Quarterly Column Archive
Unconventional Writing Wisdom
You've probably already made your resolutions about writing. Maybe the following advice will help keep you on track, or shake things up. Whichever, I hope you are able to overcome some of the things that tend to hold you back in this new year.
I know what you're thinking: Writing is 90% perspiration and 10% inspiration. True, maybe. But this advice is for beginning writers who are still learning the basic elements of their craft. How can you perfect something when you are still learning how to do it?
Write a story to the end, and then start another. Finish that poem and move on to the next. Writers learn by writing, so write. If you don't believe me, here's Jonathan Lethem's advice to new writers:
"The most germane bit of advice I have is to not bog down in writing one thing over and over again early on, but to finish something and move to the next, and then to do that again and again and again Err on the side of writing things and letting them go and working on next things, and you'll learn much more quickly."*
Don't join a writing group.
The problem with writers groups is that work is often written by committee, or a writer becomes paralyzed by all of the conflicting advice given. If you're a beginning writer, write in the dark for a while. Develop a personal style before asking people for feedback on your work. Or if you do join a group, ask for general, rather than specific, feedback. But don't seek general feedback until you've written something through to the end.
If you're an intermediate or advanced writer, write a number of drafts until you feel confident about what the story or poem is trying to do. Then seek feedback. The best writing is writing that comes from deep within a writer. If you want your writing to be unique, it has to come from you.
Don't fall prey to the voices that say, "Show, don't tell."
What does this mean, anyway? Stories are told, right? I think this is one of those pieces of advice that takes the easy way out. It's pat advice. Don't listen to it. Ask questions back instead. Does the scene lack immediacy? Details? Depth? Specificity? Which of your senses are engaged when you read this scene? Do the characters come to life inside of you?
Here's what Strunk and White (The Elements of Style) have to say on the following topics:
Use definite, specific, concrete language. "The greatest writers are effective largely because they deal in particulars and report the details that matter. Their words call up pictures."
Omit needless words. "Vigorous writing is concise This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell."
This is the year to develop confidence in your voice and style. Write like a demon. Trust your gut.
March Hare: Start at the beginning.
* from the Writer's Chronicle, Oct/Nov 2006