I just came across this excellent article on writing and thought I’d
post it for my own reference since I’m incapable of organizing bookmarks share it with the world.
By now I figure I’ve read enough books and advice on writing, but every now and then there’s an article that pops out that perfectly summarizes some similar ideas that have simmered in the depths of my brain for many years
and that I was always too lazy to try to articulate myself.
These two paragraphs struck me in particular:
I teach a few writing courses every year to reasonable acclaim, but I start every one of those courses with a PowerPoint slide that reads, “No one can teach you to write.” I put that up so as not to be a fraud. One learns the principles of writing the same way one learns the principles of reading or golf: You practice.
As you read material that you love, you become a better reader, and if you’re wired to be a writer, you instinctively try to decode what the writer did to get into your head.
This writing gig is a game without rules. Read that again: no rules. There are things that work for me that would never work for you because you and I are different people sifting different imaginations through different filters.
I’ve learned what I think I know about writing the hard way: by writing crap and rewriting it till it’s less crappy. It took me four books to get it right. The first three I wrote sucked and I knew it. But I also knew that each succeeding effort sucked less than its predecessor.
I sought input, listened to it, and then rejected most of it because I thought it was misguided. I knew what I was trying to do, and when I finally got there, I recognized it for what it was. I don’t know how, but I did.
Now there are plenty of people out there who seem to think that their half-written novel or first draft screenplay puts them in the same league as Dostoevsky or Shakespeare while any discerning reader might be secretly submitting for the Bulwer-Litton Contest. My opinion of my own work tends to vacillate between one extreme and the other 😉 No course is ever going to provide that magic formula for writing a great story. All it can do is guide the process.
The most important thing is to hone your craft, read the best writers whose work appeals to you most and keep writing until YOU are satisfied with it. Not anyone else.
While criticism can be extremely useful, especially if you haven’t written a whole lot (why do you have that extra character in there or why did they just randomly appear? That phrase doesn’t make any sense. I don’t see how you could get from point a to point b like that) at some point you do have to stop listening to other voices and trust your own instincts. The more you read and the more you write, the more you should be able to honestly see the flaws in your own work and learn to address them. The more you write and read (I think!) the narrower that gap between arrogance and staying true to your vision becomes.
Because ultimately, it is your unique vision of the world and your way of filtering the world as an individual that makes you an artist. The goal isn’t to try to be someone else or to adhere to a formula that will please critics or audiences, but to but craft your own stories as best you can.
And most importantly, just keep writing, and reading the sorts of works that you aspire to write yourself. Let your filters. imagination and instincts do the rest.