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All Good Writing is Rewriting
January 23, 2012 |
Dear Mr. Keillor,
I am 38, a Ph.D. candidate in U.S. history for three years at Kent State. I'm writing my dissertation on U.S. civil defense during the Cold War and how gendered language led those efforts to fail. I have written...about 35 pages.
It seems like every few months, I hear about another contemporary earning his or her doctorate, and even though I know I'm a good writer, I'm feeling increasingly inadequate and hopeless.
My question is this: how do you pacify the voices in your head that conspire to make you feel like whatever you write will not be good enough? That if your work is not perfect, even the first time, it means you are an abject failure? In other words, how do you make peace with the omnipresent potential for mediocrity?
Melissa Steinmetz, a Perfectionist Ph.D. Candidate with Procrastination Problems
Welcome to the club, Melissa. A lot of us get discouraged looking at the mess we've made on paper. And one can make an even worse mess on a screen, sprawling windy pretentious paragraphs that any sensible reader would automatically leap over. Writing on a computer is an exercise in mediocrity, if you ask me. Just keep telling yourself: the first draft has to come before the second and the third. All good writing is rewriting. If you're writing on a computer, print out hard copy and revise it with a pencil and then type the revisions into the digital version. Don't give up. There is an embittered editor up in your brain who expects your first draft to be classic literature. Tell him to sit on it and spin. Finish the dissertation before you're 40, kid. At 40, take a year off and work as a chanteuse in a roadhouse, leaning against the baby grand in your little black dress slit up to the thighs, a cigarette in your left hand, singing bittersweet ballads for lovelorn truckdrivers.