This week’s blog topic was particularly challenging for me. I mean, there’s so much to choose from as far as “bad writing” in my archives. Nevertheless, the title harkens back to my undergrad college days when, after pulling one of those famous “all-nighters” trying to finish that paper by the next-morning deadline, I’d finish typing and sit hunched over the typewriter moaning, “This is the worst thing I’ve ever written.” Sometimes I was right, sometimes not. The problem was I was too immersed in the project to think straight. I’d lost my objectivity.
Objectivity is important. Years ago I remember seeing an old video of some test subjects who’d been given amphetamines during an experiment to test the effects of the drugs on athletic performance. The test subjects ran through a timed obstacle course, and then were subsequently given the drugs to see if the substance enhanced their abilities. The video showed the intoxicated expression on the face of one participant as he joyously exclaimed, “I must have broken the world record.” In reality, he had not. In fact, his time was longer than the preceding, drug-free day. The drug merely made him think that he’d performed well. The same thing applies to a pugnacious drunk who suddenly acquires “beer muscles.”
As I said, it’s all a matter of perception, or, as one of the guys on my squad at the police department used to say, “Perception is reality.”
Perhaps he should have added “Objectivity should rule perception.”
Recovering one’s objectivity, and balancing the perception that has become “reality,” is best accomplished by separating yourself from the task, or work, at hand. As I’ve mentioned in past blogs, when I finish a writing project I like to set it aside for a period of time and do something completely unrelated to the work. I call this the fermentation stage. It’s a good time to engage in some recreational reading, or even take a complete break from the wordsmithing. It’s also an ideal time to hand your completed work to someone else to read and review. Giving it to a trusted first or beta reader is a good idea, as long as you have the right reader. I’ve been blessed with several good ones upon whom I’ve depended. They’ve helped me make my work better… A lot better. Taking that break allows me to regain my perspective and recover that degree of objectivity to determine if what I’d written was, in fact, among the worst I’d ever penned. Once again, it’s time to reassess things and revise, rewrite, and polish.
It looks like we’ve come full circle, as King Lear said. Going back to those not so halcyon college days, I also recall all those blue book essay exams that required an in-class, written explanation of an essay question. The question lingers, if revision is essential to good writing, how could you possibly revise those when you don’t know the questions before you walk in the classroom? I found an easy solution. I would sit down the day before the exam and compose answers to imaginary questions. After writing these clever responses, I’d tighten them up. I found that if I paid attention in class, I could anticipate the professor’s questions with a degree of accuracy. Even if I couldn’t, I pretty much knew what the points were that the teachers had stressed, so it was just a matter of steering my written responses to the question to one of my previously composed answers, which I’d already objectivity evaluated and revised.
In a way of summing things up, I suppose I could say the worst things I’ve ever written were the things I didn’t have time to revise.