“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me:
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”
This quote appears on the Statue of Liberty, and it’s part of a poem by Emma Lazarus. Most of us are familiar with at least the first line and a half, as it is often quoted during discussions about immigration and a host of other topics. The “new America” wasn’t a land for perfect people. Instead, it was a place for those seeking, among other things, freedom and rights that had been denied to them in their homelands, hence the long and sometimes treacherous voyage to our shores. It was a land that welcomed the “worst” people with open arms and gave them the promise of hope based on their hard work.
As an editor and a writer, I want to change it a bit to help budding writers and people who dream of writing, but are unable to put the first words on paper:
Give me your run-ons, your fragments,
Your misused homophones and comma splices,
The broken English of your unfocused paragraph.
Send these, the dangling modifiers, the misspelled words to me:
I use my “Track Changes” feature to set you free.
Yes, it lacks the rhyme scheme of the famous original work, but you get the picture. The point here is that you might feel as if your writing, like the “huddle masses,” is imperfect and might be “tired” and “poor.” You might be right! However, with hard work, you, too, can have the promise of hope. If my point is still muddled, let me state it plainly: Don’t let your writing challenges stop you from telling your story. You don’t have to be perfect at it; you just have to be willing to give yourself something to work with.
Your first draft is just that: a draft. It’s likely that no one will ever see it because you will revise it many times before you present it to anyone for serious review. When you are just beginning to put words on paper, don’t obsess over spelling and punctuation, and don’t worry about having perfect writing that will make your high school English teacher regret all of the red marks he or she put on every single essay you ever submitted. The first goal is simply to get your ideas from your brain onto paper. If you can do this, you have taken a huge step toward reaching your writing goals!
As an English professor, I encourage my reluctant writers by telling them to give me their worst effort, not their best one. “I want you to totally mess it up. Get it completely wrong,” I tell them. I started doing this after I realized that saying “Do the best you can” put pressure on students to focus on minute, irrelevant things unrelated to the actual content of the assignment. I’m not suggesting that things like punctuation, spelling and sentence structure aren’t important. I am, however, suggesting that they aren’t that important at the beginning of your writing process. Those things can and should be corrected and improved during the revision and editing processes, which happen later. Instead of focusing on where to place a comma or spending precious time trying to figure out what in the world semicolons are for, focus on just getting your content written. Here are three basic tips that will help you get started if you have a great story you’ve been trying to write for months, years, or even decades.
Continue reading Stop Obsessing and Start Writing!