You have that little bug inside of you that fancies yourself a writer, don’t you? Not a writer now but a someday writer — someone who can tell a story or describe a place or share what is inside in a compelling and entertaining way. You’ve always wanted to write but something always came up and when you occasionally did try it wasn’t very good and you didn’t like it. But the bug never went away, did it?
Writing is the process of clearly and simply communicating with words. It is something we do everyday when we talk to our family or friends or colleagues yet when we try to put these same words down on paper our brains go haywire. Somehow, the process of snatching the words from the air and writing them down turns ‘clearly and simply’ into gobbledygook.
Why is this? I think it is because we get in our own way falling over ourselves trying to make more out of something that usually needs less. As soon as we start writing we wake up a ferocious self-editor that lies inside all of us. This self-editor is a cruel and intolerant little bastard that belittles any creative effort and then insults you for even trying. We then try to make our words worthy, beyond the reach of any criticism — a hopeless and impossible task. Frustrated, we give up convinced we can’t write. TV, anyone?
So here is what to do — talk yourself a paragraph. Pretend you are having a conversation with a friend or family member and, with tape recorder in hand, tell your story to them. Don’t get high and mighty, don’t use words you wouldn’t normally use and don’t get overly complicated. Just tell the person what you are doing as if you were on the phone with them. When you are done with the first paragraph, write down what you have taped. Then do the next paragraph into the tape recorder and so on. Soon enough you will have ‘written’ your piece.
This is what usually happens at this point — we become overly critical of what they have written and become hypersensitive to the point of either paralysis or nausea. This, of course, kills the entire process.
I always find it interesting that we all acknowledge that practice is necessary to become good at almost everything except writing. We get a few paragraphs down, look at it once, realize it is not perfect and toss the sucker away like a Congressman tosses compromise into the trashcan. We must practice everything else we do in life but with writing it apparently should be just about perfect the first time.
The real art and process of writing is the act of rewriting. Reread what you have written and clarify and simplify as needed. Then do it again. After a few times give it to someone else to read and see what he or she thinks. Is it clear? Do you get your points across simply? Is it easy to read? Does it say everything you want or need to say? I have rewritten this short piece six times so far and I expect I will go over it more yet.
Here is the unfortunate truth: It will be God-awful the first time, bad the next time through, simply dull on the third pass and actually not so horrible on the fourth. If you persist to the fifth time though you actually may like it. All this rewriting can be and is usually work, often hard, frustrating work and sometimes uncomfortable work. But if you persist your work will be rewarded. Remember — writing is the process of rewriting.
Eventually, you won’t need a tape recorder to write you will just listen to the voice in your head and write down what you hear. And eventually, what you hear you will really like. You will still need to rework the words and shuffle things around but it will become a joyful experience and not a dreaded one. This is called skill and with skill comes confidence.
So for practice write a short how-to article on something you do well or do everyday. It could be how you cook an omelet or how you photograph bees. Or it might be how you suggest shopping at a local store you know well. Keep it simple, keep it clear and keep at it. Pretend you are describing it to me. I won’t bite and I won’t yell at you. If you are yourself and I get what you are trying to say I will probably enjoy reading it, I will learn something and I will look forward to what you write next. And isn’t that the point?
So go ahead, be a writer. Only you are stopping yourself.