Sunday, April 15, 2012
On Writing Well
Reviewed by OFW editor: Veronica Sicoe
Published: March 09, 2012


By Gwendolyn McIntyre

Neil Gaiman recently wrote; “Being a writer is a very peculiar sort of job: it is always you versus a blank sheet of paper, and quite often the blank piece of paper wins.”
 
“It’s a craft,” he reminds us, “that mostly involves a lot of work; most of it spent sitting making stuff up and writing it down, and trying to make what you have made up and written down somehow better.“
 
Which is exactly what we’re here to talk about at On Fiction Writing: Making our writing better by making ourselves better writers.
 
So, where to begin?
 
Consider if you will the Hatter’s unanswerable riddle: Why is a raven like a writing desk?
 
No, but seriously
 
Most writers are introverts. We learn at an early age to hide our inner feelings, preferring to be the watcher… the observer and critic of life… even of our own. We observe events in a way that sets us apart from others, and it is that difference that once accepted is revealed in our writing… that allows us to articulate not only our own silent thoughts and feelings but also those of our readers.
 
Follow your obsessions.
Like a pathologist, we work best when we need to explore the particular or the inexplicable.
 
I refer of course to the obsessions we feel impelled to investigate via the written word, for it is that which gives life and meaning to the worlds and lives we explore in our stories.
 
Allow yourself to be surprised.
As most fiction writers will tell you, writing is motivated by the discoveries we make on the page: the words we did not expect to write, the characters who surprise us.
 
“We write best when we write against intent… not by plan, but by accident.“
 
Indulge the ‘need for speed.’
 
As students we are taught to take time, be careful and give thought to what we write.
 
That is all well and for correspondence, legal documents and essays, but most writers of fiction need to write fast in order that we will write what we do not expect.
 
Instead of the predictability of the outline, relinquishing control encourages our mind to run ahead of us, following its own instincts.
 
Writing quickly allows writers to outrun our internal censors and editors; which like a failed laboratory experiment causes the accidents of meaning and language that often leads us where we might not have otherwise expected to go.
 
Achieve ‘instructive failures’.
Which is to say, learn from your failures. Like most writers; I have little trouble with this. I have archives full of writing projects that failed for one reason or another, but mostly because they were too pedestrian.
 
Writers study how to do what they are doing while they are doing it. When a work is completed and as we turn our minds to other ideas, other projects, we learn new ways of achieving desired results without making the same mistakes we made before.
Realizing ‘expectations.”
 
I can imagine writers remembering what teachers, editors, other writers have said about writing… I do this myself, but I what I cannot imagine is a writer feeling unable to write because they feel unable to write to a standard that they have but imagined the world has set for them.
 
The only standard any writer can rationally have is the standard they are meeting as they write, whether they are writing well or not.
 
And along with fear and uncertainty, came doubt.
 
At least twice in the writing of any manuscript, I will doubt either the story or my ability to write it.
 
The hardest thing you will have to do as a writer is to believe that you have anything to say that people will want to read.
 
Remember that doubt is natural and that if you force yourself to keep writing, you will produce pages that will be as good as the ones written before or after those moment of fear, uncertainty and doubt.
 
Most importantly, you must believe, sometimes against all reason.
 
Establish a daily deadline.
Books have deadlines years or months away, but breaking it down into daily, achievable deadlines: 500, 1,000 or even 1,500 words a day makes it achievable.
 
Deadlines by time do not work for most writers because they tend to waste it.
 
Getting into a writing habit.
Whatever habit you choose for yourself, be it one of your own devising or something you’ve learned from a famous… or successful author;
 
In Latin, there is a phrase: Nulla Dies Sine Linea -- "Not a day without a line drawn.
 
Whatever else may happen in a day; promise yourself that you will write. Don't look for results. Just write.
 
Writers need listeners.
Writers need colleagues who work in their own isolation who will listen to your satisfactions, grumps, problems and solutions as your work-in-progress evolves.
 
But writing circles offer more than just therapy or feedback. They provide us with a mirror in which we can see ourselves and reflect our problems and even our own advice back at ourselves, which is often just what we need to solve the problem we are facing.
 
Writers need readers.
During first drafts you should have only one: someone who makes you want to write, even after they have read an early, not yet ready-for-the-world draft.
 
Next, you should have someone who you trust to act as your editor. This someone will read your final drafts before they’re sent to anyone else, anywhere.
 
And if you are blessed to have an editorial collaborator, be thankful, for they are worth more than gold.
 
Be careful to whom you show your work.
 
Readers, and that list is certain to include editors and teachers, often have a rigid formula for each subject and each genre.
 
If the writer does not fit the formula, they are surprised, uncomfortable, disappointed and critical. Not everyone has the ability to evaluate every work on its own terms.
 
And finally, remember what has worked in the past may not work in the present.

No pressure, but if you cannot do better than the last novel you wrote, ask yourself why.
Did you change writing style? Did you change genre? 

Whatever set of conditions existed that sold your last completed work to someone may not exist the next time around.

The industry is changing, as are the rules. Don’t expect to depend upon your ‘brand name’ to sell what may be a lackluster work.
 
Until Next Time... Write Well.

Authors Note:
None of the ideas expressed in this article are new or groundbreaking, but like the clutter in the attic, sometimes we need take inventory and look at the things we’ve missed or forgotten.
 

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