Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Writer's Life - Issue 3

So you want to be a writer, eh? Are you sure about that? Here’s what some great writers have to say about the job:

I don’t feel I’m finished with a book until it’s remaindered. ~Joseph Heller

It’s nervous work. The state you need to write in is the state that others are paying large sums to get rid of. ~Shirley Hazzard

Writing is easy. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein. ~Red Smith

Make no mistake, writing is a full-time job, whether it’s a hobby or how you put your bread on the table. Now let me ask again: are you sure you want to be a writer? Yes? Good! Now that you’ve gathered your courage, it’s time to instruct you in the age-old art of writing. It’s impossible for this article to be the be-all end-all of writing. At best, it’s the first step in a long and torturous road in an art where no one is ever truly a master. Well, mostly. To us worshiping novices, several literary greats are in the pantheon of the writing gods, but that is neither here nor there.

The first step to becoming a writer is to become familiar with your tools, namely your primary tool:language. You are using a non-visual medium to bring across ideas. Every turn of phrase, every description and detail, yes, even how you write it will have a critical impact on the reader. For that reason, your first step in learning how to write is learning how to write. While that might have seemed redundant, think of it this way: in order to write (creation of an idea) you need to know how to write (communicate).

So how do you learn how to write (communicate)? The very first step is Strunk’s Elements of Style. This 94 year old tome is slim, portable, and has been in publication since 1918. Any writer who lays claim to the title must be familiar with the Elements of Style, especially if they want to advance their writing. While I strongly recommend you own a paper copy and keep it at your writing station (I own several editions), this particular tome exists online so thoroughly study it here: http://www.crockford.com/wrrrld/style.html

This may seem a bit “back to first year of primary school” basics, but it is absolutely essential. Most people never learn how to write correctly, and this is what sinks at least 90% of the stories sent in to various publications. Being able to write correctly is the first thing that will separate you from the pack, especially in these modern text-speak plagued times.

The next step to writing is reading. Nonsensical? Hardly. In order to learn how to write, you have to learn how writers are using that primary tool, language. You have to discover what genre of writing interests you and then seek out the work of people who have worked in this genre. Be it rank amateur, literary workhorse, or writing deity, explore what they write and, more importantly,how they write it. Learning by doing is great, but reinventing the wheel is not. So read. Read a lot, read intently, read, read, read!

I was a bit hesitant to include this next part, but I think it counts as part of your initial training: pick a role model. It doesn’t have to be just one role model, though I do think it’s best to start with one so you can concentrate your efforts. As an example of having multiple role models, Frank Herbert is my literary idol for science fiction, but my role model for fantasy would be Melanie Rawn. Picking a role model is a whole new dilemma, however, so perhaps that is best saved for the next Writer’s Life from the Editor.

Now then, that’s a couple hundred words from me, and if you sincerely, dedicatedly follow this article, at least 30 hours of hard work from you. And you haven’t even committed anything to paper yet!

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