Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Actively Being Passive

First up, read this post over at the Mystery Man on Film...I'll wait...

As many of you would already know, I'm a big fan of King and very much enjoyed his book On Writing, which I reviewed somewhat briefly here.

But I'm also open minded and not one to jump to King's defence on the slightest provocation, and I don't intend to do anything of the sort here.

The thing is, MM is spot on with what he says. And this brings me to the core subject of this post: where are new writers supposed to learn their craft if conflicting points of view are held by those who have been successful in the industry already?

As regular readers are aware, I'm having my doubts to the benefits of structured learning within our academic institutions in regards to writing. I've found I learn just as much, if not more, from reading other writers blogs and interacting with critique groups/partners. Yes, I'm learning from my course, but so far very little real progress has been made in advancing my fiction writing.

So I go out into the great big wide web of all knowledge in search of tiny nuggets to help me over hurdles, but it seems I'm finding plenty of crossfire from some big names. It makes me dig deeper and think longer on what I'm being advised.

It was during one of these searches I had my biggest light bulb moment to date - the method of writing in layers. I didn't get that one out of a book. Thanks goes to Alexandra Sokoloff. I now just write the first draft. I know I will go back and do specific sweeps over the manuscript when I'm done to add in the needed layers to create a great book. I feel much freer when I write in the long form now.

Bottom line - writers should read everything they can and keep only the information which works for their writing. This works at every level.

When working with critique groups or individuals, read what they suggest and then decide on whether you think it improves or detracts from the story, your theme, and your voice. Then make a decision on their suggestion, but if you discard it, don't forget it. It may be useful further along your journey.

When reading an agents blog, take on board the information they give you, but you need to shape any nuggets of wisdom to suit you and your style of writing. Own it. Shape it to conform to you while staying within the accepted boundaries of the industry. Once you've been published you can look to break rules.

When editors and publishers ask for revisions (I'm talking about short stories here as we are all still looking to get to the book stage - for an idea of the process after finding the book deal look here), stop and think before doing anything. Will the changes affect your story and what you're trying to convey in a bad way? Exactly why has the editor asked for these changes? Maybe it's just the wrong market and you should say thanks for considering, but move on to find a different home for your baby.

When one successful writer suggests outlining a plot in detail before writing while another just as successful writer suggests that way will kill true creativity, you need to step back and think about what works for you. Try them both, or try a variation and merge the methods to create something that works for you.

First you need to get a grasp on the basics - you need to be able to tell a story. Grammar, spelling, and all the rules of English (or whatever language you write in) can be mastered over time as you practise, but the best grasp of the technical aspects will mean nothing if you can't tell a story.

So write - and keep writing.

And read absolutely everything you can: books in your chosen genre (the old and the new); books outside your chosen genre; writers blogs; agents blogs; industry blogs; text books; course books.

But above all else, you must write, because that's what writers do.

Everything else will come with time and luck. But that's a whole other topic for discussion...

So, what do you do, other than write, to grow in the craft? What blogs would you suggest every writer should visit above any other? What books are must reads? What's been your biggest light bulb moment so far?


  1. Some people take King's book as the bible of writing. I love the book and wouldn't go that far; in fact it's a bit of an insult to take him word for word. You have to be critical and willing to adapt to advice like you said.

    At the moment, reading fiction and writing when I can is honing my craft. You're write in that sometimes 'formal' education isn't the answer.

    In fact, my favourite resource is Absolute Write ( a webforum for writers. Oh so inspiring!

  2. Hi Ben - I once trawled around Absolute Write and I agree there is a huge amount of stuff for writers there. Unfortunately that's why I'm no longer there - there's way too much stuff and people there. I prefer a little more intimate surrounds which is why I've painstakingly gathered a few very talented individuals to my breast and who I really enjoy working one on one with in a very informal and non-scheduled manner.

    Still, I would suggest that writers go check Absolute Write out and make their own judgment call. There is some really good stuff and some really good people there - obviously - I mean, Ben's there for one.

  3. Thanks ;)

    I can see what you mean about it being too much though. I do procrastinate a lot there, but have found a group to hang out with that keeps me motivated.

  4. I think my own blog is the quintessential writer's resource - but I'm a freelancer and don't get into writing fiction so much (not until it can pay the bills anyway).

    But I do agree that the Absolute Write forum is brilliant.