FIVE THINGS I WISH I DID NOT KNOW ABOUT WRITING, PART III
FOUR: NOBODY REALLY KNOWS ANYTHING ABOUT WRITING
Anyone who tells you how to write bestsellers is a sham and a liar. I can tell you how I write books. I write them with fear, excitement, discipline and a lot of hard work.
If you are suffering from pneumonia, doctors make you cough, listen to your wheezing lungs, take an x-ray and prescribe the proper medication. When your brakes are squealing you drive (carefully) to Midas, they put the car on a lift, remove the wheels and install (after their 1007 point safety check that will determine your car is a menace to public safety unless you give them an additional $300) new brakepads. No such diagnostic procedures have ever been developed for writing. We can all discern and distinguish good and bad writing—but that’s subjective. Even more subjective and riskier is telling or teaching someone how to write more betterer.
But MFA programs and writing classes do work: people finishing these courses are better writers for having completed them. But I have a sneaking suspicion that you’re a better writer for simply having attempted and finished writing a book length manuscript. The act of writing is in itself the essence of improving your writing.
I don’t think there’s any other way. And I’ve searched, for years, for shortcuts.
Inspiration, meditation, or medication doesn’t work.
But workin’ at it seems to work.
Bestsellers are the result of a constellation of writing and marketing and taste and uncontrollable societal factors aligning just so; literary style, I believe, is a collective hunch that changes every generation or two.
So the bad news is no one can really tell you, definitively, what’s specifically wrong with or how to fix your writing. But the good news is that definitive opinions, no matter how scathing (or complimentary) are primarily subjective.
As far as I can tell the only answer is: Start writing, keep writing, and wear a helmet—it’s tough out there.
FIVE: AS WRITERS, WE ONLY HAVE THREE OPTIONS
Let’s get this straight right away: Writers write; everyone else makes excuses.
—Jack M. Bickham
Our only three options as writers?
We can: 1) BE GOOD 2) GET GOOD or 3) QUIT.
No matter how intense or honest or pure our desire to become a writer it ultimately comes down to having talent, developing your particular level of talent, or giving up. And it doesn’t matter what the public is reading, what Oprah is recommending, or how you feel.
If you are a writer you’ll start writing that book and you’ll finish it. Then whether it sells or not—whether it’s published or not—you’ll finish another.
If you don’t you’re not a writer.
This is not a particularly comfortable or encouraging proposition and the fact that it might result in a lifetime of toil that ends in debt and obscurity doesn’t, however unfair, make it any less true. When I seriously considered quitting I realized the crater left behind could never be filled with familial bliss, money, Irish whiskey, or vacations. In the end it doesn’t matter if my books are bestsellers or any-kind-of-sellers; it only matters that they be written.
Anything less would be a waste of my life.
God help me, I’m a writer.
JOKE OF THE DAY:
What’s the difference between an engineer, a banker and a writer?
An engineer says: “How can we build it?”
A banker says: “What will it cost?”
A writer says: “Would you like fries with that?”