Friday, March 11, 2011
Top Shelf Writing
But do we write quality without compromise? Is your writing top shelf quality? (That's Grey Goose for you martini people and Wild Turkey for bourbon folks. Maybe Makers Mark.)
Let's use the liquor analogy. A bartender asks you if you want top shelf or not in your drink. If you haven't developed a taste for quality alcohol, you don't know. Is it worth the extra cost? Would you taste the difference? And would the people you're drinking with know the difference to warrant making a good impression on them by ordering the good stuff?
Those who drink the best stuff appreciate it. They can tell the difference. They've experienced the bad and the good, sometimes even done their research, and can list brands and why they excel.
So, when someone asks if your writing is top shelf quality, what do you say? Can you compare your writing with a successful author name or two? Can you define your style? Would a reader marvel at the way you mesh words and ideas?
A top shelf writer, of course, is in the eye of the beholder. However, you have to admit that successful writers usually know what they are doing. I don't like Stephen King's plots but I love his character development. I enjoy the plot of a Lee Child's book. Nobody defines place like Pat Conroy. While her books a little lightweight for my taste, Janet Evanovich splashes a humor in her mysteries that I adore.
Some writers avoid conferences, classes, reading how-to books. They simply write their own material. I've actually heard them say, "I don't have time to read." It takes monstrous muscle control for me not to roll my eyes on that one.
If you cannot recognize quality in other works, by other authors, how can you ever see it in your own?
That's why people study the craft. That's why most MFA people write pretty darn well. When you dissect writing, practice writing, and read successful writing, the technique sticks in your gray matter. You get it.
That's why so many professions require accredidation, licenses, degrees, residencies and internships. Writing, does not. However, that does not remove the need for you to learn how to do it well.
Let's say you don't care about the difference between top shelf and run-of-the-mill brands. It doesn't matter, right? Maybe not to you and maybe not to a few other people, but guess what? A lot of people out there know what's good and what's not. And they'll pass you right by for the better tasting stuff.
Take your time. Learn the right recipe. Discover how long it takes for your story to age properly. It may not take generations to figure out the best quality, but it does take time.