Oh boy! Everyone LOVES writing advice!
I react poorly to “shoulds.” I wrote with a partner who micromanaged my writing style and felt comfortable recommending ways I could “improve.”
Any time someone tries to tell me how to write, I steel myself. So I don’t blame you for doing the same.
One lesson I’ve learned, partly inspired by the title of my blog, came from Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. Keeping this concept in mind has helped me with difficult drafts and nebulous ideas.
Here’s the lesson:
Sometimes you have to let it sit.
Generally, I apply Liz Gilbert’s philosophy of the “disciplined half-ass”: I work hard on what I write, then, knowing my post is imperfect, publish anyway. That’s the way it goes for me most of the time; I know I tried as hard as I could and whatever I wrote will be good enough. I’m not going to pull a George Lucas and constantly tweak my writing – at some point, you have to send your work out into the world.
Sometimes, though, I have to stop myself from clicking “Publish.”
I wrote a post about singleness last November. I knew the post was good – raw, honest, etc. – but something about it felt off. I gave it to my friend to read.
She loved it. Her thoughtful critiques felt nice but didn’t soothe my unease.
I gave the post to my brother.
“You should rewrite this,” he said almost immediately, “It’s so angry.”
Despite having asked for his advice, I was offended all the same. “Oh…I mean, that was intentional…”
“Yeah,” he continued, “but can you imagine your married friends reading this?”
I didn’t really agree and I didn’t see a way to fix the piece.
But I still didn’t feel comfortable publishing it.
I let that post sit for six months while I worked on other things.
I had an idea about it much, much later – after leaving my old job, finding my new job, leaving my church, and starting medication – that completely changed the focus of the post.
I rewrote the whole thing.
I felt normal feelings returning when the post was done – it wasn’t perfect, but it was as good as I could make it.
That post became How to Talk to Women in Their 20s.
I try to listen for that voice that tells me a post isn’t ready. Does something feel off? Is this idea complete? Did I say what I wanted to say?
I shared an idea with my mom about leaving church. Her pastor discourages parishioners from ever leaving; I wanted to tell people it’s okay to go.
“I think I understand what you’re trying to say,” Mom told me, “but I think you should let that idea sit for a little bit.”
Some ideas need time. Some ideas sound great but need nuance to complete them. Some experiences are too fresh and need distance. Some ideas lack experience and need added context.
If a piece doesn’t feel right, examine whether it’s ready. It might be, it might not – you get to make that call.
But if it isn’t, there’s nothing wrong with letting it gestate a little more. Put the idea aside – your writing will be better for it.