Well, this little weekly blog is now a part of my story. It’s a very small part and it is usually pretty sanitized for public consumption. Somewhere along the way I realized that I’ve never really thought about HOW I pick the words that I share with you though.
“Who cares?” is the first question that I imagine popped into your head when you read that. It is the question I would have been thinking if you’d have written the first paragraph.
Well, I didn’t… until recently.
I regularly get letters, notes, e-mails and such from friends and colleagues. I normally get the impression that they are impromptu. Yet, as I consider my writing, I bet a lot more effort goes into these “personal” bits of writing than I ever see.
When writing to friends and family members, I realized that I have never written anything in just one draft. I wondered if that makes me weird. I read those “letters of note” websites and every letter on there is handwritten and error free. It’s like I’m the only one in the world who can’t put a complete thought together without thinking it through a half-dozen times. Handwriting a letter, for me, takes the better part of a legal pad and a good measure of ink.
As a result of all this thinking, I started reading personal communications a little more critically. Not just my writing, also the writing I receive. Not critical to find fault, but to consider word choice and usage; also to consider what might be left out or perhaps edited out and why.
As I was writing an e-mail to a friend this week I did something that I found interesting. Every time I deleted something from the e-mail I copied the deleted bit to a new file and made a quick note about why I was deleting it. I learned two things. I delete A LOT and there is always a pretty good reason for doing so.
I am terrible about writing a complete first draft before editing. I will probably force myself to practice this in the future but it bothers me to know that there are things I don’t like in the paragraph above or two pages ago. In the e-mail I mentioned above, I was responding to a story the friend had told me about their childhood and I began to tell my story. I realized my story was self-aggrandizing, perhaps even arrogant, and would likely come across as obnoxious. I deleted 475 words. Like I said, obnoxious. If that story ever needs to be told to my friend, I’ll tell it another time and in an appropriate context. In the e-mail I really wanted to show appreciation for my friend sharing and to communicate gratitude. I felt a lot better about the product without my story cluttering things up.
I wish I could remember who wrote it, but I read that an author said, “All writing is about the author, anyone who says otherwise is either a fool or lying”, or something close to that. I didn’t write it down. I’m not sure that I agree, which probably makes me a fool because I really am being honest here. All writing is about someone and sometimes it’s the author, but just as often it’s about the reader.
I think what makes a good writer is someone who knows the difference. It’s the person who know’s how to pick the right words to communicate what is necessary in the moment.
I am still not always sure how I pick the words I do but thinking about it hasn’t made me worse at writing. It may seem like a small thing but I think considering the small things will pay dividends in the long run. Sometimes we should indeed “sweat the small stuff”. What do you think?