Thursday, July 09, 2020

Good Advice on Writing, Or, Easier Said Than Done

I love the musical theme that has arisen over the past couple of entries here at Type M. On Tuesday Rick noted that “There is a well-regarded truism about learning to play an instrument: you must put in 10,000 hours of practice to master it. I suspect this might be true in writing as well. In order to become really good at it, you must put in the hours...” When I teach writing classes one of my favorite things to tell my students is that you may study violin theory until you have a Ph.D., but if you don't practice until your fingers bleed, you'll never learn to play the violin.

I also relate to John's Hemingway quote that as time goes on, one doesn't become a better writer, one becomes a better editor. A Very Famous Author once gave me the best piece of writing advice I’ve heard in a good long while, and one that I need to take to heart. The most important thing is to get those words onto the page. You can fix it later. You can have the most brilliant idea every conceived on God’s green earth but what separates the men from the boys is the ability to get it down on paper in an effective way. “Don’t think too much,” she said, “Just keep writing.”

I always intend to write from beginning to end without stopping. If I get stuck or can’t quite figure out what to do next, I just write something, a filler, or leave a blank and plow onwards. Get that first draft done. By the time you write the last word, the story may have taken quite a turn from the way you thought it would go when you were writing the beginning.

But now you have something to work with. You can go back, if you need to, and craft the beginning to fit the end. You can cut out all the blather and redundancies that you put in there on the fly. You can tighten up that saggy middle and add another clue that will make things clearer.

I know all this very well and this is what I tell anyone who aspires to write a book. Yet sometimes I’m not so successful in taking my own advice. I often have Aline's problem of not being able to let go. I’m working on a manuscript right now, and I keep obsessing over one particular scene. I sit down every day to go, go, go from beginning to end, but for the past several days I keep going back and messing with it. Big mistake, and I know it. If I get the whole story down, the dinner scene will resolve itself. So today my fervent resolution is to take advice and not think so much. To hell with the dinner scene. Onward to the end!

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