By CM Strawn 10/6/20
I think about writing a lot. Not only do I think about it, I obsess over it. Maybe that’s a little over the top, but it is an accurate description, nonetheless. Writing inhabits a massive amount of real estate in my grey matter.
Thinking is one thing. In fact, thinking is easy and fun because there is no actual work attached to thought. Aside from the insanity that thinking about writing produces, it is a wonderful pastime.
The adage that the road to hell is paved with good intentions is never truer than when thought is void of action. Thinking about writing and actually producing prose are two entirely different animals.
The thought of writing is glamorous, romantic, fun, and enticing. The actual work is grueling, laborious, arduous, and tedious. But I never feel more fulfilled and alive than when I have completed a day of struggling with my lack of wit and somehow produce understandable prose.
Writing, for me, is the oasis in a barren landscape. I feel a sense of purpose when I’m stringing words together that create a tapestry of mental images in the reader’s mind.
It would be wonderful if creating easy to understand, flowing prose were uncomplicated and quick. Many writers, myself included, are terrorized by the flashing cursor in a field of white.
The process of writing looks something like this…
First comes the process of getting an idea to write about that is interesting to the reader.
Fresh ideas and information that are captivating for readers is a mysterious creature. This creature is ethereal and cannot be seen. It is elusive and all but impossible to find. For lack of a suitably descriptive name, we’ll call this mystical creature “Muse”.
Hunting Muse is an arduous task. It involves making lists of topics and ideas that are interesting to the writer and then sifting them through the sieve of market research. This is the drudge work that feels like slogging through a sticky, mucky bog waist high in sludge making miniscule progress.
But when Muse is captured, the work of the hunt instantly vanishes and is replaced by euphoria and enthusiasm. The delight of writing about a passion eclipses any anguish experienced during the quest.
With Muse comes aspirations of crafting the most awe inspiring, persuasive, inspirational and moving work yet to be penned. Images of stunning prose dance through the writer’s mind like sprites.
The first draft is dashed off quickly, effortlessly. The writer is delirious with joy at the speed the work was produced.
Exhausted from the effort, the piece is lovingly set aside to await a quick edit. After a break for sustenance and recuperation, the writer returns to the enchanted script for a few brief corrections.
Upon reading the text over, the writer discovers that their masterpiece has transformed into the sloppiest excuse for prose that they have ever seen. Surely some culprit has secreted away the sublime copy and left this horrible imitation in its place.
This is, this is the writer’s own work. It is the First Draft. The first draft is the fodder for revision. This is where the real work of writing begins.
It may be perceived that there is some magic that enables successful scribes to effortlessly produce works of prose that capture international attention and acclaim. They are envisioned as easily wrestling their captured Muse from ether to page.
The secret to their apparent lack of effort is revision. This is where the person skilled in the craft of writing transforms the dreadful scrawls of the first draft into the glowing prose that is the final draft.
The bad news is that it may take several readings and revisions to get the piece perfect. The good news is the experience of ecstasy after reading the perfected manuscript.
The idea that talented writers are gifted with their ability is an illusion. The most successful scribes have spent years of trial and error molding their craft.
They have persevered through rejections and failure, learning from their mistakes. Getting better with each new attempt. Sharpening their skills of revision. Ruthlessly cutting from their text anything that didn’t add to the piece.
Great writers are made, not borne. Hours of solitude putting scribbles on a page is the sacrifice made by those who write professionally or for pleasure. It helps if the writer enjoys their own company.
One thing that all writers have in common is the insatiable drive to give vent to the words and images that constantly build up inside their heads. Expression through writing is the acceptable alternative to insanity if the pressure is not released.
I have no illusions of my writing skills. I am delighted if I produce a cogent sentence. But writing is not an option for me. I must write or go mad.
Therefore, it is the practice of writing that keeps me stable. Writing gives me tremendous satisfaction, too. But I write because I must.
By continuing to practice, perhaps I will someday be an adequate writer. What I know is that I am compelled to write. It is my hope that the reader will find some benefit from my prose.