Wednesday, June 17, 2009
Stop Trying to Write Like a Writer
Here’s a good piece of advice I wish I would have gotten sooner in my career:
Stop trying to write like a writer.
I know it sounds silly, and many of you are probably scratching your head, but it’s the biggest hurdle many new writers have to overcome.
When you write like a writer, what you’re doing is focusing on the words, being crafty with the prose and thinking about vocabulary. You worry about word choice, grammar, punctuation, all those writerly type things most often expanded on in critique groups and writing forums across the cyberverse.
Of course knowing the basics is important. But if you want to be a fiction author, then you need to stop writing like a writer.
How should you write then?
If you want to write fiction, you need to write like a storyteller.
Now y’all are nodding your heads and going, “Ahhh, okay—I see where she’s going.” (I’m psychic, doncha know ;) )
If there’s anything that writing ten novels, dozens of short stories, essays and articles, does for a person, it’s discovering how to think like a storyteller. At times, I’ve mentioned training yourself to “think like a writer” but what I really meant was that you (and I) need to “think like a storyteller."
How many times have we seen not-so great writing have mega success and become franchised into film and merchandise? How many times have we picked up a best seller and wondered why our writing, which is on par with what we’re reading, is still being rejected?
Most often, once we’ve mastered the basics, it’s not lack of skill or know-how—it’s the neglect of our storytelling skills that keeps us from reaching our goals.
So how do you become a great storyteller?
Easy: You study great storytelling. What made M. Night Shyamalan such a huge success? Because he wrote a movie about a kid who could see ghosts? Or a farmer who sees aliens? No. He gained acclaim because he knew how to tell a great story.
Often I tell new authors to watch the movie Signs. I still say this is a wonderful illustration of great storytelling. Nothing in that movie—no matter how unimportant it might at first seem—is there gratuitously. Everything has a purpose. From the boy’s asthma, to the little girl being so picky about the water she drinks. Even the younger brother’s failed baseball career is important.
If you have any questions, please feel free to ask. I’ll answer to the best of my abilities.
P.S. The totally awesome Alyssa Montgomery interviewed me on her blog here: http://amontgomery99.blogspot.com