Friday, February 8, 2019

Writing is how you learn to Write (TM dept. of the obvious)

The best advice published authors give to aspiring writers -- write!  (also read, a lot, but the writing's the thing.) 

Truth, from Neil Gaiman.

Now, it may seem obvious, but there are many writers who are just talkers, or dreamers, wishing they had the time, the energy, the inspiration to write, but they just can't make time in their busy schedules. 

Don't get too pretentious, it's unbecoming.

There are also those who wonder how the mere act of writing can help one become a better writer.  I mean, don't you have to take college courses?  Or shouldn't you join a writing group?  Or, better yet, shouldn't you buy one of those "How to Write..." books?  Don't you need to learn how to write before you start to write? 

It's not a sprint, it's a marathon, and you might need those sweatbands.

Well, a basic knowledge of language is essential.  And if you've ever told a story, whether relating an anecdote from your past or conjuring up some horror around a campfire, that's a plus.  Certainly, as noted in the parenthetical above, having read a goodly number of books and stories can only help -- I think Neil Gaiman has said, on many occasions, that humans are storytellers, that it's something that sets us apart from other animals.  All of these are good building blocks for writing your own stories.  But if you don't write, you'll be stuck in first gear. 


So much goes into crafting a good story, worthy of publication, and there's much you learned in school that you can discard, but you'll never realize that until you start getting your own stories written and start submitting.  I admit, though it seemed obvious that one needed to write in order to become published, I did not truly understand how this could help my growth as a writer, in a general sense.  Now, I have a far better appreciation for this bit of intuitive advice.  

Sometimes, you do a pretty good job.

I've been writing for a number of years now, as a lark for the first part of those, seriously, now, for at least a decade.  In that time, I've managed to get some of my short stories published [see sidebar for where you can find some of those stories].  But even the stories that were not accepted for publication, along with the three abandoned novels and the first draft YA novel that I realize is a story better suited to a different medium, were beneficial.  Because in the writing of all these stories, and essays and comic scripts, I have slowly ingrained facets of the writing process that were "outside of myself" before, things that I needed to be reminded of, that did not come naturally--or more naturally--in the way they do now.  This would never have happened if not for my writing and revising and writing and revising and submitting and revising and writing and submitting, etc. etc. [cue dynamic writing montage]. 

Don't forget to revise, heavily, as well.

Two examples:  

The first aspect of my writing that, at some point, I became cognizant of was the fact that I was writing in a passive voice.  Stephen King stated in his memoir, "On Writing," that he felt newer writers wrote in the passive voice out of a sense of fear and timidity.


The thing was, for the longest time, I did not realize I was doing this.  I don't think I was even fully aware of the difference between active and passive voice.  I must have had this as a topic of discussion in my language arts classes (we called it myself, here) in high school.  But if we did, I don't remember, and I certainly didn't retain it.

When I realized the difference between active and passive voice -- arrived at, on my own, through hundreds and thousands of pages of writing -- it was a revelation.  At that point, I would always make a note at the top of a manuscript to do a revision looking specifically for passive voice transgressions to fix them.  I had learned it, but I still needed to be made conscious of it.  Now, many years after this realization, it's something that sticks out, immediately, upon a re-read. It's become a part of my writing brain in the way that capitalizing the opening of a sentence and using a question mark for interrogatives, and I no longer need a reminder to look for it.  (caveat: if I use the passive voice in this post, it's either intentional or because I rarely do a hard revision on these; apologies if I fail to walk my talk)

In the end, you have a stack of paper that's a story.

A second aspect, and one that I was aware of as a bigger hurdle for me as a storyteller, was the fact that I find it difficult to throw roadblocks in the way of my characters and, more importantly, am prone to a resolving any dramatic obstacles too quickly and too tidily.  It is something, as a writer, that I struggle with, but even knowing this about myself, it was a challenge to infuse this necessary dramatic tension into my stories, at least at a level I was pleased with. 

But, with the latest story I am writing, it feels like I've finally broken through.  Without giving too much away (and if the vagueness just makes things too obscure, I apologize):  I had introduced a character into the story that it had been intimated was dead, the ex-wife of my protagonist.  It seemed obvious, with the setting and the main character's state of mind, that they might end up in bed together, even though he's having feelings for an old friend he just reconnected with.  Since my protagonist and this reconnected friend lived an hour away, I knew he could get away with sleeping with his ex-wife but not get caught.  There would be the guilt he would have to deal with, but there would be no ugly confrontations because his ex-wife didn't want to get back with him, she did it to ease some of her own tension--easy-peezy.

EXCEPT, that would be too easy (the narrative road I feel I walk down too often).  Laying in bed, thinking this over, I realized I needed to have this quick tryst insinuate itself into this new relationship my protagonist was hoping for.  So, I have added a few other bits to the previous scenes that will spur this reconnected friend to surprise my main character, and she will catch him having breakfast with his ex-wife, whom she knows, and it will not be pretty.

It may seem a little thing, but being able to recognize that this was what was needed to heighten the drama of the narrative, while also finding a simple way to bring these three all together in a naturalistic manner, was another important revelation for me, as a growing writer.  Now, the hope is this lesson is another one I can add to my writer brain, in order to move onto whatever is next in my arsenal.  We'll see.  Either way, it was terribly exciting.  


No comments: