Writing by the book


“Writing week” continues on the JMD blog.  Now, read on…

There must be dozens, probably hundreds of books written about writing.  How to, what’s good, what it means… there is no shortage of analysis.

And I haven’t read any of them.

That doesn’t suggest I think they’re bad.  Nor does it correspondingly suggest my writing must be bad without reading them.  I just don’t get why.

I don’t presume that a simple facility with words equates to being a writer (although it should help you being able to write).  I also don’t presume that reading a book about writing will make you a writer.

For my part, I look at writing as a passion and a pleasure.  If it moves me to write, if I gain enjoyment from it, then I write.  Otherwise, I watch TV (or play tennis or ride my bike, et al).

Without that emotional drive, the books would serve no purpose other than to train me how to write.  If you’ve ever heard the phrase “technically brilliant”, I imagine that’s what it would be like…a left-handed compliment about a well-written, but otherwise uninspiring, piece.

Are there style guides and “do’s and don’t do’s”?  Sure, but style, like art, is a subjective thing.  Even the words become blurred over time as new cultural acceptances create the permission to use “Lite” instead of “Light” and others of that ilk.  So, a style “frowned upon” by a particular book is deemed poor only until that style is commercially successful.  Then it’s an imaginative breakthrough.

Speaking of imagination, how do you “book learn” that?  Clearly, having a wealth of technical tips and knowledge about how to write and then having nothing interesting to write about isn’t going to help your writing career.  Creating interesting themes, characters and conflict can be discussed in a book, but no book can create the spark in your head.

I liken it back to when I took an art class in high school.  You can sit and learn about form and space and figure and perspective.  You can even do “exercises”.  Without that aforementioned spark, the part of your being that translates an idea into an image, you may draw or paint, but have you actually created “art”?

My writing style is basically me talking through the page.  And just like talking with me in person, there are some who will enjoy the conversation and others who look to avoid it.  My diction is reasonably large, but that is less important than my understanding of how to communicate.  The $10 words are fun and all, and they have a place based on a mood you want to evoke, but otherwise, talking (and writing) in plain language is most likely for the best.

I’m sure there are writing conventions I break and grammatical rules I bruise, but all of that is simply my style.  It’s purposeful, I can assure you.  After years of exposure to advertising and corporate communications, I understand the need for brevity and structure.  I don’t feel the same constraints in my fiction writing, just as I don’t limit myself in my verbal interactions.  I want people to feel like I could be sitting next to them telling them the story and not have it sound like I was reading from a book.

Maybe the books I don’t read about writing would tell me to do just what I’m doing, in which case buying the book would be redundant (or what we call “buyer’s reassurance” in advertising…making the buyer feel good about the decision they already made).  If the books suggest I change my style (or even to not give up my day job), the purchase would be counterproductive…I’m going to keep writing, regardless.

Can writing be considered a technical skill?  Is it like taking 500 foul shots, sewing a thousand patterns or performing a hundred surgeries?  I don’t know.  Can you do that with something creative?  Does painting more make you a better painter?  I’m sure it makes you more skilled, but is that better?  Couldn’t you make the case that the more you do, the less creative you could become (for example, burning out or “hacking”)?

I should probably apologize to the authors of writing books I may have offended (presuming even one of them came across this post), for I don’t mean to imply the books have no value.  Simply, I don’t personally see the value.

Of course, that could just be a failing on my part and the detailing of all of those would be a book in itself!

Leave a Reply

  • (will not be published)