Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Some Things You Should Know About Writing (To Get You Started), Part 2

I continue from the previous post, found here.

3. The difference is not if anyone can do it, but how skillfully it can be done
You can write. Anyone can write. The issue, the unspoken part that everyone is too often shy to include is "well", as in: Do you write "well"?

Now this may not win my any popularity contests, but I'm not here to curry favor, I'm here to talk about writing in all the flavors, warts, shades and arenas. 

Yes, you can say that "well" is a subjective term, something that comes down to my opinion versus yours, and yes, just like Obi Wan Kenobi teaches us, that can be true from a certain point of view.

But let's go past this hand-holding schlock and be clear -- not everyone who's writing, hell, not everyone who's got books on the shelf or available for download, writes well. Sure, they can string together some paragraphs and stack together a few chapters that describe a story from beginning to end, but that's sort of like saying there's no difference between a newly paved highway and the old muddy path in the wilderness.

Writing well takes practice, skill and talent. You can learn how to make better choices, how to craft stronger and more evocative sentences and even become comfortable with the elements of story structure and novel development. But that's only because you put work into it, and you improved. That makes you somewhat of an exception.

A lot of people are going to stare a page until their eyes bleed, until they stroke out and until they reduce themselves into quivering masses trying to do what you did. Because, and there's no nice way to say this - not everyone is meant to be a writer.

Let that sink in. And before you flood my inbox, let me just point out that if this were any other skill, it wouldn't be much of an argument.

I can do some really simply juggling. I understand the hand-eye coordination. But that doesn't mean you want me at your next birthday party tossing chainsaws around.

I can identify most of the parts of my engine without having to Google them. That certainly means though that when your car makes a grr-khshunk-plock-plock-vrrrr noise, you don't call me.

I really believe that you know you're meant to be a writer the way you know you're meant to be a teacher or meant to be a parent or meant to be a llama farmer. It's as much a calling as a gift and while you can improve your skills at it, for some people it's just not in the cards that they write the next great best seller.

You should try, by all means, try your hardest. But you'll discover very quickly, (especially if you're honest with yourself) if you're meant to do this either more often, more professionally or with more enthusiasm.

4. Writing is going to teach, show and tell you a lot about yourself - you may not always like what you discover, but it may be important
When you're sitting at the desk, or stretched out on the couch, or set up wherever you go to write, even if it's the most crowded and noisy place possible, it still comes down to you and the page. The blank page. Staring at you with all that square whiteness. Taunting you with all the possibilities and openness and lack of words. And you're going to sit there for as long as your patience will let you (maybe a few seconds, maybe minutes, maybe hours) until you start filling that page with your thoughts.

Now along the way, as you tell that story about Abigail the sex-crazed milkmaid in love with Grutnar the Viking Prince, you're not just telling the story about some Swedish hussy and her berserker sex machine, you're showing part of yourself.

Okay, maybe you're not Swedish, and you've never considered the possibilities of being pillaged like a coastal town, but the act of writing about it awakens within you some revelations. You're going to find out what you like to say, you're going to express your imagination, you're going to spill not just fiction, but also some truth on the page.

Maybe that scene you wrote this morning where the Viking spills his mead and the woman throws the bowl at his head is what you wished you could do the last time someone at the office spilled coffee on you. Maybe that passionate lovemaking scene where the ecstasy was so potent it blew the thatch off the hut was how you wish your spouse was on Tuesdays after bowling league.

Your truth sneaks out in your fiction. You can't help it. You shouldn't even bother hiding it.

Maybe the fiction isn't the truth. Maybe the truth is in your approach to writing. Do you start a lot of projects and never finish anything? That's a fear of commitment. (If you do happen to do that, I have someone you should talk to, ASAP)

Do you tend to edit as you go along, so that you spend all this time, but never make any real progress? That's a whole heap of self-doubt. (And for that, I have two people you could talk to, here and here, ASAP)

(the last 2 will come tomorrow...here's the link.)