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Sunday, 2 September 2018

Don't tighten your screws just yet! by Lucy Rycroft

Don't faint or anything, but I did a bit of DIY this summer.

It's not my particular skill, but seems to have become my domain, largely because it would seem I paid more attention in Design and Technology lessons than my husband did, and my kids can't be trusted with an open packet of Coco Pops, let alone a power tool.

(To give you an idea of the level of play here, before you start imagining me to be some gifted woodworker, the job of attaching a new swing to an existing frame took me 11 days. And I'm the best DIY-er in our family. God help us.)


Anyway, after finding several missing parts, making numerous phonecalls to the manufacturer and eventually receiving replacement screws in the post, I got to that classic line which appears in pretty much any instructions for any piece of furniture:

"Don't tighten the screws tightly at this stage."

In other words: there's more to come. There are a few additional steps which need to be taken, and tightening the screws at this early stage will make those steps difficult, or perhaps impossible.

But what are instructions for, except to be ignored? Of course I took not one bit of notice, and was wondering why the metal fixing I had worked so hard to screw into the swing frame appeared to be far too narrow for the swing I was attaching onto it, when my husband took one look at my efforts and told me to loosen the screws.

(OK, so maybe he was listening during the lesson on screws.)

Infuriatingly, I did just as the hubs had suggested, and yes, he was right, and yes, the swing fitted perfectly, and yes, he did take full credit for the task.

This year, I have painfully learnt what it means to keep your screws loose as a writer. Prior to 2018, I had written only for my blog, acting as my own proof-reader and editor, changing and adapting until I was happy enough to click 'publish'.

And then along came some writing work for a different website, one which had an editor - and the editor wasn't me. I would write and re-write something until I thought it was perfect. And then - gasp of horror - it would come back to me with edits. Like a teacher's red pen scrawled across a homework task you'd spent hours poring over, these 'suggestions' smacked me in the face and made me feel inadequate.

The worst was back in March. For months I'd had an idea in my head for an article on adoption and suffering - about how we shouldn't avoid suffering, how it can be redeemed by God, how it can draw us to Him.

I finally got round to writing a draft and, by this stage, was highly invested in it. So when it came back with so many edits that the damn thing would have to be entirely rewritten in order to meet my editor's demands as well as keep the essence of what I was trying to say in the first place, you can imagine how deflated I felt.

The problem was that I hadn't kept my screws loose. I had such a clear idea of what I wanted to say, and had been working up to it for so many months, that I didn't cope well when it transpired that my piece wasn't up to scratch.

Whilst you absolutely want to send your best work when pitching to magazine editors and publishers, I've learnt that once you have the job, sometimes it's best to keep your screws loose, send off a piece of work which is 'loosely' what you're intending, so that when it comes back with changes, you don't feel quite so much like your precious baby has been snatched away from you. 

A 'work in progress' is a healthy way to initiate dialogue between you and your editor. A 'finished article' is perhaps harder to adapt so that it meets the standards of both you and your editor.

It took me several months to work up the courage to rewrite the piece - and it actually made two articles in the end. Turns out that my editor had some pretty good ideas. Once I'd absorbed them, and re-thought how to articulate my own thoughts, I produced two pieces she was happy to accept.

If you're interested, the first was published recently, and can be found here - and the second should be published soon. Needless to say, it was far better for allowing my editor's input before tightening the screws, and the piece seems to have struck a chord with those who've read it.

So, writers - keep your screws loose! Keep an open mind while others read your work and make valuable suggestions. Then, when the time comes to tighten up, you'll have a rich set of thoughts with which to work.

Lucy Rycroft isn't very good at DIY, speaking French, playing football, or running. She's pretty awesome at Dobble, building Duplo towers and enduring 6yo performances of songs from The Greatest Showman. Lucy blogs at Desertmum, writes regularly for Home for Good and is thrilled to have a piece in ACW's forthcoming Christmas Anthology. You can connect with her on FacebookTwitter or Pinterest.

7 comments:

  1. What a great analogy! Good advice Lucy. And I love your description of your family's DIY skills. Not that I can relate or anything 😉 Great post x

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    1. Haha! We can't be good at everything, right?!

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  2. Excellent advice. You're so right - you can spend hours on a piece of work getting it 'right' only to find out that someone else's idea of 'right' isn't the same as yours. I've been bitten that way plenty of times. Arrggh!

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  3. Great piece Lucy - and just what I needed to hear today! Thank you.

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