Take Your Writing Seriously
Please welcome guest author Jack Woodville London, author of A Novel Approach (To Writing Your First Book).
“What I find hard about writing,” Nora Ephron said, “is the writing.”
There’s a difference between writing and typing. Writers produce. Typists reproduce. Okay, that’s a bit harsh. Writers believe that a story worth telling is worth telling well. Writers believe that a turn of phrase can invoke a vision, that the choice of exactly the right word will lead someone to think about something in a new light, will persuade, will entertain. Some writers are blessed with a combination of neurons, synapses, left brain cells (or is it right?) that make their words flow onto the page or screen with clarity and purpose. The other ninety-nine percent of us must draft, erase, revise, delete, change, correct, and revisit, so that in the end, after many drafts and rewritings, it looks like it wasn’t hard.
We want to be writers. Where to begin?
1. Your first commitment is to write one thousand words a day, every day. Facebook, e-mail, Twitter, and instant messaging do not count.
Sit at your word processor today and compose a thousand words on the book, novel, memoir, poem, article, or short story that you’re writing. Tomorrow, edit those thousand words, revise them, and improve them. Recast the fuzzy sentences into the active voice. Make the subjects and verbs agree in number and tense, and eliminate the pronouns that might refer to more than one person, place, or thing so readers understand what you intended to say. After you’ve finished editing, write your next thousand words.
Then, and only then, may you take up the cudgel of Facebook and e-mail.
2. Your second commitment is to take yourself seriously. Form short- and long-term strategies for your writing.
A. In the short term, create your space and carve out your time, and then make them sacred.
Your space is your office, your desk, your chair, your word processor, your printer, your physical environment. Make it comfortable for you and for no one else, and consider it to be your office. Organize it. Keep your programs updated. Back up every word you type.
Your time is even more sacred. For the three or four or eight hours that you write each day, do not take telephone calls, do not send or receive emails or mess around with social media. During that block of time you should edit yesterday’s work, compose today’s thousand words, revisit your story outlines, and do the research for the piece you’re writing.
B. When you have achieved those goals, you can shift into the longer-term strategy. What does that include?
Writers find an audience. You must find readers to read what you write. How? Identify and submit your work to literary contests, to journals in your genre, and to first readers. Join and be active in writing groups in your genre, such as the Historical Novel Society or Romance Writers or Military Writers Society of America. Go to school and surround yourself with peers.
C. Go to school? You’ve got to be kidding.
I’m not kidding. Creative writing involves the development and improvement of the conventions of the literary art. These include the mundane tasks of composing paragraphs that make sense and writing sentences that don’t contain too many dependent clauses or indefinite pronouns as well as the skills of writing dialogue, writing descriptions of settings, and the creation of characters who have unique personalities. Courses range from evening classes with a writing group to weekend courses (usually replete with guest editors and literary agents) to full-blown enrollment in academic settings in which you are challenged by writing exercises to improve your skill. Find them. Enroll. Study. Practice new things.
All of this sounds like it’ll take a lot of time. Does it?
Malcolm Gladwell dedicated a chapter of Outliers: The Story of Success to the Beatles, Bill Gates, and your seventh-grade violin teacher. The Beatles played over 1,200 sets before anyone “Saw Her Standing There.” Gates got access to a computer at age thirteen and then spent most of the next six years doing little else but programming on it. Common denominator: they put in ten thousand hours of work, each of them, before someone recognized their genius.
And your music teacher? I don’t know about your personal seventh-grade music teacher, of course, but such people as a group tend to exemplify the difference between someone who may have had talent, a great deal of talent, but did not put in ten thousand hours and, regrettably, did not go on to perform in Carnegie Hall.
The truth is that composing prose, whether fiction or non-fiction, is a creative and proactive process. You must give it your thoughtful and undivided attention. Practice—dedicated, serious practice—will take your writing to a higher level. It will take time, but if you’re serious, you’ll make time for it.
On the other hand, Facebook, e-mail, and similar intrusions on your writing life tend to be reactive replies to the postings of others and the quick sharing of your own news or musings to which you expect others to react. The attention given to such writing tends to be in much shorter spurts than the attention given to a dedicated effort to compose a news report, a work of history, a short story, or even a chapter. Instead of such diversions counting toward the time you practice your craft, they just take up your time.
Will it take you ten thousand hours to become the genius that you can be? Probably, and then only if you want it. You have to want it badly. Do you?
There’s only one way to find out. Start with a thousand words. Revise them tomorrow. Then write another thousand words. That’s what writers do.
About the Author: Jack London is the author of A Novel Approach (To Writing Your First Book) and the award-winning books, French Letters: Virginia’s Wars and French Letters: Engaged in War. He has published some thirty literary articles and more than fifty book reviews. He has also studied creative writing at Oxford University and earned certificates at the Fiction Academy, St. Céré, France and Ecole Francaise, Trois Ponts, France. London lives in Austin, Texas, with his wife, Alice, and Junebug, the writing cat. For more information, please visit www.jwlbooks.com.