It’s true that we can be inspired by bad writing as well as good writing. Poorly written novels may give us that boost of confidence that we can “do better than that!” But I’m finding that I want my mind filled with brilliant writing, as I wade through my revisions for Anywhere But Here.
My first writing goal was a challenge to see if I could, in fact, write a novel (a historical novel, no less) with a beginning, middle and end. That done, I rewrote, rewrote, rewrote (x a lot) with the goal of publication in my sights. After Winds of L’Acadie was published by Ronsdale Press, my goal became writing a second novel to prove that the first novel was not an accident. (It wasn’t. Trust me. It was a gargantuan amount of work. Nothing accidental about it.) Still, I felt the need to prove this because when another book did not show up on the bookstore shelves a year later, this “accidental novel” theory was suggested to me on more than one occasion. Always, I might add, by non-writers. Writers know better.
With two books published, I’m feeling more confident of my “real author” status, which doesn’t make it any easier to revise my current manuscript, unfortunately. But now, I feel the weight or rather, lack of weight, of my “body of work.” To be a good writer, you must be prolific. Two novels hardly qualifies as prolific.
That said, my real goal now is to make this new manuscript my strongest ever. I want to continue to learn from the masters and I want every new project I take on, to show that learning.
In my quest to raise my level of writing from competent to good, I decided to take advice that I often give to young writers. Pay attention to what good writers do. This is by no means all inclusive, but it’s a start. Right?
- Good writers respect the reader. Lack of courtesy may be the chief fault that distinguishes unsuccessful writing from the most successful… The reader of fiction is primarily seeking an experience different from and greater than his or her daily experiences in life. How to Grow a Novel—Sol Stein
- Good writers do not simply describe a barn. Good writers describe a barn as seen by someone in a particular mood, because only in that way can the barn—or the writer’s experience of barns combined with whatever lies deepest in his feelings—be tricked into mumbling its secrets. The Art of Fiction—John Gardner
- Read, read, read. Read everything—trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies his master. Read! –William Faulkner.
- According to George Orwell, the “scrupulous writer” will ask himself at least four questions in every sentence: “What am I trying to say? What words will express it? What image or idiom will make it clearer? Is this image fresh enough to have an effect? Wow! I have more work to do in this manuscript revision than I had realized.
- The Iceberg theory of good writing. If a writer of prose knows enough of what he is writing about he may omit things that he knows and the reader, if the writer is writing truly enough, will have a feeling of those things as strongly as though the writer had stated them. The dignity of movement of an ice-berg is due to only one-eighth of it being above water. A writer who omits things because he does not know them only makes hollow places in his writing. –Ernest Hemingway A kind of magic between the reader and the writer.
- Write an alternate history for your life. What about that time when you made a pretty big decision? What if you took the road less travelled at that fork in the road, or the road more travelled, depending on what choice you originally made? Change that one decision and explore the possibilities of how your life would be different. I’m willing to bet there’s at least one decision you would like to rewrite in your history! Have fun and maybe try to sneak in one or two of the above ideas. Happy writing!