effort v. output: the second of several posts on writing.

When the drafting is done, there are two sides to any publication: effort and output. Effort is what it takes to get something written, output is what is (eventually) suitable to be read. These rarely resemble one another as much as an author might hope, and the former always takes a greater than expected physiological and psychological toll. After effort is thus expended, it is next to impossible to objectively separate output from ugly.

Enter the necessary violence of editing. Output achieves readability not only through one’s own revisions, but by handing the raw results of effort over to someone (or someones, preferably) for purposes of critical dissection. Not only does every output-bound composition sift carnage onto the cutting room floor, each is followed by a trail of collateral damage proportional to the energy it took to produce. The greater the effort involved in a draft, the more its unnecessary elements are encouraged to proliferate, and the more crucial (and uncomfortable) this operation becomes.

bargain debasement

Being edited is not unlike striking a bargain: it requires a balance of strategy, realism, and self advocacy. That said, effort creates blinders that mask, from an author’s perspective, product flaws obvious to anyone else. Irrational attachment or inability to acknowledge these problematic elements are what makes the negotiation so often difficult. Despite an irresistible (albeit sometimes fair) urge on an author’s part to overvalue damaged goods, this emotional deathgrip is almost exclusively broken by critical editorial distance.

One certainty in the editing process is that much of what a writer thinks is essential is sure to strike any reader as superfluous. The challenge for an author becomes to identify those who are able and willing to provide actionable perspectives on their effort (or to try and accept those who have been assigned to do so) and then to discern what to incorporate or reject during the outputting. This is made more difficult by the personal relationships that simultaneously facilitate and complicate productive critique, and the night/day variations between any two editorial perspectives. Triangulating these into a substantive revision is, for lack of a more pleasant metaphor, like picking a scab: painful and perversely satisfying.

collateral detritus

Under skillful editing, effort’s qualitative detritus – from exhaustion to backaches to redundancy to self-doubt – is (and arguably should be) rendered almost invisible in output. A reader might tacitly experience if not wholly perceive a writer’s victory in publication, but as a result they rarely appreciate effort’s wake (particularly when output is received as mediocre). What scant formal evidence exists can be found in dedications and acknowledgments, where, particularly in scholarly and professional writing, the dispassionate objectivity veil is lifted so that abject apologies can vie with heartfelt thanks before being shoved aside by tables of contents.

For the comfortably literate, there are few imbalances as discomfiting as the ease of reading and the insane difficulty of writing. There is an inverse gulf between creating and consuming output: the more effortlessly a line of text is read, the more effort it took to create. Paradoxically, effort exists independent of quality: output can be panned or praised, but the labor that produced it is functionally indistinguishable. After running the publishing gauntlet several times, I flinch with post-traumatic empathy when I hear someone offhandedly criticize a random book or essay. Through an author’s ears, praise and critique pass back over the effort minefield before registering, usually somewhat worse for the mental wear.

defect dependent

Many glaring compositional issues result from a writer’s inability to accept that so much of their effort remains unknown to the reader. This creates the aforementioned struggle to release problematic habits, no matter how persistent. My own most prominent defect is simple: I run on. I have difficulty not only getting to a point, but keeping said point singular. Whether by uprooting unnecessary adverbs, reconciling redundant clauses, or purging purposeless adjectives, I end up eradicating a third to half of what I have written, and that is before passing along a draft.

Despite my awareness of this problem, I remain neurotically attached to my own effort and incapable of literal deletion. If you share this affliction, one strategy to reduce your and your editors’ discomfort is to keep a compositional b-side as you write. My own cutbits* are always lurking in the background, as an end matter area or secondary document where I packrat eradicated thoughts and text chunks related to any current project. Reading over these fragments is like listening to rough outtakes that never made it into a demo, and time and again I stumble across an idea or turn of phrase well worth recycling.

As humbling as it might be, this approach neatly reduces my risk of covering excessive ground while also reducing my fear of squandering labor. Cutbitting is one of many cathartic methods of making more use of effort. In my next post, I will explore how digital/social composition can be used to expose output’s underbelly and create a supportive community of toilers (in other words, what I am doing right now.)

If you missed it on the first go around, you can also read my first post in this series.

– – –


for being so long preoccupied

not to say that all of their output beyond and around said defect is perfect, by any means, but the one issue that dogs them as they go about the process of revising, editing, revising, and editing again.

in the way they output the effort

A good writer comes across as a siren song, making one of the more difficult, halting, and personal forms of production appear relatively effortless.

it is easy to read once once has learned to do so; writing does not carry the same charactieristic.

becoming more familiar, more process-oriented.

an author learns more about
writing self and builds skill of expression. that said, i would like to find one individual for whom writing actually is a second
nature. for most of us it is more like voluntary natural selection.

It is no surprise that the more effortless a piece of writing appears on its surface the more tortured was in its life

playing out in a context much more darwinian than disney.

As much as I wish more layers of the effort process were evident in
final composition, authorship in digital realms such as blogging and so forth achieves this to some degree – it exposes more beta

In a car, the output of the engineering can constantly be are more exposed: you can open the hood and examine what went into its production; whereas in a printed composition the more bolts are exposed the less likely it is to turn over. Not so with the layers behind creative and/or literary output.

consisting of gradual change.

Whether it is creative or utilitarian, all design

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