Eliminate the False Starts


Eliminate the False Starts

For me, writing has always been a process like (I imagine) pushing a vending machine over. It takes a few tries: you have to rock it back and forth a little before you get what you want. On a sentence level, I often have several false starts when I'm aiming for what I want to say. I'll have sentences like "She was sad, she was wrecked with sadness." When I look back at the sentence, I can see how uselessly baggy and repetitive it is. That's okay; that's part of the process. But the difference between okay writers and great writers is that the great writers always go back and trim out all those false starts.

Readers don't want you to hem and haw. They want you to cut right to the quick. If you think up three ways to describe a rainbow, the third is usually the best. So once you've arrived at what you really want to say, you can cut the first two!

I think the false starts that we often see in writing stems from a fundamental attachment we have to our own words. Just because we thought of a pretty good turn of phrase doesn't mean it has to appear in the final draft -- and just because we wrote something doesn't automatically make it precious. The process of writing is a process of arriving at just the right turn of phrase with trial and error -- and yes, a few mistakes!

Above all, don't be discouraged if your first two or three tries are false starts! Keep trying until you've arrived at just the right image, just the right punchy powerful way to describe what your character is feeling. And remember the final step -- eliminate all evidence of those false starts in your final draft. Instead of "She was sad, she was wrecked with sadness", just give us "She was wrecked with sadness." It's more direct and will head straight to your reader's heart.