|The art of concentration|
Writing — here I mean revising, because you shouldn't hamstring yourself on draft one — is one place where self-consciousness is a good thing. Revision is the place to slow down and watch your word choices so you can purposefully gauge their effects on the sentence, paragraph, chapter and story — all of it, if possible.
It's essential to master this process because it's the only way to improve your writing. Sound grandiose? Not really. You can read the best writers, attend the best conferences, study at the best schools, but until you learn to develop your writing ear and critical writer's eye — for your own work above all — none of those tools will help. It's like reading a diet book and never putting the principles into practice.
So how do we use this technique? My favorite way is to take a blank page and write — a sentence, a paragraph or a chapter, whatever my goal is. Then I let it sit and do other things. When I return, I do what I'm doing now, take time to tinker. I cut every unnecessary word. I use a thesaurus to replace clichés and Google to replace generic terms with precise language, especially if I'm working on something topical. As I make each change, I consider how the choices will fortify the meaning of the section and story. To make things easier, I do this by scene.
Once I'm done, I let the work sit and repeat the process until I find myself changing words I've changed before. To make sure I've done the best job possible, I read the work in different venues, times of day and formats (single-spaced, double-spaced, online, printed, etc.). Each time I read, I read with awareness, as if for an audience — even if it's an audience of one.
Time and thought are heady things. Make the best use of them. Happy writing!
For more on the art of concentration, see The Art of Concentration.