Advice I’m following to write well
by Jon Morrow, Associate Editor of Copyblogger
Jon says a well-meaning but flawed academic system has taught students a lot of bad writing habits.
Oh, if only forty years ago, when I first fancied myself a writer, I’d come across Jon’s advice: Don’t write to please the Writing Police (English teachers, academics, Strunk & White, grammar nazis). Write what you want to write. Write what you know people want to read.
Jon’s post on the WordPress Copyblogger explains why each of his Seven Bad Habits contributes to writing “people would rather chew off their own eyelids than read.”
1. Trying to sound like dead people
2. Expecting someone to hand you a writing prompt
3. Writing long paragraphs
4. Avoiding profanity at all costs
5. Leaning on sources
6. Staying detached
7. Listening to “authorities” more than yourself
Jon says, “Great writers don’t learn how to write by sitting in writing courses, reading writing blogs, or browsing Barnes & Noble for yet more books on writing.
“They learn how to write by coming to a blank page, writing something down, and then asking themselves if it works … The truth is that you’re in charge. You. The blank page is sitting there, and you can fill it up with whatever the hell you want.”
Now that’s liberating for a repressed writer, full of fear and self-doubt, struggling to write to someone else’s standard of what constitutes good writing.
You too can escape the Writing Police. Read Jon’s revolutionary post here. After you’ve read the rest of my post, of course.
How you comin’ on that novel you’re working on, huh?
We creative types – writers & artists – take a lot of crap from the heartless, unimaginative Philistines who surround us.
I once made the mistake of mentioning to a co-worker that I was working on a novel. He didn’t say anything, just gave me a mischievous smile.
The next time I stopped by his desk, he was ready. “Steve, check this out.”
On his computer screen appeared a notorious segment of Family Guy. Stewie Griffin, the three-year-old-going-on-forty diaper-wearing cynic, needles Brian, the hipster-alcoholic-Mensa-member talking dog, about Brian’s progress as a novelist.
“How you, ah, how you comin’ on that novel you’re working on? Huh? Gotta big, ah, big stack of papers there? Gotta, gotta nice little story you’re working on there? Your big novel you’ve been working on for 3 years? Huh? Gotta, gotta compelling protagonist? Yeah? Gotta obstacle for him to overcome? Huh? Gotta story brewing there? Working on, working on that for quite some time? Huh? Yeah, talking about that 3 years ago. Been working on that the whole time? Huh? Nice little narrative? Beginning, middle, and end? Some friends become enemies, some enemies become friends? At the end your main character is richer from the experience? Yeah? Yeah? No, no, you deserve some time off.”
Ouch! That hurt. I happened to be three years into my novel (now six years), a murder mystery titled Baby Doll Go To Heaven. Three years and I had the title (noted), a story outline, and the names for the main characters. That’s it.
Well, how long did it take James Joyce to write Ulysses? Great literature doesn’t just appear overnight.
I admit I’ve spent far more time fantasizing about my life after the inevitable publication of Baby Doll Go To Heaven than actually writing the story.
Baby Doll Go To Heaven will be the first in a series of my New York Times bestsellers. More bestsellers than Stephen King. My books made into blockbuster movies. Fame. Fortune. Women, liquor and fast cars.
The lesson here is: Never tell anyone you’re working on a novel. Not even your mom. Especially your mom.
Wait until you can say, “I’ve just finished a novel, you know. Been shopping it around. My agent’s already had a few nibbles. You know what? Soon you can say, ‘I knew [your name here] when.’ How about that? Can you loan me twenty dollars?”
Khaled Hosseini, author of The Kite Runner, offers this advice to stalled, would-be novelists:
There is a romantic notion to writing a novel, especially when you are starting it. You are embarking on this incredibly exciting journey, and you’re going to write your first novel, you’re going to write a book. Until you’re about 50 pages into it, and that romance wears off, and then you’re left with a very stark reality of having to write the rest of this thing. […] A lot of 50-page unfinished novels are sitting in a lot of drawers across this country. Well, what it takes at that point is discipline …You have to be more stubborn than the manuscript, and you have to punch in and punch out every day, regardless of whether it’s going well, regardless of whether it’s going badly. […] It’s largely an act of perseverance […] The story really wants to defeat you, and you just have to be more mulish than the story.
Where I go for inspiration and to learn the mechanics of writing well
- Daily Writing Tips
- Terribly Write
- The Slot: A Spot for Copy Editors
- The Writer’s Almanac Newsletter
- Writerly Life