Monday, January 23, 2012

the cringe factor


Ever since I enrolled at PNC three years ago, one of the questions that I’ve yet to have answered is when will this writing stuff get easier. That is, in terms of laying down sentences, paragraphs and pages without the need of constant revision. The answers have run the gambit, from the cliché practice makes perfect, to an honest probably never. But the one that hit the nail closest to the head came from a prof who allowed that most writers will someday experience a “cringe moment.” This happens upon looking over a published piece and seeing a glaring, or even minor error that somehow escaped the proofing, reviewing and editing processes. Not exactly what I wanted to hear, but the truth nonetheless.

Not long ago, I was at school to clarify the instructions for one of my English assignments. Since I was in the neighborhood, I decided to drop by my friend, and English Department Chair Dr.Jerry Holt’s office. Dr. Holt was also my 101 prof, and it is largely because of his efforts that I made it past the first day in class, as I came equipped with no study habits, (well good ones anyway). A conversation ensued, with Jerry asking if I had a few minutes to spare. It just so happened I did. All the while the printer in the next room could be heard humming away. 

After he excused himself, Jerry returned with a decent sized stack of double-spaced pages. This he explained was a short-story, to be entered in a professional writing contest. He also allowed that the work which exceeded 4000 words, had been written in the space of but a few hours! The piece had been mulled over in his head for quite a while, but the actual writing process was fairly straight forward. Many stories also reside in my head; the difficulty arises when it’s time to transfer them to the page. 

The tale he read aloud, in the same pleasing fashion that kept our 101 class on track for the semester, had me thoroughly engaged for a full 20 minutes. After he finished, he mentioned the piece would be dedicated to me; quite an honor. As I prepared to leave, I noticed a stack of Portals 2011 books on a table. Portals is the annual PNC publication that showcases student writing and art projects. Since a piece I submitted placed in the contest, I was anxious to see how it appeared. Jerry cautioned that this printing contained a few errors, primarily perforations from the wire binding impinging on some words; there would soon be a final corrected version. But as I flipped the pages, the physical presentation was not what was on my mind.  I was doing yet another proofing. The fact that the submission was now as good as set in stone mattered little. 

I was gratified that the editor caught a couple of questionable word choices, ones that have dogged me since I submitted the piece, but overall I was pleased with what I had written. One sentence in particular jumped out with a glaring, comma splice, but there were no other real cringe factors. I would like to believe that I’ve turned a corner, and all will be smooth sailing from now on. But that just isn’t how the game works. Dr. Holt once explained that there is the talent of writing, and one either has it, or they don’t. And there is the craft of writing, which can only be honed through hard work and dedication. So I guess it will never be easy. All I can hope for is to become more efficient as time goes on.

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