Friday, September 22

If You're Gonna Write...

I am more dense than a waterlogged oak, but these are some of my rules for writing.*

1) Is it grasped on first read? If not, the writer needs to address the work to the audience. If I have no idea what you are trying to convey, YOU messed up, not me. Finnegan's Wake and The Bible require additional reading, very little else does. The answer "read it again" is the response of the inexperienced. You are NOT a misunderstood future legend. If you think you are, there is a 99.997% probability that you are crap.

2) Are there too many vague references? If so, the writer may assume an experience the reader doesn't share. Step away from your work. Read it aloud. Use the eyes and hands of a surgeon. Your voice is not necessarily one that others care to hear.

3) Metaphor is a writer's best tool, used sparingly. Use one or two, not twelve. Too much and it tires the reader. Don't use adverbs like "sparingly."

4) Almost all amateur poetry is a laughable yawn. If you are not Frost or Dickinson, don't use it in your fiction. Poetic prose and prose poems are oxymorons, unless you have had at least 75 books on the best seller lists. Even then it is likely it annoys or bores the crap out of everyone but the author.

5) Jello is not a word, it is a trademark. Gelatin, or swamp, or tar pit are options, depending on your desired degree of description. When in doubt, dump the obvious and reach for the thesaurus. When not in doubt, dump it anyway and reach for the thesaurus. Just don't let the thesaurus do your writing for you.

6) Compound sentences are good. Too many, and it reads like blah blah blah. Change it up with some short ones. Some call it stream of consciousness. I call call lack of focus. A good way to write is to shotgun words on the page. Then pare it back by 20%. Then pare it back by 10%. When you think it's perfect, pare it back by 5%.

7) Check your tenses fifty times. There may be nothing that were harder to read than what would be a verb that is might have been once.

8) The true mark of a writer is to listen to criticism. If you think the critique is wrong, do it your way anyhow. If everyone still says "Huh?" you've missed something. Almost none of us are geniuses ahead of our time. Bask in praise. Then ignore it and do the opposite, or at least the sideways, of what is praised.

9) Break the rules if you can, just remember that like sports, you must know the rules of the game before you can exploit them. No one ever learned to read without practicing the alphabet first.

10) ALL WRITERS SCREW UP. Even Shakespeare had his detractors. Chances are very, very, very, very good you are not Shakespeare. You probably aren't even Ayn Rand.

Hate your critics. Give them the finger. Punch a pillow. Cry in your beer. When you calm down, you may see they were right about something. Remember that the work is for the reader, not the writer. I can produce a delicious first draft, only to have my wife say it's boring or confusing or worthy of nothing but the garbage can. I can be pissed, but realize she is right, and rewrite it. Even then, it will need work. Much more work.

All this said, I am not published. I have been rejected several times. It is quite likely I have no idea what I'm talking about. But I don't think so.

One thing is certain: If you don't write it, no one will read it.

* Based on a critique of a respected fellow amateur writer's work.
And my work can use a whole lotta buncha revision. Or a trash can.


jazz bird said...

This is why I write my journal (partially public, partially private, neither directed to any particular audience beyond myself) and technical manuals/training documentation/etc. There's not much of an audience for either, I just have to get a point across should someone go looking. And I only really take that to heart on the stuff I'm paid to do, so the blog is very much what it is.

If I decided to write for any sort of audience, not a paragraph would ever be complete. I'm an over-editor in that mode (Yes, I've dabbled, including my abandoned novel sitting completely outlined through 20+ chapters.). If only I could treat it like improv acting or jazz and allow the creative process to happen, uncensored and uninhibited. I envy you and others for being able to get past that first initial spark AND get to the point where you want to share it. I know it doesn't feel enviable at times as I imagine it's also maddening, but it is for someone like me.

As long as it's a passion for you, keep sharing. I, for one, am glad when you do.

tiff said...

The most telling line in all of this is the very insightful "the work is for the reader, not the writer."

So true, and something I'd never really thought about. it's so much easier to edit when that precept is kept first and foremost.

rennratt said...

Uh oh (scrambling to take notes).

Must. Not. Ramble.

Lolly said...

Yes, agreeing with Jazz Bird (I love that name) I'm glad you have given me something to read today. I enjoyed it.