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Becoming a Better Writer

I want to become a better writer.

Better writer? Aren’t you still an IT guy?

I guess first I should worry about becoming a writer maybe…though I guess a certain minimum skill level is needed for that as well. The key question is how to improve that skill intentionally. Random practice probably helps some, at least with developing “voice” and some of the other aspects of the craft. There are a number of books and courses that I could take to help out, but I find it hard to buckle down and work through them.

Why is that? Is it just a symptom of Resistance? Is it because I’m not accountable to anyone for it? Is it because I don’t see the direct connection between that and where I want to go? I still have the hardest time with just getting into a regular writing habit. I need to get back to the point where I’m not self editing anymore…for instance, on this page I’ve made a number of mistakes and almost immediately gone and fixed them. Those last couple of sentence were me like gritting my teeth and not going back and correcting…though they’ll be edited out so that won’t make any sense. When I was working on my pages daily, I was really better about not self editing.  This is a good thing, as it kills the voice and flow of the work as you’re writing it.

What should I do to improve?

Write first, then edit, write first THEN edit. Here’s the thing. I’ve had so many books on improving my craft. Where do I start? Goldberg’s “Writing Down the Bones”? Le Guin’s “Steering the Craft”? LaMott’s “Bird by Bird”? Zinsser’s “On Writing Well”? I’ve already read Stephen King’s On Writing, and while I enjoyed that, it’s somewhat light on actually giving practical advice. I’m currently reading through Zinsser, but I’ve not (yet) seen anything in the way of practical tips, other than the bracket exercise and some general exhortations against clutter (which I could clearly do with heeding a bit more).

However I proceed from this point, one thing that I have found is that with a very few exceptions the writer’s digest books are kind of crap.

What do you have against Writer’s Digest?

Let me explain that a little. The reason I think Writer’s Digest books are crap is their target market. Their target market are aspiring authors. Once you’re a working author, you’re no longer in their demographic. So the books give you just enough info to make it seem like you’re getting somewhere, without you actually getting anywhere. The other thing I’ve found is that so many of the authors of their books aren’t really working authors themselves, or at least, don’t appear to be on the face of it. They have two or three books to their credit, all of them about becoming an author or writing a novel in 14.5 seconds a day, or something like that. I find it hard to listen to someone that’s only written books about becoming an author offering advice about how to be a working author.

There are some notable exceptions in their stable: “The Art and Craft of Storytelling” is a pretty good (and exhaustive) laying out of techniques, with some examples of how to implement in your own writing. Not complete coverage of any one topic of course, but I think that kind of general overview is helpful, especially for a new writer like me.  And if memory serves their bibliography helps point in the direction to learn more about additional topics…more Writer’s Digest Press books, of course.

Yes, I’m still complaining about the move

See here’s the other reason I hate having packed my books. I don’t happen to be home now, but even if I were, I can’t just go look on the shelf to see what books I still have of theirs (I recently culled a lot of writing books that I found to be less useful for me) so I can give examples of the ones that I thought were still valuable. I believe I kept the two I have that were fairly specific to Sci-Fi and Fantasy, since that’s my jam (thus far), but I just don’t recall which other ones I kept.

Irony is a fickle bitch

The irony is not lost on me that I’m writing a blog about writing when I’m not a published author myself. And double thick irony that I’m writing a post complaining about writers that write books about writing that aren’t (as far as I can tell) working authors themselves. But I’d defend myself in two ways. First, this is my journey as an author that I’m documenting. Second, I’m not trying to pass myself off as an authority (and sell books along the way). Maybe once I have a 20 book series going, then I’ll write something like that. Until then, I’ll just enjoy the journey (and talk about it here).

Links:

 
Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within

Steering the Craft: Exercises and Discussions on Story Writing for the Lone Navigator or the Mutinous Crew

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life

On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction

On Writing: 10th Anniversary Edition: A Memoir of the Craft

The Art And Craft Of Storytelling: A Comprehensive Guide To Classic Writing Techniques
 

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