Sunday, January 20, 2019

A Few Words For New Writers

You're absolutely right. The story you're working on sucks. It's terrible. It's unreadable. Worse than that, it's unpublishable.

And you know why?

Because you haven't finished it yet. And, unless it's by Franz Kafka or Jane Austen or J. D. Salinger, nobody is going to pay good money to publish an unfinished story.

Moreover, until it's finished, you don't know what changes you're going to have to make in order for it to be the best possible story it can be. So the odds are that your story is a bit of a mess and will remain so until you undo the inconsistencies, rewrite the problem sections, cut the superfluous ones, and do the final polish draft.

Meanwhile, instead of simply putting your head down and plowing ahead, you're staring at what you've written and comparing it to the finished work of writers you admire. Theirs is so marvelous! Yours is so... unfinished. Maybe, you think, the best thing would be to just erase the file and spend the rest of the day playing solitaire online.

But the work of those writers you like so much was nowhere near so admirable while it was being made. Trust me on this one. Sausage ain't even in it!

You may be a very dear friend, someone to whom I owe a lot and for whom I would walk a mile barefoot through the snow if need be, but I am not going to let you read my rough drafts.

The best writing advice I ever got was from Jack Dann. He asked me once what I was working on and I said something like, "Well, I have this story set in space but I'm not crazy about the characterization..."

Jack grabbed my lapels then and shook me. He literally did. Then he said, "Michael! Never criticize yourself! That's what other people are for."

So, when you're writing, your first responsibility to your craft is to learn to turn off that internal critic, that little Stalin of the soul for the duration. You can turn it back on when you're going over the finished story to see what changes need to be made, if you like. But keep its grubby little hands off the actual writing.

End of sermon. Go thou and sin no more.

And those "other people" Jack talked about . . . ?

They've never let me down. 


1 comment:

Dan Dan the Party Man said...

I cant even finish a reasonably crafted comment, much less a