Sunday, March 27, 2011

Honing Hurts!

In my opening post for this blog, I said I wanted to hone my writing skills. That sounds like a worthy goal, one that should bring some satisfaction at the very least. So far, however, my efforts have brought quite a bit of discomfort.

It's not very often that the mood to write strikes me. As I said, I think a lot, and I usually envision my thoughts as well-received pieces of writing. However, it is rare that I actually get something written down, and I'm finding that doing so is akin to work. It takes effort, discipline, and perseverance. And lots of re-writing until the words are just right. And when I've finally finished a piece that I am happy with, it is a good feeling. There's part of me on the page, right there for the reader to discover and, hopefully, like.

Recently, I wrote a short essay about my bird watching hobby. I really liked it; I thought it expressed the pleasure birds bring me in a comfortable tone that readers would identify with. I got brave and submitted it, along with some of my bird photos, to a regional magazine. I got a quick response from the editor, which is great! Even better, he is interested, but with a "slight re-casting" to take what I wrote from "just-me-with-curiosity-and-camera" to "anyone-can-do-it," all in about 300 words. (My original was almost 600 words.) Now, one would think that would not be too hard to do: just pare it down a little and include a sentence or two about how the average Joe can take good bird photos. Well, let's just say I've been at it for over a week now.

I quickly found that paring it down was hard: there wasn't anything I felt could easily go. And when I did cut out phrases or sentences, it hurt! I'd put those words there for a reason, and without them, the whole tone of the essay changed. What I discovered is that I don't really want to change what I wrote. I like it the way it is. But the truth of the publishing world is that rarely do submissions get published without some revising and editing. And if I want to see my writing in this magazine, I'll have to be willing to change it. Therein lies the discomfort: letting go of what I thought was already good, and working to make it better, or at least better-suited to the editor's purpose. All this leads to a larger question: who do I really want to write for? If I want to write for an audience then I'll have to be willing to be edited. If I want to write just for me, well, that's what journals (and blogs) are for.

I hope this whole process is making me a better writer. At this point, I'm squirming a bit, reluctant to change what I think is good. But I've done it. I've re-written my essay, and it's shorter and quite different from the original. We'll see what the editor thinks.
Red-Bellied Woodpecker

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