Do not love your writing

Barred Owl in Ruth Park Woods

I paused in the piece I am writing about Ruth Park Woods, a scrap of forest only 23 acres large along a fetid creek and behind small businesses of Olive Boulevard. There was a paragraph I particularly liked but it was not fitting as I developed my ideas. Still I loved the way it sounded so I struggled to fit it in.
And then I remembered. Do not love your writing. Love what you have to say. Love your structure, the flow of words, how you get ideas across. But do not love any particular piece of your writing. It will tie you down, trip up the flow, and keep you from saying what you really mean.

When I was writing my book, Slow Birding, I remember I had a trick for dealing with those pieces I loved that did not quite fit. I created a second document and called it something like “Pieces of Chapter 2.” Then I could move those pieces that didn’t fit there. I did not have to throw them out.

As the story developed, I seldom rescued any of those pieces, but they helped me think about the topic. Throwing them out at that stage would have been too painful.

So, remember not to love your writing. You are in charge and paragraphs that don’t fit will cripple your story if you let them.

About Joan E. Strassmann

Evolutionary biologist, studies social behavior in insects & microbes, interested in education, travel, birds, tropics, nature, food; biology professor at Washington University in St. Louis
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