This is part of The Blogging Gauntlet of May 2016, where I try to write 500 words every day. See the May 1st post for full details.
When I look back on the posts I’ve been writing this month, I notice I’ve been using a lot fewer section headings than I did in my previous posts. Instead of making up a section title, I’ll add a divider like
And move on to the next topic. I wonder why?
One reason I’ve been doing this is that making up titles is hard. No, really, it’s awful. Fun fact: back when I first set up a personal site on Blogger, its title was actually “Titles Are Hard”. This was back when I indulged in recursion and self-reference a bit more than I should have. (I blame The Monster at the End of This Book for awakening that part of myself.)
Now, it may not have been a good blog title, but at least it was accurate. It is really hard to create a good section title, especially when I’m writing by the seat of my pants. When I use a title, the implicit promise I’m giving to the reader is that the title is going to be related to the upcoming section, possibly in some pithy way.
This is so hard to do well! Look, here’s how my writing has gone this month. First, I come up with some seed topic. From there, I let the idea germinate into whatever it wants. I then prune the extra leaves to make it appear like I had a plan of what to write all along. But, when I place pressure to produce more quickly, I don’t have time to do lots of pruning. To continue this tortured analogy, I allow the plant to grow with no constraints, realize I’m running out of time, trim the most blatant errant leaves, and reveal what I have so far. Then it’s on to the next plant.
For me, writing is this gradual process where I realize what I want to write after I write it. When the topic is always shifting under my feet, it’s hard to pick a title that matches the ideas I’ve been talking about. This blogging gauntlet is focused on raw output. That means there are no incentives to go back and decide on good titles, because that takes time, time I could spend writing more material instead.
Whatever cleanliness there is in my writing is simply the byproduct of whatever I find acceptable on that day, nothing more.
An Ending of Sorts
While I’m on this topic, you know what else is terrible? Endings. I have without fail hated my ending on every first draft. If I had the time that day, I would rewrite the ending again and again until it was acceptable. More commonly, I left it the way it was.
Much in the way that it’s hard for me to come up with a pithy way to sum up a section, it’s hard for me to come up with a nice way to end the post as a whole. Conversations don’t have a fixed ending, they continue until the points naturally die. In writing, the standards are different. People expect to read something to take home.
On the other hand, I’ve read several blog posts that also didn’t have a good conclusion. They simply stopped at the moment they said everything they were planning to say.
Maybe that’s okay after all.