I am a beginner. I am a plodder. I will win no races. My fingers find the Backspace key more often than they find the productive parts of a QWERTY keyboard. I could not have written years ago. I could never have afforded the cost of Wite-Out. I write. That doesn’t make me a writer. When Jay Mariotti went after what he considers the bottom of the bird cage in the sports writing profession, he probably was talking about guys like me.
I come up with tremendous ideas that never see the outside of the My Documents folder. The ones that do survive undergo a tortuous process. My poor, poor early drafts, they must feel like an uninsured patient being operated on by a first year medical student at a bad teaching hospital. There’s blood everywhere. Dangling participles. Run-on sentences. Strangled prose. My process resembles an episode of “The Knick.” I’d give anything to find the knack, but you work with what you’ve got. What else you gonna do?
So, imagine my delight at finding this—this being a piece on writing from the website randsinrepose. The author at randsinrepose is an accomplished Silicon Valley tech engineering manager with an impressive resume. He’s also quite a fine writer. I found him by accident. In a bit of serendipity, I’m also a tech manager, so the topics tend to resonate.
And lo and behold, it turns out the author’s writing experience is not all that different than my own!
Rands takes us through his process, from the initial joy of finding that new brilliant idea, on to the slog of fleshing out the piece, to finally the most painful part of the process: the finishing.
“While you should be suspect of this graph because it is solely drawn to support this article, what I’ve learned in the past decade of writing is, “When you think you’re done writing a piece, you’re only 50% done.” It’s that math that I’m weighing as I finish adding depth. Do I see enough value in a piece that I’m willing to double the amount of time I’ve already spent on a piece to finish it?”
I’m living this right now. I have a piece on Joey Votto. I’ve been working on it for almost a month. It’s been done for over a week. It’s currently sitting in the bullpen over at The Cauldron at SI waiting for an editor to pass judgment.
And here’s the thing: I cannot leave the piece alone. I keep going back, tweaking, reworking, moving paragraphs around. “Oh, my god, this is in the wrong place. This is terribly written. Is this really how I want to say this?” To be clear, I finished the damn piece! And yet, I continually hack at it, like a beginning sculptor whittling his creation down to a stump, then slapping on more clay to hide a poor construction. Somewhere deep in my parietal lobe, I know haven’t really finished. I’ve settled.
What Rands is really talking about is doing the hard work after the interesting part is done. It’s a slow process. But I’m glad I’m not alone.