I’m not going to pretend I’m a seasoned veteran when it comes to writing, but I’ve learned a couple rules when it comes to the craft, and I learned the majority of it from two books.
On Writing by Stephen King
The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. & E.B. White
READ, READ, READ!
On Writing is one part memoir, and one part writing advice. If there is one maxim that has stuck with me, it’s “Read a lot and write a lot.” There’s no other way around it. If you want to excel as a writer, you need to write as regularly as possible and read as regularly as possible. Don’t just read from the genre that you like to write, there’s something to learn from just about everywhere. Science fiction and fantasy teach you about vivid world-building, thrillers and horror teach you pacing, and literature teaches you about plot and character development. It may not make you the best writer, but it will definitely help you along the way to becoming a stronger writer. It’s also free to become a stronger writer by reading more. Go to your local library, check out all the books you want to read, then go home and go through them. It might mean less time dedicated to other entertainment, but it’s worth it.
Storytelling is Everywhere
Now to completely contradict myself I offer this: pay attention to the storytelling in TV shows, in movies, and in video games. We are a visually-oriented species. Even before the advent of film we created pictures in our mind’s eye when we read stories or listened to them. It comes with being human. With that mind, when you’re writing a story think about how it can convey in an image in a reader’s mind.
“What if I want to convey a particular message?”
Let your story convey the message, either through action, or dialogue, or static imagery. Think about films. Films convey meaning through the aforementioned elements, and you should strive for that too. I understand that books aren’t movies, but we writers are competing with movies for an audience.
Make your storytelling cinematic.
The Elements of Style
Strunk and White’s book is arguably a little dated, but it’s a handy guidebook for some of the basic parts of English grammar and style. You don’t always have to follow the rules, but you should at least know how to break the rules and get away with it. It’s a quick read (about 85 pages, so set aside about 2 hours to read it), but it’s packed with great information. It might be a recap of what you learned in high school, but it doesn’t hurt to have a refresher.
Don’t judge; just write
You sit down at your computer/notebook & writing utensil/typewriter and start writing. You finish a sentence, a paragraph, a page and reread it. You scrap all of it and storm away from your workstation in frustration.
DON’T DO THAT.
Look, I understand that it’s easy to get discouraged. You read a published poem, short story, or novel and think, “How did they do it?!” It’s easy to think the writer did it in one sitting, because you’re reading the finished product, but it takes multiple revisions to get it right. If you don’t like what you’ve written you can always go back and revise your work. You aren’t a surgeon, or a defense attorney, you don’t have to get it right on the first try. From what I’ve read, Hemingway edited the ending of A Farewell to Arms 39 times.
Even if you don’t want to finish an entire manuscript then go back and edit, you can always edit one page at a time like Kurt Vonnegut. It wouldn’t be my first choice, since I believe you should look at your work holistically and not in little chunks, but if it works for you then do it.
Find what works for you
At the end of the day, you need to find a writing system that works for you. Take my advice, don’t take my advice, or use parts of it, it’s about finding a process that works for you. Writing is a deeply personal, lonely endeavor and you should try to be as comfortable as possible during your writing.
Try different things and find what works for you.
A luta continua.
The struggle continues.
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