Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Why You Should NEVER Listen To Writers Talk About How To Write

I owe my success to having listened respectfully to the very best advice, and then going away and doing the exact opposite.
G. K. Chesterton

"When it comes to your writing, I say, quite firmly, stay away from writers talking about how to write. Well, let me re-phrase that a touch, stay away until your butt has been in the chair long enough to have actually written the first draft." I said this yesterday, and if I have any audience at all, I'm sure they were scratching their heads. After all, am I not claiming to be a writer? And am I not discussing how to write? Yes, in fact I am a writer, I am, as of yet unpublished, but a writer nonetheless. And, yes, actually, I am talking about how to write. However, I am only working through my own struggles with writing, and can say quite honestly that it is not my intention to teach anyone (though if some one gets something from my posts that's great).

I had initially intended to write about something else today, but I just couldn't stop thinking about what I had said. So bear with me as I try and explain. Once again, at the end of this post, I will post more from the scene I posted yesterday (why some one would want to read it is beyond me but since I started it...).

The Internet has become such a great tool for writers - it is after all, the Information Super Highway. Need to do some research? Google it! Need to promote your latest book? Start a web page! Want to connect with readers and become more real? Get a blog! Start a Yahoo! Group! Give the readers what they want! MORE MORE MORE!!! It's incredibly wonderful. As a fledgling author myself I look to the Internet to aid in my research and learn as much about the authors I love and their writing. I'm fascinated by the process that other writers take to get to the words "The End", I love reading the hints and tips that senior authors give to us in the freshman class.

Unfortunately, with so much information, so very much of it contradictory, eventually my mind ends up at the Information Highway Super Rest Stop, very much needing to take a leak and walk around. I have become jaded, I guess, with all the bombardment of advice to young authors such as myself, that even I, one ready and eager to learn, have stopped reading much of the advice posted. It has become more of a Roadblock to success than the Freeway Exit I had initially hoped.

When I first started looking at writing styles, I read author blogs, agent blogs and editor blogs, looking for the nugget of gold that would help me sort through what I had and help me figure out what I had done right and where I had gone wrong. Unfortunately, I ended up scrapping over 4,000 words because I had read so much that I no longer knew anything. I read so much about these authors that I adore and how they write, that I lost my sense of how and why I write and I began to hate my work. I began to hate my process, because it was so unlike most of the advice being printed.

I went through a very, and I mean very, dark period in my writing, where I had no faith in my ability to tell a story. All of these authors, they are published, and I seemed unable to follow their advice with my own story. I was doomed and I never would get it. I just wasn't smart enough. Talented enough. Worthy enough. I was done!

And then, one day, I was talking to another writer friend of mine, and she explained that she was struggling very much with some of the advice given on a favorite author's blog. She was trying very hard to stick with the advice, she wanted to write this story right! I told her, she was writing the story the correct way, she was writing it her way - and there is nothing more right than that. I explained to her, that while well-meaning, the author in question could only teach what she knew, her own process, her own style. And while that approach obviously worked great for her, and probably a few select others, it wasn't going to work for her, because she was not writing one of this author's books. She was writing her own.

After we disconnected, I sat back down, opened up my Word file, and began writing again. I finally got that I needed to write my story. And only MY story. I could not take all of the authors advice I had been given and use it completely. It was impossible. They cancel each other out. So, I say again, read it all you want, but WAIT UNTIL YOU HAVE YOUR OWN CRAP written. Find an author that has a voice you love. Has mastered the pacing you love, and then read their books, not their advice. Attend their workshops and use them to pick and choose what you find to be good advice but what they say is not gospel for anyone but themselves, and you'll find many times that even those published authors stray from their norm.

Writing is not a one-size fits all profession. There is a vast amount of creative room out there, surely there will be enough room for one more. And I think one of the most important thing to remember is that the advice given is yet another tool for the authors to sell books. Yes, they are helping some. Sharing their wisdom and experience. However, do you not see their names all over that web page? Do you not see links that if you click you are able to purchase their books? Will you not remember the name of that author next time you are in a bookstore? Sure you will. Take what you want and can use. Leave the rest.

To truly learn about an author and how they write, read their books. Deconstruct it to a level you can understand. Let the authors work be your guide. This is where they show you the truth. The truth is always in the showing - not the telling.

Take Care

Elizabeth visibly relaxed with my agreement and on the tour we went. The place was set up just like every other old-time bowling alley. We were just inside the doors and immediately to our left was a section of brownish linoleum floor with lockers set in rows, and benches running the length of the middle. Just beyond the lockers sat a room with a black door “Pro-Shop” was painted across it in something that looked suspiciously like dried blood.

About six feet further up and to the right was a long counter. The first quarter was where bowlers would rent ugly shoes, and pay for their games. There was an ancient computer sitting just beside the register, and directly behind that was an office. Down the way just a bit was another register for food and drinks. The coolers, fryers, pop fountains, and food prep stations were directly behind that.

The concourse was your standard ugly. Grey carpet covered the floor, lined in an odd color of green that I am sure cannot be found in nature. Too many feet had walked on this carpet for it ever to look clean, and it was scarred with years of lit cigarettes being dropped by drunk bowlers. A half wall separated the settee, and it had a cheap plastic counter top that could hold drinks, cards, or whatever else was needed to bowl a stellar game, or whatever happened to be in the way. Tables sat the length of the concourse, each one pushed up against the dividing wall so bowlers and their fans could have a place to sit while they ate, talked, or just waited their turn.

Sections of the wall divider were left open with two stairs leading down to the settee. Hard orange plastic chairs lined the back of the settee wall. This area was for the bowlers and only two types of bowlers would ever use the chairs. You had your bowlers that were in their “zone” and wanted no distractions so they could stay there, and those who were off their game so badly that they didn’t want to have to face their buddies when they missed yet another easy spare. Both types would spend the time in those chairs staring at the lanes, looking for the answers to their game.

I was delighted to see that the scoring was done electronically, and that the ball return sat half on the settee and half on the approach. Bowlers would have to take a small step up to the approach, giving the illusion of privacy as their neighbors started their approach.

There were sixteen lanes, with lanes one and sixteen having a walkway on the far side that would lead to the machines in back. There was a wall that separated the lanes from a small game room area set up to keep the kids occupied while their parents bowled and, according the Elizabeth, was a favorite hang out for the local teenagers in the winter.

As we reached the back I was thrilled to see that the machines were AMF because I know how those run. I would be able to do basic trouble shooting, but I was still going to need a full-time mechanic to make sure everything ran smooth. There was a small office that held spare parts, tools, and several years worth of catalogues for equipment.

Elizabeth had been silent as we walked, but I could feel her study me every time I stopped to get a good look at something. It was a little unnerving being watched like that and the air felt thick with animosity. I was unsure why this woman seemed to dislike me so, but it was her problem and I refused to make it mine.

I turned to tell her we could go back up front to discuss business and had to suppress a bubble of laughter at the contrast her silk suit made against the grease covered machines, whereas I just sort of blended. Next to this woman I looked every bit the freak farm-girl I was and for a split second perhaps it was my animosity flavorin’ the air. But just as soon as the jealousy hit it disappeared. Surrounded as I was but something I loved, I just couldn’t get the fact that I would never quite be one of the Elizabeth Martin’s of the world to matter much. That was reason enough to buy this place and set roots after so long floating on the wind.

With a final look at the machines, I felt a tiny thrill tow-step up my spine. I was going to own this place, and I knew without a shadow of doubt that I was making the right decision.

Once again, this was an unedited, very rough draft of my WIP that is now in the JUNK folder.

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