The previous eight weeks of blog posts are recycled material, from the National Novel Writing Month newsletters I put out during my last year as a Municipal Liaison. If you belong to my region, you’ve probably read them all by now. I’m writing this post in the last week of November 2016, the waning days of NaNoWriMo, and looking forward to whatever the heck 2017 will bring.
So now, I’m switching focus from “NaNo-friendly” material, to stuff I really want to discuss. As an ML, there were certain topics I just never brought up unless somebody lassoed me into talking about them: politics, religion, rewriting, and practice. I’d occasionally mention practice in passing, depending on who was across the table from me, but never got into it.
Because, almost without exception, no beginner writer—and some of the published intermediate writers too—believes she needs to practice her craft.
I was no exception to this, at all. I wasted years pretending to be a writer, thinking if I just got my lucky break I could make big bucks at this gig, and accomplished nothing because I never practiced. When I finally caught a clue and changed my attitude, started learning new techniques and practiced, I became a publishable writer. And I stopped boring my first readers, thankfully. (Well, for the most part. I still write stinkers. No one gets it right all the time.)
Talent is one of the big deadly myths in writing. Yes, talent gets you started, and gets you to a point. But practice is what brings you up to the professional level. Lots and lots of practice.
And that is scary. To think, you have to practice every day to become a professional writer? Like Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hours thingy? Who has that much time when there’s a market to chase?
The problem is, writing has a steep learning curve. When you’re at the bottom, you don’t see the curve. That’s probably a good thing, otherwise more people would get scared away from writing. And there’s a lot of different skills that go into writing a story: depth of character, point of view, voice, pacing, dialog, setting, scene structure, suspense, team building, world building, information flow. Just to name a few relevant skills.
If you’re intimidated by the list of skills I just gave, you should be. And that’s not even mentioning how to understand genre and audience expectations.
How do you learn this stuff?
Take classes, read books, keep learning. And then practice what you learn.
Learn and practice enough, you’ll get there.
Over the next number of weeks, I’m going to discuss the art of practice. I’ll try to answer the following questions:
How do you practice?
What do you practice?
What kind of attitudes should you have when practicing?
And why practice at all?
I think this is important, because a lot of beginning writers never truly get out of the gates. They don’t practice enough. Making writing a vocation requires far more than one book, or series, before you can truly call yourself a writer.
Here’s a distinction to keep in mind: A writer is someone who writes (present tense). An author is someone who has written (past tense).
In this sense, an “author” is the guy who wrote a single book, or maybe a whole series, and doesn’t understand why he hasn’t won the Pulitzer yet, or why his sales are so low.
Don’t be that guy.
Don’t be the guy—like me when I first started—who only writes during NaNoWriMo, one month out of the year, and wonders why he hasn’t scored a publishing contract yet.
But don’t get me wrong about NaNoWriMo. It’s a great challenge, and worth doing. The problem I have with the November challenge, is that it doesn’t truly encourage the long-term view. The organization has gotten better over the years, with Camp Nano and such. But what are you writing for December? What’s your January novel about? No damn reason to stop writing because “it’s not Nano season yet.”
I have a friend who cross-stitches. She participates in a number of stitching communities, and is constantly doing some challenge or another. I’m a little gob-stopped by how many projects she has going on. Likewise, she probably thinks I’m tweaked in the head for how many stories I write.
She’s gotten pretty damn good at stitching, and has made some very pretty pieces. She works at it every day, or close to every day.
Writing is no different. Take on challenges, but don’t give up after completing one. My friend has completed more stitching projects than I can wrap my head around. Write a little bit every day, and eventually the completed stories add up.
All comes down to practice. And that’s what the next few weeks will be about.
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