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Friday, July 25, 2008

What the hell do I know?

I keep finding myself giving advice on writing, and I can't help but think that it's more than a little bit ludicrous. I'm not a published writer--talk about the blind leading the blind! And yet, I know so much more than I did a year ago. In Randy Ingermanson's terminology, I think I've gone from being a freshman to being a junior, and I can see how hopelessly clueless I used to be. I'm a little like a new religious convert now, and I just want to share some of what I've learned. Much of what I've learned I'd need a bigger soapbox for, though, and so I just give tidbits here and there. I've also come to realize that you aren't ready, at first, to learn everything. You can't get it all in one shot. Which is too bad.

Not everyone's path is the same, but I find myself looking at people who have done less writing and less research than I have and judging where they are in terms of my own progress, because it's the only ruler I have to go by. I try to give advice that would have been useful to me at that stage, and to withhold advice I would have found discouraging. My truths may not be other people's Truths, but they're all I have to go by.

One of my personal truths is that you're almost certainly not going to become an author if you kind of like to write and you write maybe three or four times a year. Write (virtually) every day gets to seeming like cliché advice, but actually, it doesn't go far enough. You have to become obsessed. The sort of person who would give advice despite having no credentials because you just can't get enough of this crap. Because when you're not writing, you're reading about writing, or thinking about writing, or planning to write, or dreaming about writing. My truth is that until writing consumes you, you're just a dilettante. My truth is that the differences between proficient prose and professional prose are so subtle that you're unlikely to pick up on them unless you're that obsessed. Another one of my personal truths that might be debilitating for other wannabes is that when you're in your teens or your twenties, there's a very good chance that you don't have the life experiences or reading background to make anything you write terribly compelling or original. Obviously there are plenty of younger authors who give the lie to this, but it's true for me. If you're like most of us, though, and not like, say, Christopher Paolini, then how on earth can you be expected to keep any sort of obsession with writing when you probably aren't producing anything salable?

You know, I probably can't do any harm by giving discouraging advice. I heard a lot of this before, and it just rolled off of my back because I wasn't at a stage where I could grasp the truth of it. For every "Write every day," I had a "Yeah, but." Screw that. Let the dishes pile up in the sink, stop watching television or playing video games, get less sleep, stop exercising, feed your family TV dinners, and write every freaking day. But until I started living it, it was just a platitude. Similarly, nuts and bolts advice about linking verbs and exposition and stuff like that was just stuff I heard but didn't absorb. Maybe we don't absorb lessons until we're ready for them. It's all just so much noise until then.

By day, I'm a teacher. Sharing information is in my nature; it's just what I do. So I expect I probably won't stop giving writing advice; hopefully it won't be too long before I have the credentials to back it up. Until then, hey, at least I know I'm faintly ridiculous.

2 comments:

Kimberly Frost said...

Regarding the title: "What the hell do I know?" I'd say you know one of the most important things.

I have met many talented writers who spend years dabbling, writing a few times per year...when they can "fit it in". There's a reason those people, many of whom are terrific human beings, are never going to be published.

When you want it so much that you cease to worry over the obstacles because quitting the quest is not an option, then it's just a matter of time.

Not so long ago, I was in your shoes. (Wishing to be published). My first novel comes out with Berkley in February 2009.

Be obsessed. It works.

Joe Iriarte said...

Dang! Congratulations!

And thanks for the encouragement!