Thursday, April 7, 2011

The Basics

It's funny where we find inspiration.

This afternoon I was watching Arthur (the children's TV show) and one of the characters wanted to know how to become a writer. She sent a letter to her favorite author (who was a clear homage to Lemony Snickett) asking for advice.

These are the three "dreadful tips" he sent her in response.

1) Read.

This is the one that as a grown-up writer I have the most trouble with. It's hard to fit in the time to not only write but also to read. Somehow it feels wasteful, sitting down with a book. A little voice in the back of my head always whines about how I'm "not being productive". But the truth is that we learn how to write by reading what other people have written. Like an apprentice painter copying the works of the Masters in order to understand how to mix color and use vary brushstrokes to create light and shadow on a canvas, reading allows us to study "how it's done".

2) Write. And most importantly, rewrite.

This is probably the easiest of the three tips for me. I love writing. I can write really fast. And I've learned how to kill my darlings and edit with a machete so that only the best parts survive from one draft to the next. But rewriting is still a challenge. I start to feel frustrated that I'm writing a particular chapter again. Or reworking an opening I thought was perfect on the previous draft. But successful writing is rewriting. The more I do it the less stressful it is. (And, since I'm continuing to write by keeping myself rewriting, it all improves. A win-win.)

3) Look for opportunities to publish your work.

This falls in the middle of the three points for me. More challenging than writing, less challenging than finding time to read. It is also, by far, the scariest part of the path to writerly success. Publication means other people will see my work. They can make their own judgments about whether it is good or bad or simply boring. But that's only if I am published. First I have to "look for opportunities" and that's the real bugger.

Seeking publication means facing the inevitable rejections. It means telling someone else (even if only via email) that I think my story is good enough for them to publish. (And not just publish, but pay me for. Yikes!) My palms are getting sweaty just thinking about it. But this is the risk we take in order to share our stories with the world. Even if it's only editor's desk at a time.

I truly believe that sticking to these three points will eventually get me that "Yes" I've been waiting for. And if it never comes I'll have spent my time doing things I enjoy (reading and writing) and challenging myself to have faith in what I produce.

No matter what, that's a win.


Sam Mae said...

I'm not reading nearly enough as i should be atm. I'm doing all right in the writing and subbing stakes, though :)

Anonymous said...

All of the above -- good advice; keep it simple. And don't forget persperistence.