Writerly laundry, part 2: Polished prose

Writing is hard work. At least, I think so. When I was younger, I didn't worry about my prose. It was all about getting an idea out. And whatever way it came out was fine by me.

But this can't last forever. As an adult, you learn from experience what could happen if you don't mind your words. They might carry the wrong message, get misconstrued, cause some real trouble. Not caring about words is a luxury offered by childhood and the first draft. But as the great Stephen King says, "To write is human, to edit is divine."

Yesterday, I showed you a cringe-worthy draft. Let's now see what happens when we put it through the edit-o-matic:

Egocentrism is the regard for oneself as the centre of all things - me me me! It's a phase children go through while their minds are still developing. A child still in an egocentric stage of cognitive development (known as the pre-operational stage) will struggle to see things from the viewpoint of another.

For example, when buying a gift for someone, the child will choose a gift based on what appeals to themselves, rather than to the recipient. It's not until the child develops a stronger theory of mind that they can appreciate what another person wants, thinks and feels.

Adults demonstrate egocentrism too. It's fair enough to say we fall back on childish patterns when we're tired, stressed or under high cognitive load.

As a writer, I look at the progress of my writing along this egocentric spectrum. When I'm in the outline and first draft stages, I'm so wrapped up in pulling ideas together that I don't have the brainpower to consider how an audience might respond to it. I'm casting a wide net of thoughts so none of the good stuff slips through, and it's hard work keeping track of all those thoughts!

Hence a first draft that only makes sense to me, using my idiosyncrasies and inside jokes that may seem offensive to anyone else. I'm in child mode, having a tantrum at the page.

Once those ideas are down, though, it's time to grow up and explain myself so others can understand. Editing is the puberty that bashes out my clumsy infantile grammar, and adds an attractive shape to my narrative.

By the time my prose is ready for publishing, I've reached a kind of adulthood. The proof is a piece that's adjusted to existing in the world with other people. And hopefully isn't complete bullshit. :)

OK, enough hard work for today. I'm going to bake a cake.

Bloody... you try to be healthy and cut down on sugar, then you hear "banana mocha Herman cake" and don't know what to believe anymore.