It brought me up short, made me gasp and blush scarlet: the big bad blooper confronting me in my own “free-written” blog post.
I’d dashed off the piece in five minutes as invited to, then online-published with an instant click, “no editing, no overthinking.” Now, after that thing had sat long out in public, I saw the miswording! My statement about a famous quote came across as if claiming I’d been its coiner!
Yow! I must have had a brain cramp in my groggy, pre-dawn scribbling, warping the thoughts in my head into a word fold-over: I’d been trying to come up with (i.e., remember) the saying, from my poorly functioning memory bank, and had typed the words “came up with” about the quote!
Now, after I cooled my red face and quickly edited the post, I firmly decided this was my last “free-write-and-instant-publish”—ever!
Thus (I hope!) I’ve finally “hit bottom” with my writing recklessness and become firmly committed to a principle I’d already known as wise about any piece I write: “Give it ‘sit time’”! (Put it aside somewhere out of sight for a given time—two weeks is ideal, but at least a day or two is crucial.) Then, before publishing or submitting, reread “with fresh eyes;” scrutinize it carefully, proof-read, and edit.
It wasn’t that I’d never experienced flashing inner warning lights and flapping red “Caution!” flags about this issue before. How many times had I sat with my finger hovered over that “publish” button, full of misgivings before I chalked them up to timidity and forced my finger down onto the spot? How many times had I gone ahead and published and then in the next half-hour or so rushed back to my blog to move the now public piece out of view into the “trash”? (If you’re subscribed to my email notices, you’ve probably seen evidence of this, when clicking a link to a post, and coming up with nothing but a no-such-post message.)
Those of us with a writing bent also have a responsiblitity—to use it… responsibly! Careless words can cause not only confusion and chaos, but even human misery we never intended or at all desired.
We also have a responsibilty to use well whatever gift we have, to put forth our best efforts, check our “facts,” polish our wording, and produce the highest quality outcome we can.
High quality is seldom the immediate result of a five-minute free write.
Free writes help greatly to get the brain gears creaking, wake up thoughts lying dormant, even reveal passions hidden or denied. What emerges in a genuine free write sometimes startles its own author, alerting her to something badly needing attention. In any case, it’s just the first step, the rough sketch, not the final painting.
How often have I heard it at writer’s conferences or in written advice to authors: “There are no great writers. Only great rewriters!”
So let me become a better writer by aiming toward great rewriting, along with craft development, method polishing, and all the rest—which all take time.
Worthwhile writing is also about truth and depth, and the white space of silence. To pen vital truth in powerful words, we need first to stop, be quiet, and listen: for the lessons of living, for the beauty and hope resonating around us, for the inaudible voice of God, experienced only through immersion in and focus on His presence, tuned in to His Spirit, and harmonized with His word. So let me end with these words of Henri Nouen:
A word with power is a word that comes out of silence. A word that bears fruit is a word that… reminds us of the silence from which it comes and leads us back to that silence. A word that is not rooted in silence is a weak, powerless word that sounds like ‘a clashing cymbal or a booming gong’ (1 Cor 13:1).
All this is true only when the silence from which the word comes forth is not emptiness and absence, but fullness and presence, not the human silence of embarassment, shame, or guilt, but the divine silence in which love rests secure.
-Henri Nouen, in The Way of the Heart