Writing is like trying to dig to the center of the earth. It’s not long before you realize you’ll never quite reach your objective, no matter how much optimism you had when you first broke ground. Still, encouraged by the artifacts you’ve already uncovered, you resolve to keep digging. An accidental archaeologist!
The soil beneath your feet all along littered with buried treasure, at times you’re so exhilarated that you feel called to share your discoveries.
This can be a bad idea.
Early insights often age poorly. The dinosaur bone displayed proudly on your shelf can, as you slowly amass reference books on the topic, begin to resemble a discarded chicken wing. When, weeks later, you uncover a tattered KFC bucket a few layers of earth down, you quietly trash the bone and tell your friends it was stolen and that you don’t want to talk about it.
I say all this because any time I sit down to write about craft, the winds of future embarrassment creep across the back of my neck. In the long run, I think it’s better to share without shame – but it’s nonetheless good to acknowledge the absurdity implicit in a relative novice doling out advice on any subject, not least of all the (cue angelic chorus) “Craft of Writing.”
Self-protection aside, I’ve collected enough of these “paradoxes” from mentors, teachers, and my own experimentation that I feel compelled to put them down somewhere. They’re not all proper contradictions – some are merely counterintuitive (to me at least). If I were a better writer I’d come up with a better title. As it stands, “The Paradoxes of Writing” had a nice ring to it.
The Paradoxes of Writing
- To write well, you must first write poorly.
- Complex is crude. Simple is sophisticated.
- Progress comes rarely from the addition of good ideas, and frequently from the removal of bad ones.
- “Better” is your only goalpost, and you’ll never hit it.
- You may have written it, but it belongs to the reader.
- To develop your voice, exercise your ear.
- Don’t cling to your opinions – nobody cares. (But never them go – they’re all you have).
- Hope leads inevitably to despair.
- If it ain’t true, it had better be honest.
- The masters are nothing more than absurdly good at the basics.
These are in no particular order. I hope to add items to this list as time goes on. And those which I later discover to be chicken bones, I vow to quietly remove.