So this is like my fourth or fifth post on the craft of writing, but this is the one that I’ve been itching to write about. The myth of writing.
First, what is craft? I keep saying that word and if you’re a new writer, you’ll be hearing a lot of it too. Craft simply means the art and creation of writing. There is a ton of stuff that goes into creative writing. You have to learn how to master as much as you can, all these different skill sets to get better at the entire act of writing fiction. I’m not sure there will ever be an all around great writer, but your job is to not be bad at a lot of the aspects but trying to be good or at least better than average on all the different aspects of writing.
You can be good at description but stink like a gym sock when it comes to dialogue. Your grammar might suck. You can’t really spell that good. You don’t understand the basics of story structure. You don’t know how to create suspense. You don’t know how to organize your ideas. The list goes on and on, and all these things make up what people call the craft of writing. (By the way, I can be pretty bad at all of them.) Our job as writers is to get better at all these different aspects of writing. Which brings me to the subject of this post, the writing myth.
There has been a long debate as to what is commercial fiction and what is literary fiction. I think there isn’t one. It’s just that there are some book snobs and then there are not.
For most of my life, I bought into the writing myth too. I thought like most people, great writers were just born with it, having a great book inside of them just waiting to come out and then one day – BAM – while their hair has grayed they sit down for the next two to six years in a cabin or somewhere in Africa and then out comes nothing but pure genius. That’s not how it works.
Writing, is like any art. You need to practice and do a lot of it. That’s it. You can talk about painting and playing a guitar all day. You can read about painting and playing a guitar all day. Heck, you can dream about that painting and song all day too, but at the end of the day, the only thing that will get you closer to painting that painting and playing that song is to, wait for it, start painting and playing. Crazy, I know.
Sure, there are flukes, freaks of nature, but they are not the norm, they are the exception. There are examples of folks who wrote their first book and it was genius, but for the rest of us, most of the time, to learn something, you have to practice the skill over and over.
That’s why it irks me about literary snobs. There’s the rightful saying that those that can’t, teach, but I also think that there should be something along the lines of, those who can’t create art, critique.
Take some of the best writing that has come out in the past few years. Like Stephen King’s 11-22-63 and John Grisham’s Sycamore Row. Had these two books come from a new writer, they’d be getting awards and acclamations up the wazoo, but instead, since these men have created previous works that – gasp – appealed to large sections of the public and have also written some clunkers, these books are to be just recognized but not applauded for the great pieces that they are. Hot tip people, that’s not how it works, that’s not how anything in life works. No one just grabs a guitar or a paintbrush one day and knocks out a Rembrandt or a Stairway to Heaven. What it takes is a lot trial and error, mostly error.
As of right now, I have three works in different parts of disarray. A novel and two short stories, both for my eyes only. Every time I look at them, I am so unhappy because as a person and a writer, I keep changing and growing. Things I was once proud of I now hang my head in shame about. Why? Because it’s a process, that’s why. And if you want to get good at this writing thing, you need to swing your bat and strike out more than you get hits.
So when it comes to your writing, don’t expect to write your Magnum Opus the first time out. It does, but rarely, happen. Instead, just do what nearly all successful writers do. Suck a lot. First in private, then in public. Eventually, you’ll stop sucking and something good will come out. As for those who will then hold your first or early works against you for your entire writing career, it doesn’t matter. They were too scared to suck and played it safe anyway. Don’t let their envy be a reason for you not reaching your success.