by Marc Cullison
I love to read. And I love to write. But in order to write something that a person would enjoy reading, I have to know what to do and what not to do. Writing is much like any other profession. You have to learn the craft. But how does one do that?
I have spent countless hours reading and studying articles and books whose authors propose to know what those very things are. But most of them fall short in the telling. It’s difficult to explain to someone how you learned to write a given way, with a certain style, and using a particular voice, and organize the book so that it tells a story worth telling. Some have tried to give examples, such as quotes from noted books, but if you haven’t read those books, you are at a loss to understand the author’s point. And if you have read those books, you have only that author’s perspective on the meaning of it. I don’t know about you, but when someone tries to explain something like that to me, I can only interpret it within the framework of my background and experiences. And those are usually quite different than the author’s.
I’ve come to the conclusion that it is highly unlikely that a person can teach anyone else how to write. You can provide guidance and examples, but that’s as far as it goes. If you want to learn how to write, read. Read everything you can find that is even remotely close to the way you want to write. Then practice, practice, practice. Then read some more and practice some more. Eventually, you will learn to recognize patterns in the writing that conform to what makes you feel comfortable with it. Once you find that, study it and practice it. Apply those patterns to your own attempts at writing. Of course, this takes a while, but no talent that is of value is developed quickly. It just doesn’t happen overnight. Be patient.
Once you have developed a “knack” for writing, test it on some folks you trust to give honest feedback. And here, I am not referring to friends and relatives. They are inclined to tell you what you want to hear, and that’s not what you need to hear. You don’t have to take anyone’s advice, but if they didn’t like your writing, chances are few other people will. That’s where you need to change your approach. You should write what you want, but you should write for an audience, the folks who will enjoy your writing. No matter how good you think your writing is, it is the opinions of your readers that actually count. If they tell you it doesn’t work, then it probably doesn’t. What you think of it has little to do with it. If no one likes what you write, what’s the point of it, unless it boils down to vanity?
After many years of practice and one published novel (Where’s The Ivy?, New Forums Press) I have acquired readers who enjoy what I have written. I’m certainly not the best author alive, but I am still learning the craft, as is every other author out there. My second novel is due out soon, a different style of writing than my first. I’m anxious to see how it is accepted.
If you aspire to write, I wish you the best. If not, then I encourage you to read what others have written. Reading can be educational, fun, an escape, or just a way to pass the time. Whatever the reason, reading is delightful. But then, so is writing.