On Slowing Down and Writing Well

Writing well
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As writers, we are sometimes faced with a lot of pressures to perform. But what’s most important is that we write, and write well.

We’re seven days into a new year, and over the past two weeks or so, we’ve seen a litany of articles on the state of writing and publishing. Predictions and resolutions for 2014 show up in my Twitter feed daily. That’s fine; I’m happy to see people’s 2014 predictions. For me, I think it’s time to return to the basics. Instead of spending time building an audience and platform, what can I do to push myself as a writer?

Writing wellI’d like  2014 to be the year I get back to the basics. I’d like to improve my writing on all levels. I don’t want to merely accumulate words through daily word count goals. I don’t need to have something published by the end of the year, or feel pressure to build up something that isn’t finished yet. Instead, I want to write slowly. I want to focus on every word and improve my skills.

I’m not the only writer or blogger wishing 2014 was the year for going back to basics. Mark Coker of Smashwords says writers should take 2014 to perfect their craft:

8. It’s all about the writing – It’s back to basics time. In a world where readers face an unlimited quantity of high-quality low-cost works, the writers who achieve the most success will be those who take their readers to the most emotionally satisfying extremes. Books are pleasure-delivery devices. It doesn’t matter if you’re publishing a cookbook, romance novel, gardening how-to, memoir or political treatise. Your job as the indie author is to write that super-fabulous book. That involves great writing and professional-quality editing. It also means avoiding all the mistakes that create unnecessary friction that prevent readers from discovering, desiring and enjoying the book.

The always insightful Porter Anderson also weighed in on this topic in his most recent “Writing on the Ether” column. Commenting on Writer Unboxed contributor Donald Maass’ column “Novel Resolutions,” Anderson says this about getting back to the basics of craft:

What I really appreciate about Maass’ essay at WU is that he doesn’t slam us with another refrain of “Trouble Right Here in River City” about butts in seats and hands on keyboards. He actually advises you to take a moment—which didn’t have to be on New Year’s Day, do it now—to think about what you meant to write, what you may or may not be saying in a book.

For this, I’d like to shake his virtual hand. What a great thing.

What I’m getting at is this: what’s more important than writing well? Certainly finding readers and marketing yourself is important, but if the writing isn’t your best, it’s all for naught.

Writing well is difficult on many levels. It’s isolating and, at times, emotionally draining. It requires a focus that takes years before it pays off. Friends, family, and colleagues might wonder what you’re doing in your room or office for hours at a time when there’s nothing to show for it. Only your critique group members (if you have them) will understand, and even then, you have to face the blank page on your own.

A Request to Slow Down

Let’s put aside what the experts say for a minute. Let’s turn off our analytics plugins and stop worrying about things like content marketing and SEO, or that elusive “platform.” Let’s not worry about what agents or publishers want or whether or not we can give them what they want – and who knows, anyway? Let’s make every word matter.

I can only speak for myself in this regard. In 2012, I started the year off upset with myself. I hadn’t written much of anything in 2011, other than some blog posts and what was required of me as a college writing instructor. I used 2012 to re-establish writing routines. This laid a foundation for 2013, where I began write a lot, and seriously. I didn’t worry about publishing stuff, although I managed to build this site up and get some bylines in local and online publications. Throughout 2013, I focused on word count and writing a lot every day. It seems natural to me that I spend 2014 perfecting those words, anticipating some improvement.

I don’t want to focus on publication in 2014 either. Instead, I want to go back to basics for a while and seek out writing help from others. I’m focusing on craft: quality over quantity. The other stuff isn’t helpful if I’m not happy with the quality of my writing.

This is a year for slow writing. Sure, I’ll still blog here and pitch articles for publication, but when I sit down to work on my current works in progress, the focus won’t be on meeting word count quotas. It will be on improving the words I write, day by day. Will you join me?

Kevin Eagan (@KevEagan) is a freelance editor and writer living in Central Florida. He edits book manuscripts and articles for local and national publications. Critical Margins is his place to share his interests. You can also check out his professional website, KevinThomasEagan.com.