We don’t describe things anymore.

‘Words cannot describe…’

I know you’ve heard this phrase before. Hell, you’ve probably used it a few times. I know I have.

I hate this phrase because it’s a blatant lie. Words are powerful and descriptive beyond what we’ve even accomplished with them so far. It’s one thing to use this in everyday speech, but to used this phrase in any piece of creative literature is a serious crime. We are writers. Our job is to describe things. We need to reach into the mortar between the bricks and show our readers the texture, we need to illustrate the way each cherry blossom falls to the ground, we need to take them to Venice and let them smell it for themselves.

In fact, I rarely see that in writing these days, either published or personal. For the most part, artists seem to describe things in vague, simple ways. Words like ‘amazingly, extremely, incredibly, unbelievably, fantastic, unimaginable (unimaginable? Really?)’

The list goes on and on, and sometimes they get a little more creative and use words like ‘breathtaking’ and ‘riveting’. These words are the constant victims of hyperbole, and are used far too often to excuse the writer from actually describing something. Most of the time, when I read something more ‘modern’ I am left with a very vague idea of what the artist was trying to say, with some generic images floating in my head as my brain struggles to understand what exactly was so ‘amazing’ about the scene sprawled out before the main character.

If Dante had really wanted to, he could have summed up Hell in one word. ‘Horrifying’. And that would actually be a pretty accurate summation of the place he created. But Dante decided instead to take us, circle by circle, torture my torture, down to the very bottom of hell.  Try to paint the Aurora Borealis, try to make the reader truly understand the awe they might feel if they actually saw a fleet of airships flying over the city.

Using the phrase ‘words cannot describe’ is an excuse for hyperbole. With enough time, with enough words and with enough imagination, you can describe anything.

Next time you write something, think of your reader as being blind, because they truly cannot see the world you’ve created in your head. If you want them to think it’s simply ‘incredible’ than tell them that, but the chances are much greater that you want them to understand why it’s incredible, and therefore you must describe to them, piece by piece, what your world looks like and how it works.

To hate what you create.

Everyone does this. After the joyous glow of creating something wears off (which usually takes an hour or less for me) we can suddenly begin to despise what we made. Maybe for a few days we’ll continue to go after our latest piece and admire it, like a proud father, but eventually most artists seem to inevitably begin to hate what they had created. Especially when they’ve started on a new project.

Invariably, if someone asks to see one of your completed novels, or perhaps peruse through last years sketchbook you might say, “Yeah that’s fine, but it’s nothing compared to what I can do now.” I know plenty of people who discard their old drawings and novels out of sheer disgust. “What was I thinking when I made that?”

But this is very, very much the wrong way to go about things. If you look back on something you created and see a myriad of mistakes, poor word choices, awkward character conversations and clumsily assembled settings, you should be proud. You should be proud of how far you’ve come.

The fact is, you needed to be that bad, to be as good as you are today. Each poorly written novel is a stepping stone on your path to mastery. If you can recognize what your novel needs, and you’ve improved on it, then there is no need to look back on your work with disdain. If that short story you’re so ashamed of didn’t have those silly plot holes, you may have never learned to recognize them.

And trust me, what you plan to write today, or during NaNoWriMo, will be laughable and pathetic a few months from now. But, that doesn’t mean you should laugh at it, because it was another step you took on your journey. Whenever I create something, I look forward to being able to go back to my old works, relive my experiences and patterns of thinking. To me, those old novels are trophies, sitting proudly on my bookshelf, each one, a struggle I overcame.

I really would love to end it on that note, but let me give a fair warning. I have a friend who writes more than anyone I know. Last time I checked, she had somewhere around thirty books under her belt. To her, writing is no less of a need than eating, sleeping or watching Game of Thrones. But she doesn’t improve. Not remarkably, at least, and she certainly doesn’t try to. Each piece is much the same, not that any are particularly bad.

I only share that to say this: If you’re not improving, then you don’t even have the right to turn your nose up at past projects. If you want to be disappointed in the poems and stories of yesteryear, then use that disappointment to drive you to new heights. You’re not trying to create a heap of words, you’re trying to create a path.