Write well. Write often. Edit wisely.
I’ve been working on a couple of craft articles this week, looking through a grammar book or two as well, and reading Web articles on mechanics.
And I’m thinking that we—we editors and writers and friends—put a whole lot of pressure on writers to get it right.
All of it.
We instruct on grammar and choosing the right words and planning character arcs and writing kick-ass dialogue. We point out what doesn’t work and what will work and what writers should do to craft a great novel.
We direct and challenge and encourage and cajole. We give examples of the good and the bad, what works and what doesn’t. We even try to point out why one option works and another doesn’t and why a third option is better still.
It seems we’re never satisfied, always pushing and prodding and asking for the writer to do more, learn more. And while there’s nothing wrong with that and everything right with it, there’s another piece of advice we may forget to offer. And it’s counsel writers need to hear, especially if they’re taking classes or going to workshops or submitting manuscripts and suffering through rejection after rejection.
If all writers hear is advice on how to be better, how to improve, then what they’re also hearing is that the work isn’t good enough. That it’s not there yet. And if the work isn’t ready, if it needs improvement, then the writer himself needs improvement and isn’t good enough.
Isn’t that what you hear when you immerse yourself in craft issues, at least sometimes?
There’s always something to learn, always some way to approach your project differently or write differently. Maybe you’re being encouraged to learn a new skill or strengthen a weak one.
Whatever the words and however the advice comes, those words and that advice are always about improving, either improving the story or improving as a writer.
I wholeheartedly agree with improving craft skills; many of my blog articles speak specifically to that. But I never want to be guilty of appealing only to the writer’s mind and to analysis and to form.
I want to remind writers to not only learn craft and polish skills and to plot and plan their stories.
I want to remind them to bring passion to those stories. I want to encourage them to write with abandon and pleasure and giddiness. To write without restraint.
To write with fire.
Maybe it’s just me, just where I’ve spent this week, deep in the workings of grammar and rules and craft. Maybe I haven’t read enough fiction, haven’t let the life of a story move me.
Maybe you never feel buffeted by the rules and the competing advice and the unrelenting push to improve. But I felt buffeted on your behalf this week. I felt a pang for writers, especially those very new to the journey of writing a novel, a pang at all the advice offered them—thrown at them—as if all there is to writing is rules and more rules and even more rules. As if story is all in the technique and that only the mechanics matter. As if once the mechanics are mastered, every story will be perfect.
Craft and mechanics are vital, of course they are. But so is the passion a writer brings to his tale. If not passion for the plot, then for the characters. And if not for the plot and characters, then for the challenge of writing a story that will move readers, shake them up.
Maybe your passion is not to tell a story but to tell the story, the one burning in your soul, the story that’s been churning inside you for years, the story that once burned hot but was doused with the cold shower of rules and mechanics and form once you tried getting that story out of your heart and onto paper.
If your ardor for writing has cooled, may I remind you that it won’t stay cool or dormant? If you’re a storyteller, you need to tell your stories. And once you see what the knowledge of craft and the polishing of skills can do for those stories—once you see what you can do when you combine skill with passion—you’ll be eager to write more and to write better. You’ll be renewed to the power of the written word. You’ll once again be eager to learn more.
Just a reminder, then, to not be overwhelmed or disheartened or discouraged by all the rules and the advice. Much of the advice is good, will only make you a stronger craftsman. But at the same time, remember that it’s the fire in your books that your readers come to experience, come to partake of. They expect you’ll have the craft down solid, yes. But they want to soar with your characters and get lost in your worlds and race through your adventures.
They want to cry and rage and laugh. They want the wildness of the forbidden encased in the safe confines of a fictional world.
They want a fearsome, passionate quest that snares their minds and hearts without threatening their lives.
They want a story that’s not theirs to become story that’s wholly theirs, a part of their memories, an agitator of their emotions.
Give readers, then, what they want, what they deserve from fiction.
Don’t substitute craft for the life of your story—let craft bring your story to life.
Write with fire and abandon.
And when you’re learning and improving and searching for techniques to improve, protect that fire, that heat that drives you and your stories. Don’t let the flame go out.
Yes, let your head analyze. It’s very good at that.
But let your heart burn. It’s so very perfect for doing just that.