The Printed Fox: For Writers, By Writers | Writing Basics

Monday, February 18, 2013

For Writers, By Writers | Writing Basics

Writing is hard work. Rewarding, yes. Creative, yes. Liberating and expressive, definitely.

Easy? Um, no.

The bitch of it is, there are tons of books, magazines, online articles, lists, workshops, programs, videos, and everything else people can think of that try to teach people how to write. But not everyone can write.

There. I said it.

The real reason not everyone can write is that not everyone has the ability to write well. Nobody has it, but everyone can learn it. There's a science to writing. Nobody's born knowing how to write. Those with the inner fire, that drive, that incessant need, go out and learn how to write to the best of their ability. They have the voracious need to learn more, always more.

Do you have that kind of hunger to write?

Now, don't get me wrong. Will everyone be able to learn how to write like Chaucer, or Jane Austen? Hell no. Maybe their writing will be more like J. D. Salinger and have more swear words than The Catcher in the Rye. Maybe it'll read more like Charlie Gordon's journal entries in Flowers for Algernon, which would be wonderful because, despite his butchery of the written word in the beginning and end, Charlie's prose was genuine, flowing, and heart-wrenching.

Should you aim to write like them? Well, yes and no. I'll get to that later.

The above picture speaks of resistance. What separates the writer hopefuls from published authors is more than just planting your butt in a chair and plunking away at the keyboard until a finished MS is born. Any hack can scratch out a finished MS.


Yeah, yeah, plenty of people love NaNoWriMo and say that just finishing a MS is a huge achievement. For me, getting out of bed every morning is a huge achievement, but nobody gives me a medal for it. Why not? Because the real work comes after that MS is done, and that is what separates writer hopefuls from published authors.

And what's the real work?

Know your tools. Know them, and use them. A lot.

Know your writing tools.
Just like the first simple tools that separated our progenitors from the rest of primitive life (cue 2001: A Space Odyssey music) our writing tools are what separate the serious writer from the hobbyists with delusions of grandeur.

Now, I'm really not trying to alienate anyone. But have you noticed that there is just something different from the serious writer versus the writer hopeful who talks a great talk but somehow can't get that first MS accepted? Or, God forbid, the wannabe who talks about getting published but hasn't even submitted?

So...why the resistance?

The first writing tool that should be in your toolbox is Being.

Yes. Being. It's as much a fundamental characteristic as anything else about you. It's what makes you, you. This is the absolute, unwavering, fundamental knowledge that you are a writer. Before you use any other adjective on yourself, "I am a writer," should be it.

I am a writer.

Not, "Well, I write some on the weekends," or "Yeah, here's some of my poetry/a short story/some ideas for a book I have." Not any other tepid statement that holds back from that solid claim. It might feel presumptuous. So what? Even if you have nothing published yet, take it! Who cares about feeling embarrassed if someone points out that you're not published, so it's just a hobby at this point?

Fuck that shit, and take it! Own it.

Did you know the San Francisco Examiner told Kipling that he didn't know how to use the English language? C. S. Lewis was rejected over 800 times before he sold anything. One publisher told Nabokov that Lolita was "overwhelmingly nauseating, even to an enlightened Freudian." Ouch. Dune, one of the most stunning examples of science fiction in history, was rejected 20 times. And 17 publishers passed on Cabot's The Princess Diaries.

No one would argue that those were writers, yet at some point...they weren't.

So in this new series I'll have for you every third Monday of the month, For Writers By Writers, we start with Writing Basics. The first item is Know your tools. And your first tool is Being. Know what you are.

And what are you?