The Writer’s Curse

Early drafts hereof. (Click for bigger, if interested.)

Anyone who writes for others on a regular basis knows perfection is impossible. The writer sees what should be there, not what is.

“One final fix,” we say as we correct an error, click Save but then only to spot another before the page refreshes.

In practice, we learn it is never really finished.

Instead, writing for others becomes a measure of good enough. The writer asks, “Is it good enough that the reader will understand what I mean without being distracted by my spelling and punctuation?”

flat5.net (this blog) began in 2001 as a family web page but after more than a decade of growth that includes copying, pasting and touching up the old material several times, I still occasionally find a missing word, a doubled comma or some other typo in the oldest material*.

It never ends.

Indeed, the paragraphs you’re reading right now have been revised a dozen times since the paper draft you see above. Over the course of those edits, this article has doubled in size, shrunk back to two paragraphs and then slowly filled out to the content you see now.

Such is the act of writing; it is never finished.

So be it.

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* I’m still not happy with the comma placement in the first sentence at About -> Ed and Anita.

3 thoughts on “The Writer’s Curse

  1. I edit very reluctantly and blog “on the fly;” I’ve worked 12 hours ahead on only a few occasions.

    Spelling errors, misguided punctuation (I use too many semicolons!), elided words and “brain had right word — fingers did not” I fight quite a lot. In fiction, I’ll chase changes of tense and person that slip in, but I try very hard to not edit any deeper unless the changes are very felicitous. I try to hear it in my head as it spools out and leave it be.

    (Lester Dent — a pulp writer I admire quite a lot, especially for his ability to make trite plots sparkle via engaging characters — almost never edited and would deliberately knock off work at the end of a day in the middle of a sentence. A former telegrapher and early teletypewriter operator, he was one of the first writers to use an electric typewriter. In later life he regretted the extreme speed at which he wrote; he felt if he could break the habit and go just a little more slowly, the quality of his writing would be much improved.)

    • To be honest with myself, it depends.

      Sometimes the words flow so fast I’d better be at the keyboard to get them down. (I type fast.) That’s the best way to catch that sparkle and, yeah, if more than “a little touch-up” happens, it’s ruined.

      But when it’s quiet “in there”, then pen and ink can slowly explore and find a loose end. And while gently pulling out each phrase, the cord often knots and has to be teased out.

      (Analogies gone on too long make me nauseous.)

      I’ve never found the knack of donning one character’s persona for fiction. It’s always “me” on the page, and a carefully filtered “me” at that. Writing really good first person fiction requires, IMHO, the same thing needed to perform a song, not just sing the notes on pitch but to “be” the song.

      You have to be naked out there, naked, on stage, in the spotlight, with everyone looking.

      Hemingway would be my consummate example. Gruff, fat, stink of cigar, half drunk and doesn’t give a shit. It’s all out there.

      Of those five, I’ve got one, gave up another, and only rarely achieve a third but always regret it the next morning. The other two probably ain’t gonna happen.

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