editing / writers tips / writing

Writers Tip #59: Work in Clay, Not Marble

writers tips

Great tips for soon-to-be great writers

When you read your story, does it sound off, maybe you can’t quite put your finger on it, but you know you’ve done something wrong? Sometimes–maybe even lots of times–there are simple fixes. These writer’s tips will come at you once a week, giving you plenty of time to go through your story and make the adjustments.

Today’s tip comes from Jacques Barzun, an American historian of ideas and culture, author/editor of more than forty books touching on a broad range of subjects including science and medicine: 

Convince yourself that you are working in clay not marble, on paper not eternal bronze. Let that first sentence be as stupid as it wishes. No one will rush out and print it as it stands.

I now have permission to make mistakes–spelling/grammar errors, malapropisms I didn’t intend as humor, run-on sentences and truncated ideas. I don’t care. I’m like Pacman with a pen. After I’ve thrown my words onto paper in an effort to be authentic, unique and honest, I can cut, edit, revise or improve to my heart’s content.

What editing can’t fix is that stilted sound that comes of conscripting a scene, forcing it into a framework it was never intended to fit. All I can do then is throw it out and start over.

This time, I’ll get every emotion, passion, sensory overload down before I start fixing things.

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Jacqui Murray is the editor of a technology curriculum for K-fifth grade and creator of two technology training books for middle school. She is the author of Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy midshipman.  She is webmaster for five blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, a columnist for Examiner.com, and a weekly contributor to Write Anything and Technology in Education. Currently, she’s working on a techno-thriller that should be ready this summer. Contact Jacqui at her writing office or her tech lab, Ask a Tech Teacher.

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4 thoughts on “Writers Tip #59: Work in Clay, Not Marble

  1. I have to say, turning off that ‘inner editor’ and allowing oneself to go back and edit later is harder than it sounds. For me, it is a constant struggle. If anyone has some suggestions on how to allow the words to flow for the first draft, I’d love to hear them.

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    • I do it as an outline that starts out one page and grows to about seventy. I use Excel so it always feels like an outline. I rough out everything I need to, move it around, even do some preliminary editing–allow ‘those words to flow’ in the small portion of a scene within Excel cells. By the time I move it to Word, I’m ready to do serious editing.

      That’s a really good question, though. I hope others respond with their thoughts.

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