Don’t Get It “Right,” Get It Written!

Remember the scene in “Throw Momma From the Train” where Billy Crystal has terrible writer’s block because he can’t decide whether “the evening was hot,” or “the evening was moist?” And later, when Momma suggested “The evening was sultry,” it gave Billy Crystal incentive to actually kill her?

You can spend hours futzing around like that because you can’t decide on a particular word choice. Or what to name a character. Or whether a particular factoid should be mentioned in Section 2.1 or 3.4. I have wasted hours clicking through photo libraries looking for the perfect illustration.

Scruit, because time and deadlines wait for no man.

There is art in technical writing. There is science. There is mastery and craftsmanship. And these are largely private joys in the profession because most of the time somebody is going to be absolutely thrilled that you managed to get words on paper at all (and then they’ll tear it apart in concurrence).

There are tales of the genius laboring for ten years in his garret to produce one great novel, hailed by critics and sophomore lit teachers alike as masterpieces. As if you want to be all profound and artsy fartsy, by all means invest in a beret and black eyeliner, and warm the chair in a coffee shop rhapsodizing about the eventual arrival of your Muse and you you’re going to be famous some day and That’ll Show Them.

My Muse has a stopwatch in one hand and a pink slip in the other. A two thousand word white paper, due Monday close of business. Three annual reports to update by the end of the fiscal year, plus getting all my project milestones completed and documented before the funding is closed, and by the way comments on the new version of the manual came back from Upstairs and They Are Not Happy At All. Chop chop! And did we mention that the manager who has to sign off on all of that is going on vacation so the deadlines have all been moved up a week?

At that point all you can do is sit down and work. You write the parts you know. You write the parts you don’t know in a different font so you can go back and revise them later when the data comes in. You make a tentative stab at a conclusion just so you can prep the executive summary. Polishing your prose involves a few minutes with steel wool and elbow grease and turning the dingy side to the wall and hoping nobody will notice.

And by the end of the day when your skull sweat has run down your ears and you finally get five minutes to look at the morning headlines, you’ve actually accomplished something. Which is a hell of a lot better than waiting around for the right word to mosey your way.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.