Thursday, June 09, 2005
Writing, editing, revising and wannabe...
I have always found the way in which writers work to be fascinating. That's probably why I now have Forward Motion. I read blogs by both published and unpublished writers, and I've learned things about writing in many of them.
The most important fact though, is this one: How people work at making their stories publishable will have absolutely no affect on how an outsider views the finished work. A reader (either looking at a magazine or looking at a submission pile) isn't going to care if a writer took one pass to make the story as good as it could be, or if he took a year writing and rewriting it. All that matters is the story that they read, not how it got there.
And here are my own views, learned through years at FM, as an editor of Vision and now as a publisher for DTF.
How any writer works is no concern of anyone else. There is no such thing as wasteful or efficient in writing (or any other art) because creativity cannot -- and should not -- be regulated by to some business practice that makes the office worker type better. In writing the only concern is the end product and how good it is -- and how close it comes to what the writer wanted it to be. How you got there is not going to affect me or any other writer. If 'efficient' is the most important aspect of writing for you, then you will work in that direction. If freedom to be creative and experiment is more so, then you'll work in ways that allow you to try different things without worrying if it is a waste of time.
Some people can learn from others and not make the same mistakes as those other authors did. There is no reason to recreate the wheel if the knowledge of how to make it roll is only a few clicks of a mouse away. As a publisher (part of my every day work), I am not happy seeing people make the same stupid mistakes that they could easily avoid if they just took the time to (1)edit or (2) make at least a cursory study of writing from people who know what they're talking about. There are plenty of published people out there on the Internet who are willing to share everything from basics of formatting to the more esoteric levels of story creation. If a person is willing to listen -- and not to assume that one thing will work for everyone -- then they can learn how different writers work. Sometimes even a small piece of advice can help even if you don't agree with most of what the author says.
Telling new writers that listening to the voice in their head tell the story is all they need to do to write well is not helpful. Learning to write careful prose, to create believable and entertaining conflict, and how to weave this all together with characters and plot is part of the learning process and not a sudden ability. Those voices of characters in a writer's head are not some outside force dictating a story: those voices are the accumulation of writing knowledge, and they vary in their ability to create a really good story based on what the writer has already learned.
So new writers shouldn't just listen to the voices in their heads. Those voices are untrained. A new writer needs to take those 'voices' by the hand and show them the way through plotting a story. Eventually it may come naturally -- I certainly sit down and write many short stories in one sitting by just letting the story flow from head to fingers -- but it is not something I could do even ten years ago.
And in the same vein let's look at the term 'wannabe.' Once again I've seen the 'get over it' statement about people who don't like the term 'wannabe.' But here's my observation on the use of it: I think some people cling to the term because it is an excuse to fail. If you are a wannabe writer than you can just shrug off anything that suggests you might not have all the answers and could learn a few things still.
At FM we have a different view of the term wannabe, though we do not require that everyone at FM use the term in this way (any more than we require anything else from members, other than to be polite and follow the site's few rules). At FM we have found what works for most of us -- and this is how you will often see wannabe used on the boards. Our definition doesn't have to do with fragile egos or anything like that -- it has to do with defining steps you can take as a brand new, never finished anything, writer.
Rejections are not the sign of a wannabe writer. They are the sign of someone who has made the step toward publication that a majority of new writers never make because they never submit material. Wannabe, in the idiom of FM, is someone who tells you all about the story they're going to write someday, and whom continues to tell you about it every time you meet without ever sitting down and do the work. Those are true wannabe writers -- the posers who never write a story.
Writers write. That's one of FM's mottos. It does not make you a published writer -- but you cannot be the second without taking that first true step and write your stories. If you sit down, write a story, edit it to be the best you possibly can, and submit it, then you are not doing anything terribly different from what the published author does. The only difference is that you may not have found your market yet, or you may not have yet refined your talent as much as you can. The wannabe writer (in FM terms) is the one who talks about writing but doesn't do the walk.