Making Thoughtful Writing Resolutions
It’s a new year, and for many that means it’s time to make writing resolutions.
Those among us who write know that in year’s past we’ve pronounced each January 1, “This year I will write more!” This year, however, I am resolving and encouraging you, dear writer, to write not more but better .
Orwell had the write idea, we can ask ourselves questions to become better writers. After all, what is the point of writing more, if we do no more than sling more words on the page? In honor of Orwell, New Year’s resolutions, and as a reminder to myself as a writer, I offer four questions to better writing in 2016.
Am I listening to the sound of my writing? Language is a music of its own. I share this with my writing students repeatedly: Listen to your writing. Read it aloud. Listen to the music of your words, how your sentences rise and fall, where you need an extra word, where fewer words sounds better. Listen for awkward construction, words clanging against one another, disturbing the flow.
Have I created the greatest tensile strength? In The Spooky Art: Thoughts on Writing, Norman Mailer, in an interview with Larry Shainberg, defines what he calls “tensile strength”: “You can’t change a single word.” This is where I see clients and writer friends growing the most. When they can thoughtful examine the necessity of each word in a sentence, they increase tensile strength. To me, the best growth is at the sentence level, word by word.
Have I cared enough to self-edit? The tendency I see, and have experienced myself, is that self-editing has gone out the window with such movements as NaNoWriMo. The push to rack up thousands of words in a day, churning out a book in a month has seemingly left many writers with the false belief that self-editing is the enemy of the writer. How many times in workshops have I heard, “Just get down the first draft! Don’t edit yourself!” Sadly, I’ve seen in the past decade an ever-increasing emphasis on quantity over quality. I read on social media sites such exclamations as “I wrote 5K words today!” and “30K words this week!” Perhaps it’s the cynic in me that thinks, Were any of them good? OK, dear writer, that may be harsh, but let’s resolve to self-edit with as much passion as we resolve to write. Perhaps 2016 will be the year of NaSEMo (National Self-Editing Month). Maybe February? It’s short. (Note: After stopping to look this up, it appears there is a NaNoEdMo in March.) I’ll be sure to participate.
Do my writing choices make sense? One thing I believe most about writing is that writing is about choices. The right metaphor, right POV, right structure. Yes, genres have certain tropes, but do I need them. I love Tim Gunn on Project Runway because he’s always encouraging Project designers to be thoughtful about their choices, in essence to edit. An overdesigned look is a “hot mess express” as a young designer said on the latest season of Project Runway Junior. In 2016, don’t let your writing be a hot mess express. Question your writing choices.