I recently watched an episode of The West Wing (Enemies, from season 1) in which Leo McGarry tasked Sam Seaborn with writing a birthday message for an assistant cabinet member. It was a ploy, with President Bartlet’s help, to keep Sam from dating Leo’s daughter, Mallory. Sam thinks the task beneath him (which it is) but easily dashes off the piece. The president then tells him it can be more, a level higher.
Oh, the accurate depiction of writing that follows. Sam goes down a rabbit hole that later involves his superior, Toby Ziegler. Editing, re-editing, trying to perfect every word, soon unable even to come up with an opening, needing to be precise about the fact that it’s a “birthday message” not a birthday card….
I am unable to write the simplest thing without multiple passes, including e-mail. If I write quickly and don’t bother to edit (and then go back and look later), I’ve rarely said what I really wanted to, in the way I wanted to, with the clarity desired. Or I’ve repeated words too close together. Or it doesn’t flow. Or a thousand other things.
I suppose there are writers who don’t have this problem. I envy them. I won’t say how many times I’ve edited a simple tweet or a post like this. The scenes in the WW episode are obviously played for laughs, and I don’t claim my work is remotely on the same level, but I recognize those writing demons all too well.
EDIT: Found this from the episode