Each writer should find the way that is most productive and fulfilling for him/her.
by Marilyn Mackenzie
Quite a long time ago, I read an article about the need for writers to write first, second, even third drafts. After reading that, I opened up a new word document and titled it “Writing…It’s Personal.” I tucked that title away in my computer files and promptly forgot about it. Today, as I was cleaning out my files, I discovered that lonely title and remembered what it meant back then and pondered what it meant today. I’ve resurrected some of the thoughts that accompanied that title. I also realized that having a few more years of writing and publishing experiences, my reactions to the article I read, if they have changed at all, have become even more pronounced over time.
Today, October 18, 2006, I received my Writing for Dollars newsletter in my email inbox.
In that newsletter were these facts:
- Charles Dickens wrote his literary classic 'A Christmas Carol' in just 2 weeks.
- Barbara Cartland took only 5 days to write each of her books, resulting in an amazing 623 best-sellersduring her lifetime.
- 'Don't Sweat the Small Stuff' has sold millions - and it was written by Dr Richard Carlson during a 12-hour transatlantic flight.
Even the world's best-selling novelist, Agatha Christie, claimed to have written all her manuscripts in under a month. In a BBC interview, she said: "I find no reason why one month isn't adequate time to write a book".
Writers need educational foundations and instruction. As in any creative endeavor, knowing the rules is important before a writer can begin to develop his or her own style or start to ignore the rules learned. It’s when we attempt to give instruction beyond how to use nouns and verbs, and interject our own ideas about exactly how to proceed with the creative adventure, that I think we are wrong.
By attempting to give specific instruction this way, we are using a projection or transference method that is a huge problem in religious circles. People with strong faith often think they must tell others exactly how to get to the same level of spiritual maturity. But since we are all individuals, the path to spiritual maturity is different for each individual. This journey must involve some of the same steps, certainly. For a Christian, that would include reading the Bible, praying, and becoming involved with a Christian community. But the exact ways an individual Christian matures can be entirely different than his/her spouse, parent or neighbor. And that’s just as it should be. Jesus is our personal Savior, and while all Christians strive to become Christ-like, the path to becoming so will be hugely different, based upon our own lifestyles as we begin the journey, as well a the path and the timetable we choose for our travels. The way we’ve chosen to travel is not wrong, but it might not be the same way our friends and neighbors find their way.
I believe the same can and should be said of a writer’s maturing and developing, or of the writer’s travel to the level of achievement he or she desires. While one writer might find it necessary to write first, second and third drafts, another might not find this useful at all. One writer might find that using pen and paper sparks the most creativity; another might have to use the computer in order for the thoughts to flow quickly (and legibly) onto the page. None of these writers is wrong. Each one should and must find the way that is most productive and fulfilling for him/her.
After spending over 40 years writing, I can be so inspired that in a matter of minutes I have created something that I know is good. A few years ago, I did just that very thing. What I wrote was less than 600 words and I finished writing them in less than 20 minutes. After a quick check for spelling and grammar errors, I dashed this piece off to an inspirational newsletter. In a matter of minutes I had an acceptance. That newsletter was not a publication that paid, but having my story appear there resulted in that same story being used in a huge company newsletter and in a regional magazine – both of which were publications that paid writers. (Of course, since it had already been published, I only received reprint pay.)
Conversely, I also know a gentleman who has been writing and re-writing the same poems for over 20 years. His poetry is beautiful. The word crafting is something most poets only wish they could achieve. But somewhere along the way, this man was told that poets and writers must write and re-write until they know they have achieved perfection. Since he has never reached that point in his own mind and has never tried having them published, this man’s confidence in his own writing skill is lacking. Other than close friends and relatives, I was the first person with whom he shared his treasured writings. He valued my opinion and wanted me to use my editing skills to help him perfect his poems so that he could submit them for publication. What I discovered was that his original words were the best words of all.
Now, I would never truly advise a new writer to just write for 20 minutes and dash something off for publication, although I can now do that very thing sometimes. Nor would I encourage anyone to spend 20 years trying to perfect his/her writings.
What I would do is to advise any writer to find some middle ground. It might just be that said writer needs to write first, second and third drafts. It might be that said writer is already so creative and already so adept at knowing and applying the rules and foundations learned in school that just one draft is all that is necessary.
None of these methods is wrong. What is wrong is for any of us to believe that we must copy what someone else has used to achieve his/her own goals. We really do have to discover our own strengths and our own best methods for proceeding and being creative.