March 24th, 2006


The Internet says the darndest things

I was Googling for a specific reference about myself when I accidentally found this comment thread. It's so very weird to see what others are saying about me, especially people who don't know me. The comment exchange made me laugh, which I need this morning pretty badly.

FWIW, I think Walnut's Tangent Online review pretty much nailed what was wrong with the story -- that piece had two completely different beginnings while in development, and neither of them worked out quite right.

Ah well, guess that means I need to write another story.

Getting it right as a writer

gvdub made an interesting comment in response to my post on how my ideas get to the page.

I said this in response to him:
I spent a lot of years worrying that I wasn't doing it "right" because I didn't have outlines and character step-sheets and a massive rewriting process. I still occasionally feel guilty. It's one reason I've pretty much abandoned any effort to read books on writing. 90%+ of the advice is crosswise for me, and only causes me to doubt my strengths.

It's this idea of "right" which can trap people. Workshops, books, the advice of fellow writers -- all of that stuff is often couched as "you should..." or "a professional always..." That's dangerous.

Like anything else, there's basic rules that make the process coherent. Using a reasonable manuscript format, not writing in Joycean English (though every now and then someone pulls that off). Knowing grammar, spelling and punctuation, whether or not you elect to follow them.

But beyond that, this is a profoundly idiosyncratic business. About five years ago, when I first began to sell (fifth anniversary of my first sale comes around sometime next month, btw) I spent a bunch of time, maybe a year or more, asking every pro I could find about their process. I wanted someone to tell me it was ok to write 'blind', to not know what was going to happen next, to be surprised at the ending. I kept hearing I wouldn't be a 'real' writer until I learned to outline, to rewrite, to polish.

Finally Nina Kirki Hoffman said, "No, I write exactly the same way you do." Suddenly I felt empowered. This isn't engineering or medicine or aviation, where there are performance standards required for success. We're all Viktor Frankenstein, sewing body parts in the basements of our imaginations. There isn't a right way, there's just your way. And my way. And anyone else's way.

My point? Don't read my posts (or anyone else's) and think, "I'm doing it wrong." If something you read strikes you as interesting or worthwhile, give it a shot. Every writer has to discover for themselves how to get it right.

And thanks, Nina.