discovering the freedom of iteration

I used to think editing was for bad writers. That is, until I started writing every day instead of only when I felt like it.

When I wrote every day I didn’t have time to mull over the words in my head until they were just right; I had to just write. At first it was hard to take the abstract process that found far too much freedom in the vast expanses of my brain space and put it onto two-dimensional black-and-white. I’m still learning how to do so, in fact. Sometimes it’s a real struggle — I have a few poems that attempt to express that in the book my heart poured out — but the struggle has been worth it. It has meant that I’m forced to put ideas down someplace physical instead of leaving them in my head where they were liable to be lost.

Writing every day made me realize that I’d been editing all along. I had kept the process in my head and only let the words out when I was sure they were near finished. Maybe they would need a touch of polish, but generally they were in the form they would take when published.

Sometimes I fall back into old habits. I wait until I have a complete idea before setting pen to paper. But usually I have had half a dozen other ideas in the meantime that I do put down in some form or fashion, whether it be a few-hundred word document, a sentence fragment in the notes app on my phone, or a few rambling phrases in my journal. Writing every day made me comfortable with all of these. It forced me to experiment — to write something — and discover the value in processes I wouldn’t have otherwise tried.

Most of all, writing every day showed me how much I have to say and helped me express it instead of letting it sit stagnant in some corner of my brain. Allowing myself to go back and edit (and delete!) frees me to write anything that comes to mind, no matter how seemingly stupid it is at second glance. In fact, I’ve found that plenty of the words I had expected to be stupid actually aren’t and I don’t delete them after all. I refine them, or file them away for later. It is only in letting them out that I can see their unexpected beauty.

So many of the poems in my heart poured out were this way. I wrote them simply for the sake of writing. Some I mulled over more than others before writing a first draft. Some I continued to edit right up until I finalized the book. Most of them would never have come to be, though, without the freedom to iterate.