Friday, August 19, 2005
Samuel Johnson was Funny, But Wrong.
Read. Read everything you can get your hands on. Read people you don't like. Read boring guys and figure out how they could be made interesting. Pick out the errors in the daily newspaper - annoying, aren't they? Read poetry. Read biography. Read textbooks. Read novels. Read the Bible. Read children's books. Read books recommended to you.
Think of your work as a performance; drafts as rehearsals. You wouldn't play the violin for an audience without a little private practice first, would you? You wouldn't want to listen to someone who played without benefit of lessons, practice or rehearsal, would you? Why, then, would you want to inflict your mistake ridden first run-through on your friends?
Write. A writer is one who writes. Daily practice remains the best path to mastery of any skill.
Learn the rules. Sure, grammar, spelling and punctuation are all more or less arbitrary conventions. And, on rare occasions, it is okay to break the rules for effect. But you don't want your readers thinking "That dummy can't spell," in lieu of experiencing your work. And you must fully understand the rules to effectively break them.
Write what you know. A famous writer once said every human being has all the experience needed to be a writer by the age of five. Every child that age should have known love; and has known fear, rage, jealousy and hatred. Avoid what you don't know. If you don't know science, leave it for others. But if numerology is your bag, go for it. If you fake it, people will see through you.
Listen to your critics. Consider and understand first, then choose to ignore the criticism or to change your ways. Don't take it personally. If a critic fails to understand you, consider the possibility you failed to express your message effectively. Consider it, but reject unfounded criticism. Don't change who you are or how you write merely to please another. Please yourself first.
Deliver. Give the reader something he can't or won't get any other way. You imagine for the reader, in greater detail and more dramatically than he fantasizes. You do math for him, you entertain and inform. You do your homework, and the reader reaps the rewards. You bring him something fresh, if only your own personality. Remember, you compete for attention with the television, movies, and the reader's own family and own back yard.