Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Writing and Winter Car Washes

How could you make your project shine?

This weekend I finished judging more than 130 pieces of published writing for a national magazine contest. A few days earlier, in mid-February Colorado, I took advantage of a break in the weather to wash my winter-encrusted minivan.

This morning I reflected on the relationship of car washing and writing — especially revising.

I’ve been driving that minivan for nearly twelve years. While never flashy, it’s fabulously practical. I’ve hauled cargo for conferences and friends to concerts. With regular upkeep and occasional repairs, it’s still running strong.

But midweek, all I saw was the grime from four months of winter. Yet the forecast called for unseasonable warmth. Thursday after lunch the thermometer said 71 degrees. Time for me to wash the van.

The water from the hose was cold, but the sun shone brightly. I began spraying the van to loosen the crust. The suds, sponge, and spray performed their magic. In a half hour, my minivan shone.

But it wasn’t perfect. Yesterday before I drove to see a friend in a medical facility, I noticed a few spots I’d missed. A few moments with a damp towel, and those flaws disappeared. I drove to Denver no longer distracted by the van’s appearance. I could concentrate on my driving and the reason for the trip.

Purpose ranked high as a criteria as I judged the writing contest: how fresh and powerful was the idea being conveyed. Equally important was the writing’s result for a reader: the takeaway.

For the idea to connect required two components: the method used to convey the content and the quality of the writing. Were readers invited into the piece, made to feel welcome, and transported smoothly to the end?

All the contest articles had been published. All conveyed some potentially useful information. But few of them really shined.

Yet they could have. Most of the problems were obvious — and potentially easy to fix:
● Beginning on topic
● Staying on topic
● Speaking the reader’s language
● Taking a consistent approach
● Citing specific examples
● Using simple, direct prose
● Maintaining eye contact

When I washed my van, I did the best I could for February. With other projects pending, I had only a half hour. But that fixed the biggest problems.

My van wasn’t transformed into a new Lexus or a custom ’57 Chevy convertible. Just a clean Plymouth minivan ready to do its job. That was enough. As I drove to see my friend, I enjoyed the ride.

1 comment:

Diana Flegal said...

Great analogy, Andy. May your van continue to run well, taking you and your friends on marvelous adventures.