Writing is a Craft

And like other crafts, there are lots of ways to approach it. I’ll tell you mine and maybe it’ll be a help to you…and maybe not.

For one thing, I treat writer’s block as if it was a myth, which I think it is. Staring at a blank page is just taking yourself too seriously. It’s likely that you can hold a decent conversation and, if you can’t do that, you may find difficulty getting an audience. Having said that, I’m talking about writing fiction or poetry.

Find a writer you love and pay attention to how they write

For me, that writer was Elmore Leonard. I loved his crime novels and particularly the way he used dialog to move the plot. If he needed background, he often created it in conversations between his characters. Elmore was not a fan of ‘he said, she said’ and neither am I. Nor is he in love with adjectives. You’ll not get a “she said, hysterically” from Leonard. If the back-and-forth gets confusing over who’s speaking, he’ll have them tug on an ear or get up and cross the room.

But find your own style from an author you love to read

John le Carre is another favorite of mine, but his writing is heavier on exposition and dialog is scant. That makes what is said more powerful in some cases. Pay attention to the ‘voice’ good authors give their characters. A thug doesn’t speak the same words as a CEO and various ethnicities have interesting cadences to their speech. Voice will carry you a long way without the need to apply ‘he said, she said.’

Never try to be Hemingway or Stephen King, but pay attention to their craft.

Be careful about plotting

Some authors plot out the entire book they plan to write and then sit down to write it. That works elegantly for some, but never worked for me. I need an idea of what is going to happen, who it’ll happen to and how it will likely end. Then I begin to write. Here again, pay attention to your favorite writers and their opening paragraphs. The opening sentence of Toni Morrison’s great novel Paradise is “They shot the white girl first.” The shooting doesn’t occur for another 67 pages, but who can put that down?

My routine

I ask myself to write a thousand words a day. Then I print out the day’s work, double spaced, and give it a quick pencil-edit, to see that I haven’t used the same word twice in a paragraph and reads easily, then change it on the computer to match the edit. The next day I read yesterday’s work in order to keep the flow and then kick out another thousand words.

Something strange and wonderful happens about twenty pages into the book. My characters begin to write themselves—and I listen to them, trying to keep up. What would he say and act under those circumstances? That’s one of the reasons I never plot a book, it keeps the characters from moving freely.
In three months or so, you have a book. If it’s not a book that brings you pleasure, put it aside and write another. It’s a craft and becoming a craftsman (or woman) takes time getting used to the tools.

Good luck.



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