Revising Tip: Don’t Fall in Love With Every Idea

All good writing is the same.  All bad writing is bad in it’s own…ok, this doesn’t really work.  Writing can be good or bad in any number of ways, but part of the embracing the revision process in all of it’s glories and miseries is figuring out the unique ways in which your first drafts tend to fail.  I continue to be astounded by how much I do actually have to learn about my own writing process.  It seems like it ought to be pretty transparent.  I’m the one doing it after all, but I’m starting to realize that some of the things I *thought* I knew about how I right are actually about how I wish my process worked.

One of the fantasies I have long held about my writing is that I walk into a first draft with a clear idea about what my argument is, when as it turns out, writing the first draft is the invention process that gets me to the argument.  This is why I wind up with introductions that are six pages long and contain 4-6 major ideas.  It reminds me of what someone (I can’t remember who) once wrote about Michael Bay.  One of the myriad reasons why Bay movies tend to suck is that he falls in love with every idea he has, every shot he directs and doesn’t seem to know when to cut stuff out.  So you wind up with bloated robot fights where the audience can’t tell what the hell is going on.

I think I place too much faith in the late-night epiphany, and get too attached to material that might contain a great idea, just not in the context of that particular writing project.  Disciplining myself to cut those intros down to 2 or so pages with one really clear central argument is a little excruciating, but my current projects are all the better for it.

And thinking about writing as a relatively open-ended process helps.  That way I know that those ideas can be turned into projects of their own.

2 thoughts on “Revising Tip: Don’t Fall in Love With Every Idea

  1. I picked up on the notion of “beautiful fragments” from a favourite novel of mine – wonderful idea or bits of writing (or bits of music, in the case of the novel) that simply do not fit with the whole. They’re a bit tragic, but inescapable. I inevitably keep a graveyard file of them, though I notice that few ever draw me back in once I’ve left them to wither for a while.

    Personally, I try to cultivate a dual mind approach, engaging the editing process as a separate art to the writing process (usually with at least a coffee break between the two efforts, and preferably a complete location change). There’s something truly satisfying about paring down a piece, honing it into coherency and even elegance, so long as I’m coming at it as the editor and not the writer, yearning for lost fragments. A little bit of dissociation can go a long way.

  2. There’s an old writing maxim: “Murder your darlings.” It’s pretty much a succinct way of saying what you wrote here.

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