Tuesday, August 09, 2005

To Learn How to Write...

... you have to write.

I've heard this many, many times, and it does make sense to me. My flight instructor told me during flight school that no one can teach you how to land the plane. Your instructor can demo the technique, and he can back you up on the controls to make sure you don't kill yourslf (or the plane). Knowing the theory behind the aerodyanamics of landing is necessary and important, but it doesn't equip you with the mechanical skills, perception, or judgement needed to make a smooth and on-centerline landing. Ultimately, you have to teach yourself how to land.

Writing works the same way. You can read all the books you want, attend every workshop in the country, and sit at the knee of every seasoned professional in the business, but in the end, they can no more teach you how to write than my flight instructor could teach me how to land. Just as with flying, knowing the theory and technique is important, even critically important. But ultimately, you have to teach yourself how to write. And the only way to do that is to write. Write good stuff, write bad stuff. It's all packed with learning. Anyone can write a passage, and sometimes it will even be something good. What distinguishes us as professional writers is that we have the background and training to know why it's good -- or why it's bad. But writing itself is so w0nderfully diverse that it's simply impossible to catalog all of the ways you can be creative -- nor would you want to. The only answer is to write something, and then, more importantly, study what you have written in light of what you have learned and figure out what works, what doesn't, and why.

I've reached that point in my own studies. Reading about some of the various techniques has got me itching to try them for myself. I had planned to wait until I could devote 100% of my time to writing; I am really looking forward to just immersing myself in it. I've been savoring the anticipation of the experience. I just can't wait, any longer, though. If I'm to go forward in my writing education, I need to start writing now. So, I'm scratching the itch, and I've started actually writing (as opposed to just plotting) a science fiction novel. I will very likely toss it in the recycle bin when it's done, and that's okay. The purpose is of this novel is to give me a vehicle to use for experimentation, to try out some of the techniques I've been reading and learning about. If it turns out good, that would be excellent, but it's not the point of the exercise.

Yesterday I wrote about 500 words, which is really nothing, just a single scene, although it's a scene I'm really pleased with. Today I wrote about 750 words in a scene that introduces the antagonist. This scene is really flat, not much tension at all, which is good, since it gives me a place to start experimenting from. I read in The Writer that a goal of 50 to 1000 words a day, but no more than 2000, was a nice novel writing pace, but that seems awfully slow to me. Maybe that assumes several re-writes on just that scene, but I don't plan to re-write anything until I've got a first draft down that I can work with. Editing and re-writing is fun and easy. It's like playing. But you have to first create the toys to play with, and I want to "collect the wholes set" before sitting down to play!

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