Saturday, December 15, 2012

Writing is an Art and a Craft

I waited until I retired from my day job before focusing on writing full-time. I learned that advice at a few writingconferences while I was trying to learn the basics of writing. Successful authors stressed it’s not a good idea to quit your day job to become a writer. Being a successful author is a long and arduous task. The big dollars are only earned by a very small percentage of authors. Before you can write that “successful novel” you must learn the skills and technology of writing. And that doesn’t come overnight. Learning can be achieved through university courses, writing seminars, Webinars, books on writing, workshops, and writing groups. During the learning process one mustn’t lose sight of the very import fact that writing is an ART and a CRAFT.
Don’t forget, ART is in the eye of the beholder. Not every reader will love your work. I could hold up two famous, but different style paintings and ask a number of people to vote on which they prefer. The result would be mixed. I have asked members at a writing workshop to write down the name of their favorite author on a slip of paper. At one recent workshop, 30 responses had only one duplicate name. In the words of the famous poet John Lydgate, or possibly P.T. Barnum, or possibly Mark Twain, or maybe even adapted by President Lincoln. “You can please some of the people all of the time. You can please all of the people some of the time. But you can’t please all of the people all of the time.”
It is our job as writers to find what our readers are looking for and try to provide them with exciting enjoyable reads. To do that we must learn the art and the craft of writing. But no matter how many courses or workshops we attend in the technology of writing, success requires practice, practice, practice. A first chair musician at a major philharmonic orchestra does not get to that position after simply learning the art of music by taking music classes. It takes practice, practice, and more practice. A very small percentage of musicians make it to a major philharmonic orchestra, much less that first chair. The same is true for writers striving for a bestselling novel.
When I decided to write thriller novels, I attended conferences, went to workshops, participated in writers’ groups, and networked whenever I could. I was very fortunate to talk to an editor and an author who gave me the same very important advice. Learn the craft and write a novel just for the practice. Don’t intend to send your first attempt to an agent or editor. Treat it as your practice session. Make it your test surgery like the first surgeries a surgeon in training makes on cadavers. Learn from your mistakes without having to suffer the rejection, after rejection, after rejection. Put that first novel into your closet. Lock it in your file cabinet. Then try the real thing. Go for the gusto with a better shot at becoming a published author. I’ll be honest, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing from the author and editor. But then I thought about my many years in the fashion industry and how often I learned from my mistakes and was better for it.
My first effort at writing fiction was CHILDREN OF THE SUN. Only members of my critique group ever read the words that went into that manuscript. I hid the manuscript deep in the back of my file cabinet. When I set about writing my next effort at fiction, I didn’t think I had reached a level where I could feel comfortable that my writing was on a close enough par with the thriller novels I was reading. I created outlines of a few thriller novels and used them as a guide to create an outline for my next effort. I re-read CHILDREN OF THE SUN and came to the conclusion that, as the book progressed, I was improving, but still had a long way to go. I decided to write another suspense/thriller and focused on developing a detailed outline to guide me. The title was PRESIDENTIAL SANCTION and I vowed to once again destine it to my own personal slush pile.
About two years ago when I was working on my latest thriller, SIROCCO, I participated in a monthly critique group that was providing me with great input on polishing SIROCCO. One day I brought a scene from PRESIDENTIAL SANCTION and read it to the group. I watched the expressions of the group changing into weird looks. Finally, one of the members said, “You didn’t write that.” When I asked them why, another member said, “Your writing is much better.” That made my day.

That experience showed me that maybe practice doesn’t make perfect, but practice does go a long way in helping us improve our writing. Practice, practice, practice. 
Image courtesy of Flavio Takemoto

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