Monday, July 25, 2011

Notes from the Writing Life

Summer has always been a time for me to get a lot of writing done, so I suppose that's why it's also when I tend to learn the most about the writing process.

So! Here are some things I've (re)discovered about writing over the past few weeks:

1. There's a time and a place for everything, including writing. I like tables that are supposed to be for eating—cafeteria tables, my dining room table, diner booth tables—either early in the morning or early in the evening.

2. Editing can oppose as well as complement writing. I know a lot of people who can edit as they go along, but I can't. It kills my momentum.

3. Writing is mostly practice. Practice, patience, perseverance. You make mistakes. You learn from them. You write some more. It's more about discipline and introspection than talent, though talent certainly helps.

4. Being good at one type of writing doesn't automatically make you good at the others, but it means you can learn to be. I'm a decent poet. I used to be a lousy fiction writer. I think now I'm a mediocre fiction writer. The form you practice more, the one you read more, is the one you'll get better at.

5. Trying to publish keeps you honest. It keeps you writing, it keeps you rereading your work to understand why it wasn't accepted, it keeps you humble, it keeps you hungry. I think writers who don't attempt to publish their work can very easily become complacent and many cease to improve.

6. You can always be better. I'm skeptical that individual pieces of writing can never be improved, but flat out deny that individual writers can never improve.

7. Creative writing can be taught. This doesn't mean all students will be equally capable. Nuclear physics can be taught; are all students of nuclear physics equally capable?

8. Writing is a habit. Writing every day, even if the product is sometimes—even often—terrible, is useful. I think it produces stronger long-term results than waiting for the proverbial Muse to move you.

9. Writing well is a real skill. Although I believe that many, if not most, people could write reasonably well, very few actually do. Further, I believe that most people think they're good writers because they write every day—grocery lists, e-mails, birthday cards, &c. Literacy is not equal to writing ability. Good writers are rare and should be paid well for their work.

10. Writing is work. Writing is difficult, writing takes time, writing is not always fun. If it's what you want to do above all else, you'll find a way to do it. If you don't have the patience for revision or desire to succeed or the stomach for rejection, this line of work isn't for you.

What have you recently learned about writing, mes auteurs? And/or what are the best, worst, most and least helpful pieces of advice you've ever received with regard to writing?


  1. Writing is fun. Writing WELL is work. And I'm one who edits as I go--if it's crap, I have to fix it before moving on. If there's a new twist, I have to make sure I've fixed the continuity before it gets out of hand. I figure my finished first draft is more like someone else's third draft.

    Terry's Place
    Romance with a Twist--of Mystery

  2. This rings true with me. Writing is hard work. Revision is hard work. Both are profoundly satisfying, eventually (although revision holds more "instant gratification" moments for me).

  3. I love how much hard work it takes for me to process my creations.

  4. I've learned two things that might at first sound contradictory: 1) Good critique partners and beta readers are worth their weight in gold. 2) No author should take every suggestion said critique partners and beta readers give.

    As authors, we lack objectivity. We can't see the flaws in our work, or we can't see past them. Both are true at different points in a project. Critique partners and beta readers shine a light on the things we need to work on, and remind us that not everything in the draft is absolute dreck.

    However, in the end authorial authority lies... with the author. I know my story better than anyone else ever will, and while CPs and betas only get a piece at a time, I know the whole. Occasionally, I receive a suggestion that I know doesn't fit with the rest of the story, and after careful thought (is this my pride speaking?), I disregard it and move on.

  5. I've got two that have helped me immensely:

    1. Learn all the rules for writing, then FORGET them all. If you try to "write by the book" your voice will suffer. Besides, whatever do's and don'ts you subconsciously retain will find their way into your work.

    2. While many writers put a lot of thought into plotting, characterization, setting, etc., not enough attention is paid to sentence construction. Your book can succeed at the macro level, but fail at the micro.

  6. On Monica's theme: Get rid of as many passive verbs as possible. Replace them with verbs that have energy. This is one of the biggest secrets to compelling writing.

  7. The most encouraging piece of advice I was ever given came from Stephen King in his 'on writing' book. 'You already have the vocabulary you need, you just need to learn how to use it'.

  8. A famous writer told me, "The hardest part of writing is keeping your ass in the seat." Fortunately for me, I have a comfortable chair.

    Daniel McNeet

  9. It isn't something I recently learned, but it's something I relearn every day - Writing is Rewriting.

    Kinda funny - a friend read an early draft of my novel, gave me some excellent notes, and recently read the draft that went on submission. She commented on how much better it was, with the tone of voice of someone who just watched a magic trick she didn't quite understand.

    And I'm like, no kidding. I spent a year of my life revising that thing. It better be better.

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