29 April 2010

A thing worth doing poorly at first is a thing worth doing

I heard a good piece of advice about writing I want to hand along. It goes against what all our parents said to us, which was: "A job worth doing is worth doing well." That advice certainly helped me become more thorough about some of the tasks I took on. But in writing, that pressure to achieve early perfection may be misplaced. One writer says instead: A job worth doing is worth doing poorly at first. Think about it. This turns around the willingness to look silly or bad or make something unusable/unsalable/unpalatable at first. I can tell when I reread my writing that I made myself sit down and write some days, despite not feeling any clarity about where I was headed. Sometimes it works and sometimes it fails. But next to all the other successful and semisuccessful attempts, which can be improved in the editing, the failures stand out in relief and can be edited out.

It's a great power we have: the ability to edit. We all do it, all the time, whether we think of it as "editing" or not. Look out a window. What do you see? What do you include and what do you leave out when you describe your view from the window (such as power lines, signs, vehicles)? Look at yourself in the mirror. Stand there and look for an entire minute, without looking away. What do you see that you don't usually see? The ways in which we edit our worlds absolutely affect how we respond to them. Just like the bumper sticker says: "Don't believe everything you think."

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