I don’t usually publish my first drafts, but here’s one poorly written paragraph to make a point:
I realized spring had arrived the other day—it had, briefly, despite the snow on the ground today. Now, some people may recognize the onset of spring when they see crocuses begin to emerge. In the past, that’s been my signal as well. But this year I realized spring had arrived when I saw rabbit poop on the lawn.
A few minutes later, that became:
I realized spring had arrived when I saw the rabbit poop on the lawn. Some people notice crocuses—and to be fair, I’ve done that in the past too. But this year my marker for the change of seasons was, literally, shit.
That’s conscious editing. I tightened up my lede, deleted extraneous details, buttoned the paragraph with an unexpected profanity. The second draft far outshines the first, she said modestly.
But what about unconscious editing? I started thinking about that after receiving this email the other day:
“I like your pieces and the content in them and would love to have you write some pieces for [the website].
I reviewed the clips I’d sent this editor. Sure enough, they all called out missteps—and offered ways around them.
I have to say, I was surprised. I’m sure my coaching clients experience me as a supportive guide, shining a light on the positive aspects of their work while also suggesting ways to improve. But in my blogging, the editor was correct: I am much more likely to be critical. Not gratuitously critical—constructively critical. But critical nevertheless.
To be clear: I don’t think there’s necessarily anything wrong with my style. Maybe I’m just not a good fit for this website. But I think it’s worth looking at my work through her eyes, if only for a bit.
And so I find myself wondering: Where does the critical voice come from?
Is it easier, for some reason, for me to see the negative right now? Rabbit poop rather than crocuses; challenges rather than successes? Am I framing my writing unconsciously, editing out the positive and zeroing in on the negative?
Or is it just that no one’s ever planted crocuses around here?
I plan to experiment, see if I can find more positive frames for my writing. Watch this space.
Oh, and it’s Sunday. So here’s your song. One of my favorite musical theatre writers singing the work of one of the giants of musical theatre: Andrew Lippa singing Stephen Sondheim‘s ode to positivity, “Everybody Says Don’t.”
Write better when you write more often. Join my 5-day writing challenge: Write for 15 minutes a day and I’ll donate your registration fee to a global literacy nonprofit. More info and registration link here.