A question

I would rather write a few pages that were well written then a lot of pages that were not well written.

But you can’t prove that by what I have written. The most common compliant that I get is that it is too wordy. And it is a valid complaint.

So I guess, the question is, how do you get from writing a lot of garbage to writing some stuff that is well written?

A common answer offered up by a lot of well meaning moralists is that you have to write a lot of garbage before you can learn to write well. This is demonstrably not true. Very few of the best writers in this world are prolific writers. Some of the best of them hardly write at all.

For example To Kill a Mockingbird was the only book that Harper Lee ever published. In contrast, Agatha Christie published numerous books. But I would rather have a book like To Kill A Mockingbird then all the books that Agatha Christie ever wrote. By the same token, I would rather have a Walter Miller’s A Canticle for Leibowitz under my belt then all of the books that Isaac Asimov wrote. And one could go on and on with other such examples.

The thing that makes the advice of all those well meaning moralists false is that good writing depends more on the ability of the writer to think then it does on the writer ability to write. Asimov could put words one after another as well as Miller. But he did not even come close to having Miller’s depth of thought.

But the question still remains, how can one improve one’s own writing if practicing writing alone is not sufficient?

2 Responses to “A question”

  1. Chickenman says:

    Humm hum. Since you can only let one voice sound off I am not sure how much of this you have already edited out of the question. But, in what you have presented, you have not made a good distinction between writing and publishing. To wit, you have not mentioned rewriting.

    I prefer to rewrite on the fly and call the first finished draft the epitome. But that is rarely the way the best writers write, or the way my own best (such as it is) is finished. Usually one must write the whole thing, whatever it is, and then start messing around with it.

    There will still be differences in how prolifically accomplished writers are, as with any craft. But writing, as you point out, is not merely the production of words; it is crafting them to reveal a thought. And that is what you must practice; to some extent it is a completely separate practice and a completely separate lesson for every separate thought. Being adept at pounding nails does not make one a master builder.

  2. The Editor says:

    It is not a matter of voices. In order to do this writing every day thing, I have to not think about what I write. So I am just mouthing off.

    But really, rewriting has little to do with what I was talking about because it is to bound up with the mechanical aspects of writing.

    For example, I have to rewrite a lot more then most people just to be legible. But that does not mean that those rewrites improve the underlying thought. In other words, with practices I might get so that I don’t have to do as many re-writes. But that does not necessarily mean that the finished product will be any better.

    Granted, rewriting can help a work become greater because it can help the thought to become greater. But I really think that this is rarely the case. Mostly I think that rewriting is polishing what is already there. And the the question I was kicking around is where this mysterious “there” comes from.

    I don’t really think the mysterious “there” comes from the writing process itself regardless of whether it is a first write or a re-write.

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