I was recently struck by this tweet:
Japanese believe that when something’s suffered damage and has a history it becomes more beautiful. – Barbara Bloom pic.twitter.com/BZ7OIzRazK
— Mateusz M (@themateuszm) 2 July 2016
I always love discovering words for which there is no English equivalent. And not only does this one describe a powerful metaphor for life, but it also occurred to me that the idea may be applied to writing.
You know when your text is good, you can feel it. It starts to fizz and fly; it excites you. And if that’s the case – great!
But what if it doesn’t excite you? What if your text is pleasing enough but safe and comfortable, a perfectly attractive and functional piece of pottery but a bit dull and indistinguishable from a million others?
Well, there’s a simple thing you can do. If your writing’s not really doing it for you, break it up.
I don’t mean do a bit of gentle editing or polishing – or even smashing up your computer keyboard and screen with a hammer (however much we may all like to do that sometimes).
I mean be detached and ruthless: take a meat cleaver to your text and smash it up instead.
How to do this? Split it up paragraph by paragraph, sentence by sentence. See if they’ll work in a different order. You may find your ending works better elsewhere in the text, for example, and the exercise may spark new associations and ideas.
You may also find yourself getting rid of bits that aren’t serving the text. If you can’t bear to throw them away, create a file or section at the end of your text called ‘Trimmings’. This is where I move things I don’t want for that particular piece, but which might work in another project.
Think of it as an extreme form of editing. It might hurt to smash your piece of pottery but the risk will be worth it. Because it will at least make it more interesting.
The paradox is that by causing temporary damage to your text you’re transforming it, deepening and strengthening it, and layering it with gold.
This technique will also help you see your text in new ways and will work with all kinds of writing, whatever the length. Because a big part of writing is not ‘writing’, but rewriting.
And of course, if you’re into safety nets, unlike Japanese pottery, you can always keep your original if you want to go back.