Will I ever write well? — Frequent Questions
Q: Will I ever write well?
A: Yes—probably more often than you recognize.
All writers have moments when they hate their writing. That’s why you should never edit your work right away. Give it some space and come back to it.
When you do come back to it, you might be absolutely correct—it may be terrible. But look more closely. You may find a word that delights you, a combination of words that feels utterly fresh.
When you do find these things, cut yourself a break and admit you can write well. In fact, you just have. Copy those good words or phrases into a new document and see what you can build from there.
Don’t expect to write well in the first draft
Ernest Hemingway said, “All first drafts are shit.”
Well, okay, that may be apocryphal. But it’s also true.
Nobody—not Hemingway, not me, not you—nobody should expect to write well in a first drafts. First drafts aren’t for polishing, they’re for collecting raw material. Ideas. Some of them will be good ideas and some will make you laugh so hard you’ll print them out and stick them on the bulletin board behind your computer so you can remind yourself of how ridiculously you can write and still survive. Not that that’s ever happened to me. (Well, not daily.)
That’s the thing about first drafts: terrible-ness is not fatal. No one cares how badly you write because no one but you ever sees it. (You’re not still submitting first drafts as final products, right?)
But how do you turn a first draft into a second draft, and a second draft into something you’re ready to send into the world with something resembling pride?
It’s a skill you can learn. And if you want to write well, it’s a skill you must learn.
Ernest Hemingway knew that. Here’s an exchange from a 1958 interview in The Paris Review:
Interviewer: How much rewriting do you do?
Hemingway: It depends. I rewrote the ending of Farewell to Arms, the last page of it, 39 times before I was satisfied.
Interviewer: Was there some technical problem there? What was it that had stumped you?
Hemingway: Getting the words right.