Thursday, 4 February 2016

Writing processes: circling in, bursting forth and crapping out

I wrote a short post here about how I often don't know whether my posts are worthwhile until they're written (at which point I may as well publish them, unless they're dreadful), because I think them through by writing them. (You don't really need to click the link, that's pretty much the whole post.)

Today, via a friend (who blogs here; check her out), I read this article by Megan McArdle in The Atlantic, which considers different approaches to writing and why some writers are frightful procrastinators.

McArdle suggests that writers who leave their work to the last minute may have been people who found school easy, who therefore came to think of creativity / productivity as dependent on natural ability. After these people turn pro and have to compete at a higher level, she thinks, the fear that they might not have much ability then paralyses them until the near-certainty of a failure even worse than submitting a bad article - submitting no article - forces them to the keyboard:

"If you’ve spent most of your life cruising ahead on natural ability, doing what came easily and quickly, every word you write becomes a test of just how much ability you have, every article a referendum on how good a writer you are. As long as you have not written that article, that speech, that novel, it could still be good."

She also spoke to a psychologist who agreed with her idea:

"For growth people, challenges are an opportunity to deepen their talents, but for “fixed” people, they are just a dipstick that measures how high your ability level is."

My earlier post fits with this: I must be a "growth" person, since I'm sure I have no natural writing ability but I'm hopeful of being good at some point, and as a growth person I have no qualms about writing something awful in the hope of revising it into something decent.

Anway, if you're reading this and are an incurable "fixed" person, I have a suggestion. Even if you can't make yourself stop believing that good writing springs from natural talent, consider some advice attributed to Hemingway:

"The first draft of anything is shit."

And do yourself a favour: try believing that writing ability is all in the revising, and make a start.

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