The Seventh Copy

Ivan Turgenev, Archive image

The legend has it that the famous Russian writer Ivan Turgenev (1818–1883) always wrote seven copies of his works, each previous one serving as a draft for the next one. Only the seventh copy was good enough for publishing.

Although it may sound excessive, it emphasizes several important points about writing.

Writing is a craft

And like any craft, it needs — well — crafting, molding, bending, stretching, till it reaches the point where it’s “just right”. I wholeheartedly disagree with that writing advice that you should write one article a day in order to get good. It’s a craft; craft your articles, which means, work on them till they feel right and convey exactly what you wanted to say. The amount of time you spend on it is irrelevant.

My wife is a professional artist. Watching her working in her studio, as a laic, I often wondered about how she determines when a piece of art is “ready”. I’ve been seeing some drawings in her studio for weeks, while she’s working on them. To me, they were ready a couple of weeks ago. But not to her. When I asked her about it, she replied: It has to feel right!

So, don’t release anything into the “wild”, till it feels ready!

Writing should be an art form

Not just pointless “How to” articles, or regurgitating Stoic’s philosophy. Yes, the topics of your writing are important, but so is the form, the writing style. By style, I don’t mean those articles that offer advice on how to game the platform in order to get claps, likes, comments: I mean “artistic style”. Your prose has to be compelling, original, unique — you as a writer should have a unique voice. Readers should recognize your writing after reading a couple of sentences.

Full disclosure here: I don’t consider myself to be a writer, at least not yet. But, even as a hobbyist, I strive to bring a unique perspective to the topics that I write about. I’m working on obtaining my “writer’s voice”, not just technically — although knowing more about the mechanics of writing helps — but also from that “uniqueness” perspective.

Not everything that crosses your mind is worth publishing

Our notebooks are full of ideas, drafts, sketches. Most of them never see the light of a day, deservedly so. Determining what’s worth pursuing and what isn’t is an important part of writing.

Writing has to relevant

Socially, first and foremost. Your writing has to resonate with potential readers. If it’s too esoteric, regardless of quality, it won’t be popular.

Writing has to be engaging/relatable

People should want to read your writing. No amount of persuasion and scheming is going to achieve that if the writing isn’t engaging.

Be concrete and direct

Avoid vague over-generalizations, your readers will be thankful.

Guilty as charged here: my early pieces are all about ideas, without enough attention being paid to research/details.

It has to be clear and concise

Novaways, I doubt that anybody would have the time and energy to read Proust’s In Search of Lost Time (Remembrance of Things Past). By the time he finished writing it, it had seven volumes, or twelve books!

It has to have a point

Readers should be able to take something out of your writing. Not in a didactical sense, by rather on a personal level. It has to resonate with them.

Try to be original

Yes, you can make money as a writer by regurgitating popular topics, but, unless you have a unique take on those, what’s the point? How is that fulfilling? Instead, finding and cultivating your unique voice and style is what matters, even if it takes more effort and time.

Express yourself

Recently I read an article here that talks about virality (i.e. how to write a “viral” article). Although it was well written, I couldn't shake the feeling that it emphasized more on how to write an article that’s going to be popular and well-performing on this platform, rather than on expressing your unique standpoints on a given topic. Yes, being successful in what you do is important, but it doesn’t have to be at the expense of your expressiveness/originality. What would you rather have: a unique article that matches what your feel and what you want to say, or an article that regurgitates a broad topic that’s been covered zillion times? I’d go with a former. That still doesn’t mean that your article shouldn’t be well written.

Don’t run the writing mill

Writing is not factory work, where you have to produce a quota. Yes, having healthy deadlines helps, but only to a point. I’d rather publish one good/well-thought-out story per week (or two weeks), than producing one “meh” story a day. Let it simmer for a while: it will only be better, once you decide to publish it.

Danilo Kiš, a renowned Yugoslavian writer back in the ’80s, was giving an interview to a newspaper. The interview went smoothly, till the journalist asked:

Mr.Kiš, why do you write so little?

What do you mean?! — replied Kiš, hastily.

Well, you publish very rarely. Other writers publish a lot more.

Aaah, that. You see, I’m not interested in writing collected works, so I write selected works instead. — replied Kiš, smiling.

To recap:

  • Writing is an art form, and also a craft. Treat it as such.
  • Don’t publish your essay till it feels ready.
  • Try to write socially relevant, engaging pieces that are concrete, direct, and concise.
  • Be mindful of the message your want to convene with your piece. Everything starts with an idea.
  • Try developing a unique, original voice. It’s easier said than done, and it gets better with experience.
  • Don’t feel obliged to publish frequently. I know this is counterproductive; unless your only goal is to get clicks and reads, of course.
  • Be patient with your writing. It’s all in the details and nuances, and learning the craft.

Notes:

  • The statements above are just my opinions, nothing more. They may or may not make sense to you.
  • This essay was written mostly from a reader’s perspective (e.g. what I like to read), since I don’t consider myself a writer, in a full sense of that word. But, I’m an avid reader and, as such, have developed a “taste” for literature over the years.

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“The only person you can’t learn from is yourself” — Anonymous

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“The only person you can’t learn from is yourself” — Anonymous

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