The Biggest Mistake Writers Make

an unwitting victim...bwahahhahahaa
The biggest mistake writers make is allowing the whispers they hear inside their head take control of the work they do. Instead of telling the story they hear inside their head they twist and manipulate it so that it becomes prettier and more eloquent because they think it will be better liked.

Instead of just writing they worry about trying to create a masterpiece that will be adored and beloved and the net result is they create a piece of crap that should be swirling around a white porcelain bowl or used to wrap the day old fish their favorite fishmonger gives away for free.

Does that sound harsh? Does it make you angry, happy, disappointed or confused?

Hell I hope it makes you feel something because if you are going to write you might as well try to make people feel something. What is the point of preparing something so bland it would be consider gourmet cuisine for your favorite airline.

Great Writing Is Never Easy

Twelve months ago we talked about why great writing is never easy and I still believe all those things to be true. But the great contradiction of writing is that while we sit and bleed at the keyboard trying to come up with perfection we forget oftentimes the smartest move is to remember simplicity.

We forget that truth is stranger than fiction and that the limitations we set upon ourselves and rely upon are often not those others use.

Every story has a beginning, a middle and an end.

Read the news each day and you will find stories about men who are arrested for trying to have sexual relations with various animals and items. The other day I saw something about a guy who received silver bracelets for trying to make it with Swiss cheese.

Sift through Craigslist and you will come up with a myriad of other crazy stories and I am not just referring to the sexual fetish stuff.  Read through the Best of Craigslist and you’ll find material that should help you feel more confident about yourself as a person and a writer.

Don’t believe me?

In the blockquotes below you’ll find links to three different ads and excerpts from each that should help you remember that while you are working on perfection people are building pirate ships, toaster chairs and time machines.

Chair that looks like toaster – I built this chair that looks like a toaster. The piece of toast can come out. The toast upper downer handle can move up and down (a bit tough to do though) and it lights up red from the inside. The outside is made of aluminum. It’s not super comfortable to sit on but…

Pirate Ship For Sale – Pirate Ship for sale. Professionally built by two aging hockey players in the twilight of their relevance, in the backyard, in Golden Beach, MD. Many hours, beers and yards of knuckle skin went into the planning and creation of this wondrous vessel. Sailed over 3 death defying days from the Patuxant, through the Chesapeake bay to its final home at Port Tobacco Marina on the beautiful Potomac. Registered as a 44 ft vessel, she is Coast Guard Safety inspected

Time machine technician needed asap! – Jumper 40xx series -So I had a huge lapse in judgment and made a huge mistake today. Usually – no problem: go back and fix it. But I went to fire up my Jumper and lo and behold it’s broken and I’m in the wrong century to get it fixed. Any other hoppers hanging around the Warming Age with technical experience to help out?

What Causes Bad Writing?

The definition of good and bad writing is subjective and if you have been to school chances are you have had at least one teacher tell you that yours is awful.

Or if like me you have spent many years blogging and or working in professions where writing is what you produce I can guarantee someone has told you that your work is awful. The good news is someone has probably told you that your work is pretty good too.

“Bad writing is more than a matter of shit syntax and faulty observation; bad writing usually arises from a stubborn refusal to tell stories about what people actually do― to face the fact, let us say, that murderers sometimes help old ladies cross the street.” ― Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

When I was in my early thirties I had a disagreement with a couple of editors about a piece I submitted. They told me it lacked panache but when I asked them to give me an example of it they couldn’t do so.

I reworked my piece and when I submitted it they complained about it again but still couldn’t provide substantive criticism or suggestions for how I could improve it but made sure to tell me it still lacked panache.

Frustrated and disturbed I told the managing editor to open his mouth and when he asked why I said it was because I heard an echo coming from his throat and I wanted to confirm that the news guy had his head shoved so far up his ass I would be able to see his eyes looking back at mine.

 Why I Like Simple

I like simple because it is effective, useful and one of the best ways to avoid making silly mistakes. It also lends itself to making it easier not to succumb to trying to produce the perfect piece.

Perfection is the killer of novels, ideas and opportunity or rather the search for perfection.

Mind you this is also the reason why there is a need for editors because those of us who produce content on a regular basis understand that however talented we are or think we are we still make mistakes or produce work that is less clear than it could be.

Another set of eyes can do wonders for helping to make sure you don’t make foolish mistakes or succumb to the idea that your work is so well done everyone can and does recognize the beginning, middle and end.

What about you? What do you think? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

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4 Comments

  1. Joshua Wilner/A Writer Writes June 25, 2014 at 8:17 am

    barrettrossie Hi Barrett,

    Been a while, hope you are ok. I look at my copy of Strunk every now and then. It is a good way to see how many rules I break. 😉

    Hope to see you back here real soon.

  2. Joshua Wilner/A Writer Writes June 25, 2014 at 8:15 am

    Vidya Sury I have heard a few people make similar suggestions about drinking while writing. The loss of inhibition can definitely go a long way to helping people who are shy. That self censorship and ‘pre-editing’ doesn’t help with production.

    You are so right about the ass kissing on blogs. You never know if people will read or share so you might as well just say what you mean.

    The side notes are kind of fun. They haven’t gotten much use, but I kind of like them.

  3. barrettrossie June 24, 2014 at 7:59 am

    Josh, this post made me think of my favorite book about writing, Strunk & White’s “Elements of Style.”
    I guess it’s time I read it again, it’s been about 20 years. 
    (And I had to edit the above for two minutes.)

  4. Vidya Sury June 23, 2014 at 10:14 pm

    I am loving the add side note thingy. Irrelevant to the post, I know, Josh. 
    The best thing I can think of, for writing, is write drunk. We can take a call on the editing later. Editing even before we write is what screws things up. The problem is, most people worry about what others will think when they read. 😀 Especially with blogs. What if nobody comments. What if nobody shares? So ass-kissing becomes a way of life. 

    I loved this post. But then I love what you write.

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