I remember the moment I stopped writing in cursive. Second period World History with Mr. Hickman. My thought as I stared at my writing, “I hate looking at my cursive. I’ve always hated my cursive. Why must I hate my own writing?”
Monday, January 10th, 1984, 9:15am. Halfway though my inane essay on the Nazification of Germany…
These radical, personal, creative transformations rarely happen. We want them to happen, but there are mostly a lot of false starts because changing a creative habit is a long grind-it-out process.
This time of year hope springs eternal regarding change as we stare a bright and shiny new year full of potential. Your thought is: “Clean slate. Haven’t fucked this one up one yet. Ok. Ready? Go!” Resolutions appear in this soup of primal excitement encouraged by the presence of an endless, aggressive, and seductive set of Top 10, How To, and Best Of Lists.
The intent of these lists is honorable. Someone is trying to synthesize and prioritize the world for you, but these lists, combined with your fine set of resolutions, won’t magically make it easier for you to sleep or vastly improve your productivity. These nuggets of truth and intent will only point you in a direction. It’s up to you to start walking.
It’s in this spirit that I offer a brief list of ways I’ve learned to improve my writing over the past year. These ideas have been slowly collecting on a set of stickies on my second monitor for the past 12 months, which, not surprisingly, is the length of time since I last wrote this type of list.
My first impression is that this list is more appropriate for reasonable-sized weblog articles, but who knows, this may help your book:
#10 Steal. A lot. Passing a stolen thought through your fingers makes it yours.
#9 Love one idea, one word, or one paragraph of your article. If this hasn’t happened yet, ignore your article for a month. If it fights its way back into your consciousness, there’s something to love.
#8 Repeat your favorite idea throughout your article.
#7 Create compelling gaps in your thoughts where the reader is allowed to fill in the spaces and create their own experience. Writing is the art of choosing what not to say.
#6 Delete liberally. Anything important that is accidentally deleted will come back.
#5 Find an editor. Find an editor. Find an editor.
#4 Repeat your favorite idea throughout your article.
#3 Never publish what you haven’t slept on.
#2 If you can’t find an ending, repeat the beginning.
If you want to examine change, I invite you to glance over to the first few months of Rands in Repose. Scroll down to Spring of 2002, which is a scant five years ago. Most of those articles are barely readable to me. The ones I can read are those I either rewrote for the book or ones I rewrote for myself because I couldn’t stand to see my thoughts conveyed like I’d written them on the back of a napkin.
Perhaps the biggest change between then and now, between that and this, has to do with time and work. Clearly, I’m publishing less on a month-to-month basis, which is odd, because I’ve never written more. This fortunate contradiction is a result of the most important bullet item:
#1 The more you work on your writing, the more you’ll care.
There are eleven partial articles sitting in the “Latest Rands” folder on the desktop. My guess is you’ll see half of those. Five years ago, they’d already be published in all of their disjointed napkin-worthy glory. The difference isn’t a list of ten writing tips; the difference is constant, creative insistence to care more about what I write.