project has been something I have been working on for perhaps just under a month and is something I pick up and put down every few days while working on other projects.

I’m rather meandering in my point at the moment (of this blog post – although possibly my ‘novel’ project, too), the point I am trying to make is that my first drafts are often a horrible mess of badly-written English, mixed with an awful lot of waffle (some may say the same is true of my blog posts….). I once compared my writing style as being reminiscent of ‘vomiting’ on a page/computer screen and then going back to tidy it up later.

Zissman’s wise words remind me that I am probably not the only one who writes below average first drafts and that a well-crafted sentence is not a fluke or something which happens by chance but through a process of hard work. Bloody hard work.

Because my ‘novel’ is not my only writing project, I find myself re-reading the last section I wrote before starting work on a new one. It is then I see all of the convoluted sentences I’ve used, the cliches, the extreme overuse of the word ‘that’…. When reading a first draft back I cringe at how awful, clunky, and lame it tends to sound, cursing myself for the repetitive use of certain words. I mentioned to my writing partner recently that the word ‘that’ makes up about 10% of my daily word count and that (see what I did there – I used that pesky word again!) my second and third drafts usually consist of me weeding nearly all instances of this evil word out of my prose.

There are days when I feel tired and a little hopeless about my writing, fearing I will never achieve the level of quality I aspire to. It is days like this that (I did it again!) I have to remind myself of the fact that writing is hard work and only a lucky few writers are ever able to achieve a first draft which requires little in the way of editing or re-writing. I need to keep in mind that a first draft is just that – a first draft. The time to re-write and modify comes later, it is only by going back over what I have written several times that I can make the prose seem less like a seven year old child has written it…. :)*

*’That’ count reduced by 70% after several painstaking edits….


Filed under Thoughts for Friday

11 responses to “Thoughts for Friday – 4th April 2014

  1. Thoughtful post which addresses some of my own concerns. Writing is hard work! I came across a quote you might like: “I am irritated by my own writing. I am like a violinist whose ear is true, but whose fingers refuse to reproduce precisely the sound he hears within.” – Gustave Flaubert. Flaubert’s words describe perfectly my own experience, and I’ll bet the experience of many other writers as well. We have something in our heads, but it is very difficult to transfer it to paper. Thus the need for revision, the constant process to try to make things sharper, more gracefully said, more meaningful.

    Congratulations on whittling down the ‘that’ count – ‘that’ made me smile. 🙂

    • Hi Kate, thanks so much for your comments!

      I love the quote you’ve used as it speaks to my own struggles as a writer. I never can get things down on paper in the same way as I see them in my head.

      Writing is hard, but if it were easy, what would be the fun in that? 🙂

  2. I know how you feel, the editing process can be rather depressing when we notice things we write that get annoying! But then, some readers don’t notice it, it’s just things we see in our writing that (lol) others don’t.

    The fact you are wanting improve your skill is the main thing, writing is a never-ending struggle to improve but in the end it’s worth it! 🙂

    • I totally agree. Writing is a never-ending struggle and something which we learn about constantly. My writing style has changed so much in the last few years and I think that is because I am learning more about the craft and honing my prose.

      While I love writing first drafts, the editing process always fills me with a sense of dread!

  3. I agree that writing is hard work. I’m not naturally a writer, so it’s something quite new for me. I find it very difficult actually. I’ve written songs, and have been delving more into poetry, but articles are the tough ones for me.
    Thanks for sharing this Heather. Now I can see that even the most ‘natural’ writers agree that it’s a tough job.

    • Thanks for commenting, Staci and my apologies for such a late reply.

      I think writing in any form can be considered writing, be it songs, poetry, novels, articles etc. I’ve yet to find someone who claims that writing comes easy to them. I think it is one of the hardest things to do and do well. The mere fact that we’re brave enough to want to put our work out there for public consideration is a feat in itself.

  4. I always enjoy your blog posts :]

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