April 13, 2010

Writing: Stages of Development

Over at Writer to Writer, Cec Murphey is wrapping up a ten part series on article writing. He ends today’s post with: When you say, "This is the best I can do at this stage of my development," you give yourself permission to stop.

In the youthful stage of my writing development I rarely said, “This is the best I can do.” Back then, I soaked up writing advice like a wheat field gulping rain after a summer drought. I sucked in every drop of classes, workshops and books about writing. I read novels and memoirs until my eyes burned. Hour after hour I struggled to emulate famous writers, never allowing myself to stop. What I learned from that stage was that when writers get too saturated with the craft of writing they risk over-revising their work. I didn’t know what I was doing back then. I followed all the rules. Whenever I wrote, I thought about the skillfulness of my writing. I might be halfway through a paragraph and then stop to rewrite it, naively editing out some of my best words.

It was years before I moved into the next stage of my development and separated creativity from skill. I discovered I needed to put craft and creativity in separate compartments in my brain. If I didn’t, the craft of writing threatened to swallow my originality and imagination. I decided obedience isn’t an admirable trait for a creative writer. Moving from one stage to another, I gave creativity its rightful place taking precedence over craft. I kept my hand moving and wrote from my heart allowing words to bleed out on the pages. My writing at that stage was raw and unrefined -- but in a good way. I knew when creativity had done its best. Then I buried the manuscript for a while. I gave myself permission to stop before I unleashed the craft to edit.

Today, as a freelance writer, I don’t have the luxury of stopping. Freelance work comes with tight deadlines and not enough time for manuscripts to set for weeks or more to be examined with pure eyes. At this stage of my development I give my best effort, but I hesitate before I hit the send button in my e-mail program and propel the manuscript off to a client. Is my writing good enough? Craft is the frontrunner now. I battle with creativity wishing I could let it out more, like in the old days, to run uninhibited. I'm still learning to say, "This is the best I can do," and let go.

We writers set boundaries allowing ourselves permission to write wildly from our hearts and also to stop and let things settle. In the editing process, we stretch, reach for fresh words and search for new ways to use them. We struggle to stop, often doubting that what we’ve written is good enough. We are works in progress. The one thing that never stops is the often surprising and unpredictable stages of our writing development. The American writer and editor D.L. Doctorow said, “Writing is an exploration. You start from nothing and learn as you go.”

What have you learned from your writing stages? Can you comfortably say, "I've done my best," and give yourself permission to stop?


Susan J. Reinhardt said...

Hi Jean -

You expressed the tension between craft and creativity so well.

I love writing first drafts because I allow the creative side to run amok. The editing/craft side irritated me for a long time, but I'm starting to enjoy it.

Susan :)

Karen Lange said...

Good post. Love the quote by Doctorow, too. Thanks for sharing your insight.

Jean Fischer said...

Hi, Susan and Karen.

Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment.


quietspirit said...

You have a lot of good thoughts here. We do have to separate craft from our creativity. But, not all of us realize it until we get in some hours of practice.

Jean Fischer said...

Thank you, quietspirit.