Freelance writing is mercenary. I’ll write whatever; just pay me. But writing means more than putting food on the plate.

Last month, I had a writing win. I published a chapter in a book on youth work and spirituality. It was hard work, and I discovered welcome truths about the way I write.

First lesson, I blurt everything out, and then panic/edit. On a blog this wouldn’t be a problem – I’d space out the blurt into readable chunks and drip it out like water (torture?). But this academic chapter required me to distil my thoughts to 6000 precious words. I dredged up all relevant and tangential thoughts, and spewed them out in a long stream. Then I re-arranged some, re-wrote some, and deleted most. Painstakingly building a case does not combine well with blurting. But it has advantages. I catch gems of buried thoughts amid the landslide of words. You can see why some think editing is the ‘real’ creative work of writing.

Second lesson, reading makes my writing better, because it makes my thinking better. This is an old truth. But old truths need repeating. My preparation for the chapter was to immerse myself in a bunch of reading. As I connected new ideas to existing ones, and mentally sorted them, my thinking became a little sharper. This process often took place as I scribbled and drew my thoughts. In fact, I’m tempted to say that “writing is thinking”. But then I read Facebook, and recant.

Third lesson, my writing feels unoriginal. Hopefully not to you, reader. But often to me. The words limp around the page like an old cat. Sure, they come out in a splendiferous stream, but they lose their colour. I’m OK with this. Like a craftsman for whom the wood may become bland while creating a desk, so is the writer with words. Even now, I looked at that last sentence: the metaphor is tired, and the language slightly pompous. But you get the point.

All up, I should write more. It’s good for my writing, and it’s good for me.