Don’t Get Too Attached To Your Own Work. Throw It Out And Start Over.

by Randy Murray on January 26, 2011

If you want to be a productive writer you’re going to learn some very hard lessons and keep learning them. Here’s one: when you find that something you’ve been writing isn’t working, know when to stop, pitch it, and start over.

I just learned it again for myself. I was working on a second round on a piece for this site, another in my Net Neutrality series. I had come up with this great idea to do a Swiftian take on the situation and write my own “Modest Proposal.” But I just couldn’t pull it off. This morning I tried again with a complete rewrite and it just wasn’t coming together. Hours of work with nothing to show for it. But I’ve learned that there comes a point where you have to stop fighting, stop looking for a way to make it work, and simply start over. So I’m pitching it. I’ll try again tomorrow, or better yet, come up with a fresh idea and approach.

I am certain about one thing: every word I write is not precious. I can do better. And writing is work.

OK, that was three things, but to me, they’re three sides of the same coin. You see, today metaphors aren’t even working for me.

But I am productive. I don’t miss deadlines and I always try to deliver top quality work. And yes, sometimes what I come up with just doesn’t work.  But I work far enough in advance of my deadlines that I can figure out when it’s not working and fix it.

How do I know when something isn’t working? The best way is to give your writing some time to breathe in-between when you first write it and when you read it for your first revision.  Try and read it as if you were seeing it for the first time. Try reading it out loud. And find your self a first reader, an editor. Mine, Penny, is an invaluable part of my writing success. I call her my “editorial partner.” And I’ve recently given her a promotion to “Executive Editor (same pay, new title).” If you’re writing professionally I strongly recommend you team up with a first class editor, someone who will challenge your ideas and style, not just correct your spelling and grammar.

I don’t want you to adopt an attitude that everything you write is bad. That’s not helpful. If you write every day you’ll develop the skills to know when you’re on target and when you’re not. Sometimes you just have to give yourself more time to think and get your ideas more thoroughly tested. And some pieces, like the one I was working on today, may never work. That’s OK. I got this piece out of it. And when I’ve had more time I may find a way to make it work. I’ll let you know.

The Don’t Get Too Attached To Your Own Work. Throw It Out And Start Over. by Randy Murray, unless otherwise expressly stated, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

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