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…. :)*