Saturday Writers

Just write

I’m not a published author…yet.

I’m doing everything in my power to change that situation. I’ve belonged to writer’s groups to network and hang out with fellow writers – it’s good to know others who share my affliction. I belong to National organizations. I do the Facebook thing, love the Facebook thing. Groups are good. Networking is good.

I read all the how-to-write books I can get my hands on: how to write fiction, how to write description, how to sell your book, how to write winning query letters, how to find an agent, how to…how to…how to. These – I’m thinking – may not be so good. Sure, they give you information and if you’re a reasonably intelligent individual you find a way to weed through that information-overload for stuff you can actually use. Keep in mind that there are a LOT of so-called experts out there eager to tell you the right way to do everything imaginable. Maybe it worked for them. Might not work for you.

I’ve decided to try a different tactic. I just need to write! I need to park my butt in my chair and write….gosh darn it! I am a high stress person and don’t deal well with aggravation and missed goals. I’ve spent a lot of time lately reading all those how-to books, meanwhile stalling in my actual writing. I tell myself, “I’ll just finish reading this book, it will help me be a better writer…” but you know what? I’m still not published!

You know what else? I have fried a few valuable brain cells – brain cells I can’t afford to be without – just trying to do everything the how-to experts have been telling me to do!

One book tells me I need to show not tell, use more similes and metaphors to get your descriptions across. Another book tells me to NEVER use similes or metaphors…it is forbidden.

One source tells me I need to go completely dialogue…the wave of the future! You can get all the description you need in good, fast, smooth dialogue. While another source tells me to keep the dialogue at a minimum. Tighten it up.

Then there’s that “hook” you hear so much about. Gotta have it. But there are rules there, too. Always get goal-conflict-and-motivation in that first paragraph. Always introduce Hero AND Heroine in that first scene. Never start a book with a dead body in the first sentence…never start with a mundane scene of the main character waking up in the morning…never start with dialogue…always start with dialogue…never, always, never, always! SHEESH!

To throw further confusion into the mix, I read. I have many favorite authors - some older, some newer – and when I see the “never’s” in their storywriting it nearly sends me over the edge!  What is an aspiring writer supposed to believe?

Now my favorite authors are writing how-to-write books of their own! Just about every successful, high paid, bestselling author has one on the shelves. 

Have I included enough exclamation points in this blog to express just how stressed I’ve become at the abundance of “expert” information out there!!!

What is a wanna-be-published writer to do?

My answer? First, read…a lot. Not just the how-to books. Read stories you really enjoy reading. Do they read anything like how you want to write? How old are they? Have they been published recently? That will tell you what is acceptable in the publishing business right now, not what things were like thirty years ago. Times change, keep up with those changes.

Second, write…a lot. It doesn’t matter if it’s on a story you want to get published. Just write. It could be blogs, letters, articles, journaling, or short stories you write for your kids. Maybe just long emails during the day to family and friends. Just write.

Third, remember that what works for some people doesn’t work for others.

I’m not trying to sound like an expert on the subject. I’m not. I just know what I need to do, maybe it will work for other people who are trying to be better writers and get published.

Now, I need to get back to a book I’ve been reading…”How to Stop Reading How-to Books and Start Writing” by Dr. I. Noe Itall.

One Thought on “Just write

  1. I don't really agree on the "write ANYTHING" advice, cos writing a blog (which is informal non-fiction), an article (formal non-fiction), a letter, or anything else isn't going to help your prose improve. Working on a lawn mower engine isn't going to help you learn to fix a car engine. Although a lawnmower engine may help you learn a bit about how engines in general work, to learn specifically about to fix or troubleshoot car engines, you have to work on car engines. If you like writing blogs or articles or whatnot, more power to you; just DO NOT use them as a substitute for learning to write prose. If you really want rock-hard abs, doing bench presses aren't going to help. Writing non-fiction and writing prose are two distinct "muscle groups" with only a small bit of overlap.

    But insofar as everything else, how-to books are a good starting point, especially from the angle of learning how the publishing industry works, but I think all you really need to write well is the following:

    1) A firm grasp on grammar and mechanics (Strunk & White's "Elements of Style" is god for this)
    2) The ability to construct solid sentences
    3) Practice writing good dialogue (as opposed to writing REALISTIC dialogue, which sounds atrocious in prose)
    4) Grasp the essence and necessity of a scene (CHANGE! If somethiung doesn't change in the scene, it's unnecessary)
    5) Realize that "character EQUALS plot" rather than the other way around
    6) Know that stories must have a clearly defined beginning, middle, and end
    7) Show don't tell (although telling is okay when what you're telling isn't important to the overall story: there's no need to spend 5 pages detailing a horseback ride across the country if all you need is for the character to change locations)

    Everything else — the nuances of character, pacing, stakes, theme, etc. — comes with writing practice and by reading/studying novels to learn what works (and, importantly, what doesn't) and WHY. You CAN pick up some of these things from reading how-to books, but the difference between reading a droll list of mechanics and learning the same writing truisms for yourself is about as different as reading a description of a sunset and actually seeing it for yourself.

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