“There is an old saying: ‘No piece of writing is ever finished, it’s just abandoned.’ But my own rule is: No piece of work is done until you want to kill everyone involved in the publishing process, especially yourself.” ― Chuck Palahniuk
I wrote a poem called His Name is Happiness two years ago. I love how it flowed out of me, how symbolic it was and still is, the imagery, and the mystery. I got so caught up in the flow; I forgot to focus on language and form.
I remember the editor-in-chief of Bewildering Stories making suggestions of things I should consider changing. I welcomed the feedback. I did cut or adjust the things I felt were obvious. The problem was I had become attached to my poem, and the way it was written. I didn’t want to take every piece of advice he gave me, but looking back I see I should have considered what he was trying to teach me.
Lesson one is trim out unnecessary adverbs and prepositions.
When you write something and read it a dozen times, it is easy to get attached to each word, line break, and overall style. There is a fear of trimming.
What if you mess it up? Chop too much? What if you can’t go back, or remember it how it was before you mutilated it? What if it ruins the experience and leaves you feeling lousy?
“The road to Hell is paved with adverbs.” ― Stephen King
We are deleting out pieces of ourselves we can never get back. In a way this is true. We are keeping the good parts and reducing the clutter in our thoughts. Fear will nag you at first. It gets easier with practice. It makes you a better writer.
I had to stop thinking negatively about editing and remember that destruction plays a key role in creativity. It should be viewed as a controlled burn. It seems unnecessary and painful. It seems dangerous to the person in us that clings to familiarity and perfection.
I ease into things, stick in one toe at a time, let myself adjust to new sensations. Editing has been no exception. I have been stubborn and cautious and lost.
I started joining writing forums for feedback and support. I read Stephen King’s On Writing, Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg, and On Writing Well by William Zinsser. I recommend them all. I keep numerous unread books sitting on my shelves waiting as well. This is my way of trying to be more balanced and well rounded in what I consume and produce as a writer. It is helping my complacency and boredom. Having a variety of different authors, novels, short stories, poems, and nonfiction, as well as fiction keeps my mind fresh and open to the world of writing. If I feel stale or can’t find any inspiration to write, reading pulls me away from my frustration because it gets me still. It makes me crave to write.
These are my tools for fine tuning my craft. Writing is strenuous and fulfilling. I think writers love the challenge and reward. Stick with it. Writers write. It is a learning process. Identify your weaknesses as a writer, and fine tune them.
“Writing and learning and thinking are the same processes.” —William Zinsser
My weaknesses are the words, ‘that’, ‘and’, ‘but’, ‘like’, and other overly used adverbs, conjunctions, and prepositional phrases. It is a common writing obstacle. I can’t seem to shake them without a fight, but I have found, the key is mindfulness and moderation. A little goes a long way. As a reader I like brief. I like concise. I like a story that moves with ease towards each interesting aspect and knows where it’s going. I like to trust I won’t be disappointed or relieved too quickly, bored for whole paragraphs or pages, because to me there would be no enjoyment; the lesson would be—how not to write.
There are a lot of bad writers. We all start clueless which is why I find other experienced writers and editors to be my best guides. I see the editing process as my greatest lesson as a writer. Craft matters most. I know good writing when I see it, no matter if it is about the history of a national park or the art of juggling; there is intrigue in well thought out language that is refreshing.
Avoiding redundancy in descriptions and sentence structures can help. Revise those two things if you can spot them. It will make your writing stronger.
I like to read my work and reread as a process. It makes it easier to find mistakes. Using ‘your’ instead of ‘you’re’ is easy to miss. I am always surprised when I think something is ready to send to a journal, and I reread it, fresh in the morning after hours of editing, to find numerous mistakes. I try to slow down. We are human. Our brains let us down when we’re tired or trying too hard.
Don’t be in a rush to get your work out. Seeing published work with typos is more painful than slowing down and getting it right the first time.
The next best thing we can do is write as readers. I look at my poem, His Name is Happiness, today, as a reader and cringe. There is so much I want to change, and I did. It isn’t enough to have a good idea; it won’t work if it is poorly crafted. I sat down and reimagined the whole poem. I love it like I did when I first wrote it, but I feel it represents who I’ve become as a writer. I view the old poem as dead skin.
At some point I have to call it quits and declare His Name is Happiness complete. I want to. I am sure one day I will read the new version and cringe again, maybe at that point it will become something else. It is part of the process.
I am leaving my revised poem here if you’re curious. At the bottom is a link to the first version of His Name is Happiness. I feel it is a poem that illustrates the illusion of happiness as everything staying static or without struggle. Happiness comes in different forms for everyone, but I think true happiness is knowing we have done our best and lived up to our true potential in all we seek to be or do. This is my goal with writing.
“We have to look at our own inertia, insecurities, self-hate, fear that, in truth, we have nothing valuable to say. When your writing blooms out of the back of this compost, it is…” —Natalie Goldberg
His Name is Happiness
I know a man named Happiness,
volatile in mood and form; he slinks
down my eaves,
passes through the panes, and leaves before the dew.
My sink collects remnants of him.
I stand, face my reflection,
watch him drip down my skin.
I think he is gone. At my last line
of eyeliner application,
he spooks me in the mirror; the pencil stain
of him smears.
I eat him for breakfast. He is tasteless.
In my car, he sneaks through the vent,
odorless, blares through the radio.
I try to outsmart him with a disc;
he scratches through its silver lining.
Last week, he resembled a stray cat
sick to get inside,
consuming the last bit of sustenance
in my kitchen.
A month ago, his intrusion was a coffee stain,
spilled blisters across my lap.
He saturated white carpet;
I heard his laughter in the bubbles
at my missed opportunity.
Today, he is especially irksome,
repeating back to me in a sing-song voice
the mockeries he has made of me,
tied with run-on sentences.
He never yields to my obvious exasperation,
when I unleash on his intangible states.
A man I once pursued inexhaustibly,
callously pursues me.
Tomorrow, I will meet Happiness
with a scowl. I will shatter.
Impermanence emanates steam
from the hard surface he resembles,
catching me on descent. He is the concrete.
I am porcelain bone.
Check out the older version of His Name is Happiness here: http://www.bewilderingstories.com/issue778/name_happiness.html
Here is the link to my original blog post: