Leave It Alone

There is an old writing adage that goes: Writing is rewriting. It’s handy, particularly for beginning writers, but even for more experienced ones. It reminds the writer to be patient, that stories in particular are evolutionary in their nature, that what gets published is often the cumulative result of many drafts, pulling a paragraph from draft one, adding it to a page from draft two and so on. The poet and novelist David Wagoner said that what he learned most from his mentor and friend Theodor Roethke was the importance and discipline of rewriting. So learn how and be prepared to rewrite. Very good. There should, however, be caveat a to this maxim, particularly if you’ve got a few years of writing under your belt: Sometimes it’s easy. You heard me, and I won’t apologize for it. Sometimes writing is easy. Sometimes pages, chapters, even whole stories come out in one go. Sometimes. Plenty of times not, but sometimes they do.

But only, I should hasten to add, if we believe such a thing is a possible. If you are absolutely wed to the idea that all writing is rewriting then you will never allow anything you’ve written to leave your desk until you’ve found something you can change about it. Sometimes these changes do not improve it at all; sometimes the changes make it worse. But at least you rewrote it!

If, however, we are open to the idea that something can come easily, then perhaps it might. There is no shame in work coming easily. If you’ve been working at the craft of writing for a few years, then the odds of work coming easily increase, as the ticky-tacky of sentence structure and concise language and all the rest becomes second nature and allows for the fluid translation of idea to expression.

In fact, sometimes the easiest writing is the best. Sometimes you have tapped so directly into the vein of what you wish to say, you need only get out of the way and let the good stuff through. Half of learning to write is understanding story arc and strong verbs, but the other half is learning to locate the source of your best stuff. You are a spelunker into your own psyche. If you go down often enough, courageously enough, honestly enough, you will soon learn the channels and chambers of your heart so intimately that you needn’t search long to find what you wish to say. When this happens, you may discover that it takes as much discipline to leave something alone as it does to correct and correct and correct.

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