There are so many dos and don'ts nowadays for writers to absorb that it's a wonder we don't crack under the strain.
How are we suppose to get inspired - and write from the heart - when at least 90% of what we might want to put down on paper is considered bad practice or dull, ineffectual writing?
When starting a new story, for instance, and you find yourself describing the weather or including oodles of back story - or now apparently too much detail of any kind - what are we supposed to do?
Stop and start again?
Wait for a more inspired thought?
Keep beating ourselves up until we're better writers?
I would suggest none of the above.
Because if you let all the constraints and possible criticisms get to you, you'll most likely end up blocked - and writing nothing.
Show Don't Tell
I had an email from an esteemed subscriber this week who asked me a question that seems pertinent to this issue.
Here's the gist:
"I've been reading a lot lately about 'show don't tell', and I agree with it but when writing I invariably fall into telling because I guess I like it. Is that a bad thing?
"Also I'm a big Sci-fi and Fantasy reader where a lot of telling is done... But to me (and maybe I'm just crazy) telling is part of the fun. I mean when I read I like the telling, the information... I mean as long as there's some action, the telling is fine with me. Am I the only one who feels this way?"
First of all, my subscriber is not crazy - far from it!
Our love affair with 'telling' is innate - it's in our natures to be able to glean information in this way. We accept the sense of detachment, indeed even welcome it sometimes. It's pleasurable to us. And it's certainly not a crime for an author to indulge in it.
The advice regarding show don't tell is more to do with how some writers go about creating immediacy and empathy for their characters. It's great once you know how to do it. But even the best 'showing' authors know that for pacing at least, you sometimes need to step back and 'tell' the story for a while.
My feeling is that you need to read - and write - what you most enjoy.
We are all influenced and affected by other writers - and hopefully we learn from the best techniques and the styles of others. But we should also listen to the way we feel inside - on a more visceral level. If our emotions are engaged and we are absorbed in the stories we read, then we should respect those feelings - rather than reject stylistic 'flaws' on principle.
There's nothing wrong with emulating writing styles that we feel work - even when we're told they're bad practice.
It's up to us to find our own method of self expression before getting bogged down by the apparent need for stylistic perfection.
Write First - Edit Later
Nobody writes perfectly the first time out. It's not possible, especially when writing a longer work.
How can you know whether your first paragraph is appropriate until you've finished the whole book?
Why waste time honing a chapter to perfection when you might want to drop it completely later on?
I see this a lot. Writers flagellating themselves over passages that are hard to write - when it's often the most easily written which become the most effective when the work is complete.
Take a lesson from this - and don't beat yourself up. Let it all out naturally, with ease, enjoying the process as you go.
The best writing style for you - for any writer - is the one that comes most naturally to you. If the writing is hard, you're not engaging the right pathways in your brain - and your work will often look forced.
When you're enjoying the writing process, you're more in tune with your unique self - that part of you that is more likely to be original and inspired. Quite apart from the simple fact that if you enjoy writing, you'll do it for longer and more consistently, both of which are prerequisites of a writing career.
Dance Into The Fire
(Gosh. Never thought I'd use a Duran Duran song as a header.)
Back to the dancing question in the title...
I received an email overnight from a lovely new subscriber who used to be a dancer - a champion at that. I hope she doesn't mind me using her as an example in this article - I haven't asked her permission yet. But she says:
"I do not know all the in's and outs of writing and how to make a living at it as I have done with dance. I have been on so many web sites, but you are the only one I have spent money on...
"I have a doctorate in the arts, and will now write about the arts, and so much more. Please accept my thanks for the programs, chat room, stories about Hollywood movies... all the thoughts outside the box. Good job, and thanks for the confidence shot."
And here's part of my response:
"You sound like you've led a fascinating life and my advice would be for you to apply yourself to writing in the same way as you have to dance.
"Learn all the moves - the techniques - but then let your instincts tell you what is right. I'm sure you'll do well then."
The Dance Analogy
Writing is initially an act of self expression. How can you express yourself properly when you have critics - inside and out - heckling your every word?
It's like being a dancer, rehearsing all the right moves. It's a necessary part of the eventual performance. You need to practice and work through the kinks to get fluidity of movement and give the illusion of ease. Dancers will tell you that illusion is the hardest part of their job.
So it is with writing.
Think of your final manuscripts as your 'performance' - a public exhibition of your talent for all to see. But don't be afraid to work hard behind the scenes: polishing and honing your style by making mistakes and writing badly, freely, in your own way.
Because it's by being true to yourself and constantly striving for improvement, step by step, that you will achieve success.
As someone famous once said: "Everybody makes mistakes. That's why they put an eraser on the end of a pencil."
Make all the mistakes you want - in private. Don't be afraid to be yourself. Push yourself. Try new things. Try old things. Try.
It's all good practice until that day you feel you're good enough to take your work out to an audience - and give it a public airing.
Your readers will love your apparently effortlessness and skill - and, while transported by your performance, will largely be unaware of the hard work and discipline that went into creating it.
That's why writing is like dancing.
Your Success is My Concern
The Easy Way to Write