Thursday, May 03, 2012
Keep Making It Better
Just deciding to write is not easy. Not when faced with a job, family, and other pre-existing obligations. But you go ahead and decide, and you feel all cozy about yourself. Good. It's the first step on a long journey, but you took it. Yay you!
But no new writer writes well. Your family and friends might like your work. They do not count . . . at all. You must educate yourself through formal education, an endless assortment of self-help and how-to efforts, and mentors. You must hone grammar, syntax, story arc development, dialogue, setting, and characterization--not just know what it is. You must be able to recognize writing that has a good grasp of each topic, then you practice it until you hate it. Then you practice it again. Then you practice it again. You practice it so many times you have to remind yourself why you're being so anal about it. You almost want to quit. You think nobody will appreciate going the extra mile.
You want total strangers to like your work. Strangers who know how to write, edit, and make a living with words.That means you have a voice and know how to use it. If you aren't sure what your voice is, you haven't found it. So keep practicing, learning, writing, tossing, deleting, and rewriting. Enter contests, join critique groups, hire editors.
A journalist friend ate lunch with me recently, and she mentioned how hard she was trying to learn how to write fiction. I asked what she'd done. She hadn't written a word. Instead, she was studying how to outline, how to flesh out characters, how to do a story arc, and so on. She was researching and setting herself up, getting all her tools in place to get started. Not writing. I looked her in the eye and said, "Just write. Pick a good scene and start the book."
"I know," she said, but we'd had this conversation before, so I wasn't sure she really did know.
"Write that story," I said. "Then when you get to chapter 33 or whatever the final chapter is, read the book over. You'll realize it stinks. Throw it away."
Her eyes flew wide. "Oh, I could never do that."
"Why not? By the time you get to that final chapter, especially on a first time novel, your writing will have grown so far that chapter one is nowhere near the caliber of that last chapter. You'll do major rewrites anyway. Keep a hard copy for posterity, but start over with nothing more than an outline. You'll realize after the next rewrite that you've once again outgrown chapter one. You may not throw it away then, but you do some serious cutting and readjustment. Over and over . . . until you realize a voice has surfaced and chapter one isn't much different than the last one. And you do from beginning to end as many times as it takes, exorcising all the silly little demons in your work."
She winced, scrunched her nose and shook her head again. "Nope, I'll never throw it away."
When you cook, you wash each utensil and bowl thoroughly, because to leave a remnant of an ingredient behind could be what destroys your next recipe. Culling the crap is necessary. You don't season it with sugar or salt to make it palatable or sprinkle almond extract or lemon oil on it to reduce the stink. You throw it away.
Vow to be great, however long it takes. You will so love yourself more. Vow to be superb.