Thursday, April 20, 2017

Errata Be Mine

Zestful Blog Post #208

You’ve heard it before: “Don’t edit while you’re writing!” Fine. But for best results, you have to take it to the absolute extreme, which is, “Even if you know right now that you’re going to cut the sentence or section you’re writing, finish it.” Finish the thought, finish the little train, don’t stop now, keep going. [If you're in a hurry you can quit reading here, because now I’m just going to throw down a couple of somewhat relevant memories plus a photo.]

One has to be of an age to remember writing school assignments like book reports and essays longhand (using an “ink pen” (meaning a ballpoint)). Writing exams longhand is still done, I understand. Invariably, the teacher would say in advance, “If you make a mistake, don’t scribble it out, just cross through it with a single line.” Didn’t you hate that? The whole goddam point of crossing out was to hide something stupid you wrote. Because obviously the teacher would read the mistake through the cross-out before going on. Not only would that interrupt the flow, but the teacher would see that you started to write “government” as “goverm—” before noticing it. I never obeyed the single-strike-through rule; always scribbled the black hell out of a mistake so it couldn’t be read.


["Typewriter Eraser, Scale X" by Claes Odenburg and Coosje van Bruggen, in the sculpture park at the National Gallery of Art. Photo by ES.]

This carried over to typewriting as well. The teacher would see that you typed “gpvernment” at first. I spent extra on Eaton’s Corrasable Bond paper, which had a coating on it that allowed you to erase mistakes easier than scratching them out on ordinary paper.

These days it’s lovely how easy it is to digitally backspace, delete, cut and “paste” (how quaint that word!). Nobody need see your self-catchable errors, your changes of mind, your process.

But flow is king (or CEO, or top witch in the coven, whatever). Never lose sight of that. The best way to foster flow is keep going right on through anything weak. Let it out, let it lie for now, keep moving forward. This bears repeating now and then. Thank you for sticking with me.

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6 comments:

Rob said...

I personally enjoy the messy business of scratching stuff out and rewriting as I go along.I do the same when I'm drawing. i use a pencil AND an eraser. I've never been happy with this idea that we have to let everything flow and lock this so-called "inner critic" in a box until the first draft is done. It's quite distracting knowing that there's a part of myself kicking and screaming in a dark cell in the nether regions of my mind. I prefer to write (and draw) like a comedy duo - the funny one and the straight one, working together in perfect symbiosis. Pencil with an eraser on the other end.

Elizabeth Sims said...

Rob, thank you for contributing! You have a good point, and your method is totally valid. I scratch out as I go too, if I'm absolutely sure. But if I have any hesitation, I finish the thought and move along. Writing is a dynamic process and using any approach too rigidly can foster anxiety--and that can be oppressive. I wonder what others think!

Bev Prescott said...

I took your advice and tried writing first drafts by longhand. What I really enjoyed about the process was that I didn't feel distracted by fixing typos or rearranging words in a sentence. It was very freeing and relaxing to just write without worry. Thanks as always for the great advice.

Elizabeth Sims said...

That's fabulous, Bev!! Glad you gave it a try. (I'd been wondering...)

John A said...

I can't seem to stop myself from editing as I go. I even do it when writing emails and text messages, which most people today don't seem to think require any editing at all. This undoubtedly stems from writing school papers in longhand and hating the idea of having to re-write the entire thing. I'll have to force myself to avoid editing and see if I can get the thought out of my head that "If I don't fix this now, I may not pick it up later."

Elizabeth Sims said...

John, I'm glad you stopped in. Letting your inner editor take a break can result in good stuff. I was really saying that if you're mid-stream in a thought or sentence, it's easier to just finish it out before giving it the ax, whether immediately or later. Should have been clearer about that, but I do believe that letting questionable material lie there--for now--helps you keep the flow going. It seems we all have our individual ways of getting draft material out of our heads...