Who or what pops into your mind when you read the words tortured artist?
For me, it’s Vincent van Gogh. Imagine that that ginger genius had been a writer instead of a painter. A man like that would have worn his writer’s razor down as dull as it could go. His what?
The writer’s razor is what I call that self-mutilating voice inside our heads that tells us what to slash from our own writing. The best writers are constantly shaving. (Then why do so many of them have facial hair?)
Greg Kinear plays a best-selling author in Stuck in Love. In one scene he says, “I’m not a great writer. I’m a great re-writer.” I think about that line almost every day.
You should be your own harshest critic. Go back and read your sentences aloud. Do they sound perfect? Are they missing anything? Are there words that can be cut out? Is your writing brimming with fluff and cliché? Are you using the active voice?
Criticism sucks, but it sucks much less when you’re the one catching your own mistakes. Not many things in life offer second chances, but writing gives you a second and a third and a tenth chance.
Our job is to communicate what we mean as efficiently and beautifully as we can. Without our razors, we would get nowhere.
You’ve got to hate your own words. Scrutinize, analyze, realize, revise. Take your time. Get it right. It can be done.
Stephen King went through several razors when he was preparing The Stand for publication. He sliced about 150,000 words from the original manuscript. That’s nearly two Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stones!
Maybe Vincent van Gogh came to mind because he lived a tragic life. If he screwed up a painting, he had to throw the whole thing away. That’s tragic in itself. We writers don’t have to do that; we get to pull out our razors when we notice a blemish on our canvases.