“Writing is hard work. Any time it comes easy, suspect it.”
— Chip Scanlan, affiliate faculty member, The Poynter Institute
When Jennifer Aniston’s character on The Morning Show (Season 2, Episode 1) sits at the keyboard, typing without hesitation…
narrating her manuscript in a “first time touching the keys” rhythm of nonstop fluidity into an articulate, finished product…
pitter-pattering her fingertips straight to the end of her computer’s screen to type END MANUSCRIPT — with absolutely no backspaces, no deletes, no cuts and pastes —
I’m cringing. I’m crushed. I’m crestfallen at the perpetuation of The Writing Lie.
The Writing Lie is this: that writers have magical minds and fingers like Jennifer Aniston’s character.
Writing is rewriting. (Ask any professional writer/author.)
It’s messy and sloppy, often halting and hiccuping, always twisting and tweaking.
Writing — for the beginners and for the pros —
does NOT flow in perfect prose, in smooth cadence,
with zero, zilch, nada mistakes.
(You’d think the writers on the show would put truth above the show’s glitz, but no.) (*oops)
It’s this kind of TV falsity that makes students of writing want to give up — because they “don’t have the magic” like Jen’s character.
So listen, all — students and grown-ups alike:
Writing — GOOD writing — is anything but smooth.
It’s throwing mudpies of words and sentences onto the page by handfuls and fistfuls, creating a joyful and crazy mess of a draft. Then it’s picking out words like picking weeds — sometimes pulling a stem with thumb and finger, and sometimes having to ratchet out the roots — then it’s choosing and planting newer, more distinct words in the weedy-words’ place.
Writing is also slinging syntax with vigor, often by slicing off the backside of a sentence, then grafting that cut-off piece into the sentence’s start. It’s removing whole phrases, whole sentences, and whole paragraphs. And more often than not, writing is flinging a sentence sliver or entire section into oblivion (“the delete key is my friend!”) — and coming up with something completely different in its place.
Unless we know that writing is rewriting — with the play and agony of wordsmithing — tomorrow’s great writers will “give up.”
He and she and they will believe The Writing Lie, that unless the words and sentences come out happily, passionately, and smoothly, we’re not a writer.
That’s hooey, hogwash, and baloney.
(The sooner we expose The Writing Lie, the better.)
Writing. Is. Rewriting.
Writing. Takes. Time.
Writing. Means. Do-it-again. (Even better.)
Writing. Is. Work. FUN work. But work.
Writing is a playful, joyful work of the mind and heart and soul!
(That’s the truth.)
So go ahead and backspace, delete, and rewrite. Take your time, and don’t stress if your fingers halt, hiccup, and hover. Don’t wait for perfect; write the first ideas that come to mind, and polish it up later. That’s what real writers do.
And that rewriting means you’re a real writer.
Erin M. Brown, MA, MFA, is the author of 10 books (fiction, nonfiction, academic, children’s) and has been a professional writer/editor of books for 20+ years, helping authors master story writing through seminars, coaching, and dozens of online courses. She has a terminal degree in Creative Writing, Genre Fiction, and has been a content writing expert/director and storyteller for websites, videos, and more for 20+ years. Erin was also a university writing instructor two times and Lead Writing Curriculum developer for a third university, as well as developing multiple college writing curricula and programs. Speaking to audiences on writing since the 80’s, Erin’s a member of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA), Authors Guild (AG), Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), and Romance Writers of America (RWA). Erin has also worked with Hollywood A-Listers in story development, judged numerous book and anthology contests, and has been a first and second tier judge for the Vivians/Ritas with RWA. Coffee mug or espresso in hand and surrounded by her collies, Erin writes from Michigan, USA.
Excellent post, Erin. You called it exactly like it is. Damn hard work. I have six novels published, and it never gets easier. Thank you.
100% with you. Cheers *raises mug