How to let go of your writing

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Do you find it difficult to let go of your writing? Here are some of the reasons why — and exactly what you can do about them…

My three children are approaching the end of their college careers. We’re lucky in that they’ve been able to live at home while going to school, but that will end soon. Our son will graduate with his B.Mus. (opera performance) next year. From that point, he hopes to move to Europe. The following year, his sisters will earn their B. Kin. (kinesiology) and BA (gender studies) respectively. They may end up doing graduate work. But from home? Not so likely.

My husband and I are looking straight down the barrel of empty nest syndrome — the reverse of what we experienced 20 years ago, going from no children to triplets, with the awkward and uncomfortable (but quiet!) warning of a 33-week pregnancy.

I mention this to draw a parallel between letting go of children and letting go of writing. Both situations are tough. But both are necessary. Here are some reasons why you may have a hard time handing in your writing, and what you can do about them.

  • You’re a perfectionist. When I was a young woman learning how to apply for jobs, friends told me that if I was ever asked to describe a personal shortcoming during a job interview I should say I was a “perfectionist.” What a clever answer! I’d appear to comply with the question yet describe something that few bosses would criticize. That worked…. in 1979… Today, however, the perils of perfectionism are well-documented and the trait is generally abhorred. Solution: Know that 90% of the pain of perfectionism comes from trying to eke out that last 10%. So settle for 90% That’s still excellent — an A rather than an A++. Can’t you live with an A? Stop listening to the nasty internal editor inside your head (I call her or him the devil)  and listen instead to your inner cheerleader or booster. Simply being aware of those inner voices will help you deal with them more effectively.
  • You’ve experienced trauma with a teacher, editor or client. Many writers are trained to be dissatisfied with their work by unskilled or downright nasty bosses or teachers. I was lucky, in a weird sort of way. My father was such a person and early exposure to his negative attitude helped inoculate me. Solution: Learn what you can (knowing that not all bosses will teach) and ignore the rest. If your boss or client is the least bit flexible, ask him or her for an example of some “excellent” writing. This will give you something concrete that you can then analyze and imitate. (The challenge with writing is that 80% of it is a matter of taste. Nothing to with rules. I always roll my eyes when people talk about “good” or “bad” writing and think of the maxim, De gustibus non est disputandum (in matters of taste, there can be no dispute.) For a time I had a client who insisted on rewriting every story that I wrote. I knew those stories were fine. But I was being well paid. So I just shrugged and let them rewrite. No skin off my nose.
  • You’ve written without enough focus to your writing. Many writers will spend hours, days, weeks even months working on a piece for which they have no focus. They know something is wrong but they just can’t figure out what. Solution: Mindmap before you write. I’ve written before about mindmapping and if you subscribe to my weekly newsletter (which is a copy of my Tuesday blog post) you’ll receive a no-charge copy of my booklet on mindmapping. The great thing about mindmapping: it can help you identify the difference between a subject and a point. Here are a couple of examples:

          Subject: Shakespeare

          Point: Shakespeare is the greatest writer in the history of English

          Subject: Second World War

          Point: Winston Churchill made an ethical breach when he used his access to         war documents to write his 12-volume book The Second World War.

Do you see how having a point will help maintain your focus? Not only will it save you time (by allowing you to exclude huge areas from your research and writing) but it will also make your writing more interesting and valuable to your client/boss and, of course, your readers.

  •  You haven’t developed a good editing process. If you flail blindly when it comes to editing you’re never going to be happy handing in your work. (This is a little like letting your kids fly the nest without having taught them how to cook or do laundry.) Solution: Know that there are two stages to editing: (i) substantive, where you address the overall message of the piece (Have you delivered it, persuasively? Is it as clear and compelling as possible?) and (ii) copy editing (spelling, grammar, word choice.) Figure out your own procedure before you start editing. Here are some more detailed guidelines on how to make editing less daunting.
  • You don’t have another project. Why would you want to hand in a piece of writing if you don’t have something else to move onto? Solution: When you’re writing one piece, identify what you’re going to write next. If you’re a freelancer who’s unable to control this process then have another, more personal piece of writing on which you can lavish your time. There’s nothing like the impetus of a fresh project to make you eager to finish with the old and move onto the new.

But don’t start a new project until you’ve finished your current one. Know that at a certain point, every project becomes difficult. Force yourself to work through this difficulty until you get to the other side. If you don’t, you’ll likely end up feeling paralyzed and overwhelmed.

The great news about letting go of your writing (rather than letting go of your children) is that you’ll have more and more chances to do it. And everything becomes easier with practice.

Do you have difficulty letting go of your writing? How do you handle it? We can all help each other so please share your thoughts with my readers and me in the comments section, below.  Anyone who comments on today’s blog post (or any others) by February 28/15 will be put in a draw for a copy of the copy of the marvellous book Weinberg on Writing by Gerald Weinberg. To see the comments box, scroll directly below.

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