Wednesday, July 5, 2017

There Is No Wrong Way To Write

It was Edgar Degas who famously said, "Painting is easy when you don't know how, but very difficult when you do." The point, of course, is that when you first embrace a creative passion it's freeing to express yourself, even if your expression is sloppy and unrefined. The longer you practice, and the more skill you develop, the more you have the ability to judge your own work, as well as that of others.

However, there is something we tend to forget when we get wrapped up in our ideas of what we "know" how to do in regards to art; there's no wrong way to create. Whether you're finger-painting, or imitating the Renaissance masters, you're still painting. And whether you're just penning short stories in a private journal, writing fan fiction on the Internet, or authoring a blockbuster novel series, you're still writing. None of these methods are more "correct" than the others.

Whatever works for you, do that.

I'm Sensing a "But" Coming on...

While it's true there is no wrong way to write, it's important to remember that writing doesn't happen in a vacuum. You need to ask what you're trying to accomplish with it, and whether you succeeded in achieving that goal when all it said and done.

Perhaps if you could elaborate...
Sure thing, Winston.

To pull out one of my favorite metaphors, compare writing to exercise. If you're just doing it to enjoy the activity, and maybe to keep in shape, then a casual routine is good for you. Some long walks, a little light weight-lifting, and you're good to go. For writers, those are the folks who enjoy writing for themselves, or for a small community. They're still engaged, and still dedicated, but they're not trying to run marathons or break power-lifting records (metaphors for publishing a whole series of novels, or winning awards through traditional publishers).

However, suppose those are your goals. If that's the case, then you probably need a totally different kind of routine, and a different sort of mindset. You need to train, and you need to hit your goals come rain or shine, hell or high water. You need to perform when you get your chance, and you need to hit it hard every day. In this case you're not writing strictly for your own enjoyment, or because it's something you enjoy doing; it's your job. You're here to make money, and that means there are no days off for good behavior.

Neither writing method is wrong here; they're just moving in different directions toward different goals. Writers who enjoy the craft, who have a passion for words, but who don't want to go pro are still writers. Writers who just started taking their first tentative steps into the written world are also still writers. If you write comics or romances, radio plays or horror stories, you're still writing. Whether you write poetry, short stories, novellas, or novels, no one can tell you you're doing it wrong. They might disagree with the decisions you've made, or view your compositional choices as flawed, gaudy, boring, or sophomoric, but none of that makes it wrong.

With all of that said, though, you need to know what your goal is for your writing, and to move in that general direction if you want to succeed at that goal. And if you aren't making the progress you want? Well, it might be time to change-up your program, and try something different.

That's all for this weeks Craft of Writing post. Hopefully it helps folks out there who are grappling with the constant shouting from all corners of the profession about what "real" writers do or don't do. If you'd like to keep up with all my latest releases, follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. And if you want to support me and my work, why not head over to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page, and make a small pledge? $1 a month does a lot of good, and you get some free ebooks as a thank you for your support!

1 comment:

  1. Degas’ statement is accurate because, once people decide to turn their passions into professions, they realize – sometimes painfully and unexpectedly – that hard work is needed to accomplish that. When you replace the “S” in “serious” with a dollar sign, there’s no other way around it. You have to work at it.

    Alex Haley’s first wife supposedly left him after he became enthralled with a new writing project and forgot to buy his kids a Christmas tree. When Annie Proulx’s short story “Brokeback Mountain” was turned into a movie in 2005, she complained that all the interviews her publisher wanted her to give were cutting into her writing time. When I got my first p.c. in 2000, a close friend asked if it made my writing easier. I told him it made the mechanics of writing easier. I mean, who doesn’t love MS Word’s autocorrect function?! But the actual writing – sitting down and putting words together to form a coherent story – was still tough. Another close friend kept bemoaning the lack of progress with a photo book he was trying to complete. I finally told him, “Well…it won’t write itself.” He finished it shortly afterwards.

    As with acting and singing, too many would-be professional writers only see those dollar signs at the end of the road and forget they need to lay down the asphalt first. That demands an actual plan of action and plenty of personal sacrifices. And maybe boat loads of coffee or Red Bull!