If in doubt, throw it out – a motto for writing

Quite a bit of what’s written – certainly in this day and age – is really practise, like a pianist running through those interminable Czerny exercises. And like those exercises, the result isn’t really intended to see the light of day.

Essential writing fuel!
Essential writing fuel!

I suspect a lot of it does, though – courtesy of the fact that in this age of self-publishing, anybody can publish anything. And a lot of people do. There’s often a mood in writing circles about the preciousness of words. ‘My babies’.

Actually, I’m a great fan of writers throwing stuff away. It’s important – surprisingly so, in fact. Words are merely a tool for expression. If they’re not right – or if the author is on a learning curve – then the best thing, sometimes, is to chuck out the old and re-write. That’s also good practise, because it forces authors to think about how they’re expressing themselves – and to work at tackling the problem from a variety of angles.

It’s a technique that even practised writers – the ones who’re ‘unconsciously competent’ at the art – have to use. Jack Kerouac, allegedly, wrote On The Road in one massive pep-pill fuelled burst. What we might not realise from the “scroll” that poured in one huge sellotaped roll out of his typewriter is that he’d already had several attempts at the book.

They weren’t failures. Kerouac abandoned them because they weren’t capturing what he wanted. But if hadn’t taken the time to get his thoughts into line by writing them, he wouldn’t have been able to then write the “scroll” as he did.

My axiom? Words are easy to assemble. Moulding them to the intended meaning is a lot harder. That’s why I say: if in doubt, throw it out. And (of course) start again. This time having had the practise of expressing the idea once. It’ll work better the second time.

Or the third.

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2015


6 thoughts on “If in doubt, throw it out – a motto for writing

  1. It doesn’t seem to matter how many edits (even after the editor) if I read over my work, I can always see something that could have been phrased differently/better.

    It is hard to discard stuff, but it it slows up the journey, then it needs to be cut. Save as an idea for somehting else, maybe – in which case it is fostering the ‘baby’ out for a while LOL
    Thanks, Susan

  2. This is so hard for me to do. I feel like a petulant child–it’s my words and I want them. Matthew’s article is not the first one I’ve read on this topic. If I question it, wouldn’t the reader also? While I was on seizure medication word-finding was difficult. That was a truly unique problem! Normally, I could talk your socks off. After struggling to find a word to use, I read it later and think maybe I don’t need it. The debate kicks in–you worked hard to find this word, keep it. No, it’s trite, unnecessary, awkward, throw it out.
    Over the past few years I’ve learned that an abundance of words is not what you want in writing. When I come across super wordy prose I think how boring. Again, if I don’t like it, why should others. Yet cutting them out is difficult. Words still occasionally elude me even though It’s been a year since I’ve been off the seizure med. My first worry is if I throw out that word, what can I put in its place. I have to stop and think–why does any word have to replace it. Can I say it in a better way? This is probably going to be one of those problems that will haunt me my entire writing career.
    Thank you for a good post.

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