Learning and Practicing by Writing

One of the quarrels that I have with myself is… “Why Do You Insist on Putting All Your Ideas Out There in the Public?”

The answer isn’t too hard to figure out, now that I am writing “the book” in earnest.  My ideas don’t gather steam and make sense unless I am actually spelling them out in words for other people to see.  It’s a little like the difference between doing a live performance versus one that’s being recorded.

When I know something will be “out there” I write differently, in a way that not only enhances the standard, but also helps cement it as a building-block for further ideas and insights.

Writing “the book” isn’t much different.  The part I’m having the hardest part with is not the ideas I want to include, but instead it’s the story around the learning that I want the protagonist, to experience.

To that end, I have found wonderful help from a book called “Techniques of the $elling Writer” by Dwight Swain.  There are some memorable quotes in the book, which clued me in to the fact that it’s written very much along the lines of Time Management 2.0.  The author claims that there are certain fundamentals of writing fiction that are simply inescapable, and it takes continuous practice in order to become proficient in each of them.

I almost fell out of my chair, especially when he stated:

“the skill of a skilled writer tricks you into thinking there is no skill.”

“You first have to be willing to be very, very bad, in this business, if you’re ever to be good. Only if you stand ready to make mistakes today can you hope to move ahead tomorrow.”

“Can you learn to write stories?
Can you learn to write well enough to sell an occasional piece?
Again yes, in most cases.  Can you learn to write well enough to sell consistently to Red-book or Playboy or Random House or Gold Medal? Now that’s another matter, and one upon which undue confusion centers.

Writing is, in its way, very much like tennis.  It’s no trick at all to learn to play tennis—if you don’t mind losing every game.  Given time and perseverance, you probably can even work yourself up to where Squaw Hollow rates you as above-average competition.
Beyond that, however, the going gets rough. Reach the nationals, win status as champion or finalist, and you know your performance bespeaks talent as well as sweat.

So it is with writing. To get stories of a sort set down on paper; to become known as a “leading Squaw Hollow writer,” demands little more than self-discipline.

Continued work and study often will carry you into American Girl or Men’s Digest or Real Confessions or Scholastic Newstime. But the higher you climb toward big name and big money, the steeper and rougher your road becomes.
At the top, it’s very rough indeed. If you get there; if you place consistently at Post or McCall’s or Doubleday, you know it’s because you have talent in quantity; and innate ability that sets you apart from the competition.
Now this doesn’t seem at all strange to me. The same principle applies when you strive for success as attorney or salesman or racing driver.

Further, whatever the field, no realist expects advance guarantees of triumph. You can’t know for sure how well you’ll do until you try. Not even a Ben Hogan, a Sam Snead, or an Arnold Palmer made a hole-in-one his first time on the links. To win success, you first must master the skills involved. A pre-med student isn’t called on to perform brain surgery.”

Alrighty then…  This isn’t a book about tips, tricks and shortcuts:  the kind of stuff that’s killing time management training and learning.

Instead, it’s about honest hard effort to learn a craft that doesn’t yield it’s deeper secrets to anyone who simply picks up a pen.

In like manner, if you are serious about time management, don’t expect anything to change when you purchase your first Blackberry (even though you might feel more productive.)  Getting better at time management, and becoming really, really good both take hard work.

I imagine that some would say that he’s being too discouraging but, as I have said in prior posts mentioning Usain Bolt and Andre Agassi, they didn’t arrive at the top by taking every silly piece of advice.  Why should we?