You’ve probably already heard some of the most famous writers tell you just how hard writing can be:
Hemingway said, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at the typewriter and bleed.”
And Nathaniel Hawthorne said, “Easy reading is damn hard writing.”
Call me crazy, but I think they’re both liars.
The truth of the matter is that writing . . . is easy.
Okay, before I go any further, let me qualify that. Taking your turd of a first draft and turning it into publishable gold IS hard. In fact, it’s nothing short of alchemy, transforming something gross and worthless into something precious.
But I’m not talking about revisions here—because (let’s admit it) almost nobody seems to be bothering to DO more than a first draft these days before they hop on Amazon and publish their “masterpiece.” (But that’s a rant for another time.)
My point is that writing your first draft is supposed to be easy. It should be fun. It should fill you up with the joy that comes from doing the thing you love, fulfilling your goals, doing your life’s work.
If you’re sitting at your desk agonizing over the words you’re choosing, torturing yourself over sentence structure, reading lines out loud and asking yourself, “Does this sound right?” while working on your draft . . . you’re doing it wrong.
The first draft should be quick and easy. The writing should flow out of you like water from, not a faucet, but a fire hydrant after city kids bust it open to enjoy the spray on a hot summer afternoon. It should explode out of you, fast and furious and full of life.
You shouldn’t be COMPOSING at this point. You should be simply telling a story.
Write like you’re having a drink with your best friend and telling him/her a story. Do you worry about picking just the right word when you tell the latest work gossip at happy hour? (If you do, you have bigger problems than I can help you with—I’m an editor, not a psychiatrist.)
Keep it simple. Keep it casual. Use your everyday voice and your everyday words. Don’t WRITE; just write (if you get what I mean—and if you don’t, you may be in the wrong business).
Each day here at Blydyn Square Books, when I make my way through manuscripts, I read far too much writing that tells me just how hard its author worked. And trust me: Nobody wants to read anything you had to consult four different thesauruses to come up with. If you even glance at a thesaurus during your first draft—hell, during ANY draft!—you’re trying too hard. And it shows.
Terry Pratchett said, “The first draft is just you telling yourself the story.” And you don’t talk to yourself like you’re giving a formal speech to the queen. (I hope! Again, if you do, you have bigger problems and should consult the proper medical professionals.)
Just frigging tell the story. Write it like you’d say it—to yourself, to your buddy at the bar, to your dog while you’re out on a walk.
Just. Tell. The story.
Recently, I took a new job. I had no choice. No offense, people, but as much as you seem to demand my advice, y’all don’t seem all that interested in paying for my wisdom! 😊
So, I did what writers and artists throughout history have had to do to support their creative work and, you know, stay alive:
I got a “real” job.
I’m in pretty good company. I mean, hey: Franz Kafka was an insurance clerk, and Anthony Trollope worked as a post office surveyor. At least my new editing job is vaguely related to literature, so I can feel like I’m still in the swing of things. Not every writer has that luxury.
The fact is, almost no writer these days can make a living at it. The world has changed, and people just don’t seem to think literature is worth much anymore. It’s sad, really—and not just because I, personally, want to make money doing what I love.
It’s also sad because it shows that our culture is dying.
I listened to a lecture series a few months ago in which the professor said that you know a society has become a thriving culture when some people are able to make a living as poets. Clearly, for modern America, those days are over, and those of us who are fighting to make literature important again have to “sell out” and do something else to keep ourselves afloat.
But I won’t complain. Much. A little bit of writing is better than none at all. And besides, in what other field can you successfully do your life’s work in just a few minutes (and one sentence) a day?
Hang in there, my fellow sell-outs. Maybe one day our world will bounce back from this decline and start treating us like the rare and noble jewels we writers are.
I’ve noticed something disturbing lately: Nobody seems to think editing is worth paying for.
I get it—we all want to save our money for the exciting things, like good food and travel. But at the same time that we’re downgrading editing (most of the freelance jobs I see online barely pay above minimum wage and demand many years of experience), more people than ever are declaring themselves writers.
What the hell is going on?
How can so many people claim to love literature and say they want to help produce it, but not see the essential role that editors play?
Somehow, we’ve created a society where deciding you ARE something—a soccer player, a cook, a writer—means you expect everyone else to accept you as such.
Maybe it traces back to that trend of giving out trophies for “participation” instead of winning. We’ve bred whole generations of people who don’t understand that you’re supposed to work hard and learn and practice a skill (like writing) before you can be successful.
These days, everyone just seems to be taking the shortcut: They dash off whatever text happens to run through their brain (that’s the “participation”) and then they upload it to Amazon and consider themselves published (that’s the “trophy”).
They skip the entire middle part that’s supposed to come between choosing to be a writer and actually becoming one: They forget to do the WORK—you know, learning to write, revising their drafts, and having someone who actually knows about literature (that is, an editor) polish their rough draft into a gem.
Even the people who care about writing don’t seem to be willing to work at it anymore. Almost every writing-related meme or post I see on social media has at least one spelling/punctuation/grammatical error.
We’re living in a world where emojis and text-message abbreviations pass for “language” and where the masters of REAL language are treated as irrelevant.
And in case you haven’t noticed, our world is a mess.
In my opinion, the two trends—devaluing editors and destroying the world—are related. And I think it’s time to fix things, so here is my plea:
Treat editors with the respect we deserve.
Pay us more than the part-time teenage fry cook at McDonald’s.
We are trained, skilled professionals, and our job is more important than any other out there today.
(I’d argue that “heart surgeon” might be slightly more important, but frankly, if we all got off our asses, put down the fast food, and tore ourselves away from Netflix once in a while to exercise, most of a surgeon’s job would quickly become obsolete.)
Yes, the editor’s job is important: We editors are preserving a language that is rapidly devolving into little more than hieroglyphic, emoji-based shorthand. Without us, in maybe 20 years, it’s likely we’ll only be able to communicate through screens and thumbs and perhaps the occasional angry grunt when the battery dies on our devices.
Editors are the only ones who can keep language—and the world—going. The editors’ red pens are the only thing standing between us and anarchy.
Save the editors, save the world.