Take a deep breath of cool comfortable air, lace your fingers and give your knuckles a nice loosening pop. Whipping the note stylus from its sheath at your side, you give it a shake and speak the words of enlightenment. Flashes of pyrotechnic color burst around you. With a stomach tightening lurch and a rasp of electrified air, your familiar surroundings melt like wax sculptures beneath a hot sun. In their place, the dome of a bright azure sky streaked with clouds fades into view. Giant oak trees thrust up from the curving grassy soil at your feet like hands reaching up to grasp the heavens.
Heart speeding and skin tingling, you blink away your disorientation. You swallow and your mouth fills with dry sugary taste. A cool breeze caresses your face laced with the scents of cut grass, pine, and wood-smoke. Birds chirp and leaves rustle. Glancing around you realize that you are kneeling in a wilderness clearing at the crown of a low hill. Around you are several other people, each with a stylus in their hand and tablet in their lap. Each person’s attention swings to a man that steps up to sit on a tree stump just a few paces from the first line attendees.
The newcomer is a thick fellow with coffee brown hair dressed in a dark blue jacket and jeans. He is fresh faced and blue eyed, with a bent nose and an off-center smile. He nods to every one, gaze scanning the assemblage.
Your attention is briefly drawn from the man to a sound behind you. A few paces away are more people, only they are facing in the opposite direction. These too have the stylus and tablet, their attention is turned toward another man sitting on a tree stump who could be the mirror image of the speaker in *your* seminar. Wondering what that’s about, you turn your attention back to the subject at hand.
Writing: Reaching for the Golden Ring of Story
If you read all of the long introduction, the images might have caught your fancy, or perhaps you were wondering what it all had to do with learning the writing craft. A writer thinks about both things. They appreciate the beauty of words, and look critically at the message. Stories created purely for the sake of creation are rare. Typically, people write stories as a catharsis or as a retelling of a real or imagined journey. Some people are plagued by ideas they simply must record. Whatever the reason, whether it is emotional release, a stimulating intellectual exercise, or a primal need—it is all the desire to write.
Anyone can put words on a page.
What about writing well? If called upon to create something similar to the introduction to this article, could you? How many senses were used to describe the scene? What point-of-view was used? What kinds of deliberate style and technique were employed to make the imagery more engaging? All of these questions are issues of craft. Basic writing craft we can study in school. However, the mechanics that they usually teach in colleges and universities mostly apply to non-fiction. The teaching of fiction techniques tends to focus on the analysis of works already in print—not on getting your own words in print.
Assuming there’s a desire to improve, how does an aspiring fiction writer get better? How does he/she know when they’re improving?
In terms of getting better, there is a simple answer: PRACTICE.
In order to be good at anything you must do it, and do a lot of it. In the case of writing, not only must you write—you must study. Unless you are counting on being one of the blessed lucky few who stumble upon success—there’s a great deal you must know in order to place your fiction.
Writing is an art. Like a musician’s love of tone and rhythm, a sculptor’s love of lines and contour, and painter’s passion for color and composition—a writer loves words, the ideas they convey, the imagery they paint, and the emotion they evoke. Each art has its creative aspect and its underlying science. Writing is no exception. A foundation of introspection, insight, and creativity on demand all go into being a good storyteller. This article and the ones that follow have been written to help you with mastering this arcane science.
Welcome to the Beginning Writer Series. These articles are one half of a twenty-four article introductory writing program. The twelve installments ofThe Beginning Writer concentrate on the industry, psychology, and lifestyle of writing. The remaining twelve of Beginning Writing Craft focus on the mechanics of narrative and story. Each article stands on its own, but they all work together to convey a larger picture. Aspiring authors are encouraged to read from either track as valuable information can be found in both.
Here our focus is the writing life—and while that may sound hokey—there’s a real and serious aspect to a good writing regime. The reality is that few people except for journalists and non-fiction writers can actually make a steady living at writing. If you plan to write fiction professionally, the reality is that you have bumpy road ahead. It is not impossible, but it can be frustrating. To get published, you need to be good. Now some of you might at this moment be thinking—“I’ve seen published stuff that was horrible. I can write better that that!” Don’t let someone else’s luck delude you into banking on being equally as lucky. If you make professionalism and quality your goal, getting published is simply a matter of time and persistence.
In the first article, we’ll look at the “writing decision”. Are you serious about writing or just dabbling. Can you balance a day-job and moon-light as a fiction author? The second installment is about realistic expectations. What’s likely and what’s far fetched when looking at getting your work published. The third section will deal with making time to write. The fourth addresses productivity and the tools of a productive writing environment. Section five deals with the thorny problem of completion. There are many many people who start a novel or short story, but few of them actually finish. The sixth installment comes back the topic of time, and concentrates on story focus and getting the maximum production from your limited time. Articles seven through nine deal with writer resources: advice materials, conferences, and read-and-critique groups. The last two pieces deal with the publishing industry and emotional investments we make when we push our literary babies out of the nest.
Together, these twelve pieces along with the Writing Craft articles should give you enough information to either get started or get back on track when it comes to your writing. Once you’re done and you’re feeling confident, there’s intermediate and advanced materials to advance your execution, style, and technique.
We hope you enjoy the material that follows.
Good luck and good writing.