Accepting imperfections will improve your writing
For me to proclaim, “You’re not perfect!” might sound a bit jarring or insulting. But it’s true. And, once you accept that, it will set you free. Free to be a better writer. Not to mention a better spouse, parent, or pastor.
Why do I say that? I’ve spent more than 40 years as a writer and editor. And I have learned that at the heart of good writing is accepting your imperfections. While good writing is a complex subject that takes a lifetime to even begin to master, there are a few secrets. All are rooted in human fallibility.
Secret 1: It’s going to take more than one try
One factor that inhibits countless numbers of would-be writers is the fear that they won’t get it right. To which I say, “So what? You won’t. The hardest part is starting. So, go ahead and write (or type) it down. You’re going to have to go back over it later anyway.”
One of my favorite memoirs on writing is by famed author, Stephen King. One reason I liked On Writingso much is its real-life examples of his rough drafts, completed with crossed-out words, awkward phrases and other flaws. If a guy whose books have sold 350 million copies has to re-write, what makes you think you shouldn’t?
Secret 2: Start at your topic’s most basic level
“You can’t approach the universal directly,” says children’s book author John Erickson. “You have to approach it in a small way. One man and one woman living together in marriage. Not marriage in general, not marriage on Mount Olympus, but just one man and one woman.”
I saw the truth of this with a story I wrote about megachurches for the April issue of Charisma magazine. I started the rough draft with a broad generalization about the influence large churches are making. It was vague and weak.
The evening that I wrote it, I suddenly thought, “That was a horrible lead.” The published version begins this way: “When you talk to megachurch pastor Brady Boyd, his speech is seasoned with words like ‘revival,’ ‘engagement’ and ‘discipleship.'"
Ironically, once I gave a few details about the 10,000-member church Boyd pastors, I returned to the rest of the draft. It flowed pretty much as I had written it. I felt the end result was pretty good, but the start was pretty bad.
Secret 3: Let it rest
A valuable element of good writing is rest. One published author I know recommends letting something sit for three days before looking at it again. That isn’t always possible; I’ve had assignments that gave me only three days from beginning to completion.
Still, even if it’s only a day or two, you need a break from your rough draft. Ideally, I like to draft a story or book chapter two weeks before it’s due. A week later, I go back over it. Then I let it sit for another week and go over it again before submitting it to an editor or sending it to a co-author. The final draft is always better than when I try to do it with less time or only one revision.
Good writing comes back to my opening statement. When you accept you’re not perfect, you will feel free to go ahead and do the best you can with what you have to work with. You will no longer be paralyzed by the image of perfection. And that is a story to which we all can relate.
An experienced freelance writer, co-author and book editor, Ken Walker edits blogs for several contributors to Church Central and has coached various bloggers for the site. A member of the Christian PEN (Proofreaders and Editors Network), he has co-authored, edited or contributed to more than 50 books. You can see samples of his work or ask about his services as a writing coach by going to http://www.KenWalkerWriter.com or by e-mailing email@example.com