Why you think your writing is the worst (when it’s not)

Writing is the worst. I mean, I’m sure there are some people who enjoy the writing stage of a project, but it’s the worst. I think it’s because good writing looks effortless – the words so obviously should go in that order that it must be easy to put them there if only you had the talent. But because it actually takes effort to make it look effortless, feeling like it should be easy makes it all the harder. This is why I sometimes think writing is hard / you think your work is crap:

1. You’re comparing a draft to a finished product

What you read, generally, has already gone through a lot of editing and, in the case of journal articles, peer review. Your draft will not look like an edited piece of work; no first draft is as good as the edited one. It’s difficult to find drafts to compare with, because they are rarely seen / published, but the photo below is a draft (with edits) of the first paragraph of Orwell’s 1984. That famous first line – which so obviously should have those words in that order – took a little while to get there. And look at all that scribbling out! There’s at least two different pens which suggests at least two rounds of editing, and probably more.

Photo 25-07-2013 17 51 38

2. Your ideas are non-verbal

(…or not quite verbal). Often, you have a sense of something, but you just can’t express it yet. Or you know what you mean but it’s all tangled up. It’s like it’s on the tip of your brain and you can’t quite read it. Which means you can’t quite write it. If you talk it through (either literally with another person, out loud to yourself, or on the page), it can help to make things verbal/untangled. Let it be un-self-consciously tangled and it should become clearer in the edit.

3. You have great taste

I can’t remember which writer it was, maybe Neil Gaiman, who said one of the reasons you think your own writing is terrible is because your taste is so good. You know what good writing from good writers looks like, and yours doesn’t look like that. Yet. It doesn’t mean yours is terrible, it just means you have more practice to do (or more editing, as per above). Just do some basking in the glory of your excellent taste.

I am at my procrastinating worst when it comes to writing, so this is mostly for me: just get the words out, it’s easier to work with something than a blank page. Great writing is all in the edit.




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