I’ve heard (and read) many writing pros who say “writing is editing.”
This piece by Meaghan O’Connell in The Cut vividly brings the concept of multiple revisions to life. Here’s a quick excerpt:
Imagine taking the very sharpest thought you had each day for two years and then adding it to a pile. If someone walked by and looked at your pile of best thoughts, they’d think you were a genius. They might see your thoughts and feel things. It might be an encounter with the sublime. This is the promise of revision and the good news. The bad news is that to get there, you have to start by rereading your own work.(HT to Austin Kleon’s weekly newsletter for directing me to this piece.)
I totally understand what she’s saying, and have no doubt that all great writing has been reviewed and revised to achieve that greatness.
On the other hand, I’m a bit of a Seth Godin disciple, and he’s a big fan of “ship your work.” If you keep waiting (and editing) for your words to be perfect, you’ll never actually deliver a finished piece. (Seth’s “one blog post a day for a week” challenge a few years ago was the kick in the trousers I needed to actually start “shipping” some writing of my own, after having set up a WordPress blog a couple of years earlier and then being afraid to actually post anything.)
The two concepts — polished prose and printed pieces — aren’t mutually exclusive. But I think too many aspiring writers spend way too much time agonizing over the edits, and not enough time “shipping” more of their work out into the world. Writing is tough enough as it is… if you ponder the multiple rounds of edits that await you after your “shitty first draft” (as Anne Lamott calls it), you may find the process even more daunting, and you might never put pen to paper.
I understand and respect the editing process… in fact, I love it. But this is a tiny little speck of a blog, it ain’t no Great American Novel. (It ain’t even grammatically correct sometimes.) I’d rather err on the side of “done” — and I do think that shipping a greater quantity has actually helped improve the quality over the years as well. [You, faithful reader (singular), may beg to differ.]
In other words, if you came looking for the “pile of great thoughts” that Ms. O’Connell mentions, you’ll be sorely disappointed. But if you’re OK with a pile of… er, stuff… then this is just the blog for you!