Apr 6, 2013

Writer Ramblings: Practice Does Not Make Perfect

Photo courtesy of Dave R Farmer on WANA Commons

I was always told by coaches and teachers that "Practice makes perfect," but I've realized in the last few years that is not true. The phrase should be "Practice makes consistent." If you are practicing the wrong methods, you will just get more consistent at doing it wrong. For twenty years I wrote by the seat of my pants. Whatever came to me is how I wrote it down, and I was never satisfied with my work. The story concepts and characters were good and well done. People loved the emotions and the action, but there was always something missing.

They say there isn't a wrong way to write. That has some truth in it, but there is a wrong way to approach writing. I'm no self-proclaimed expert, nor would I accept that title. What I am is a practitioner of writing. Like every great writer, the ones who are good at their craft are the ones who have practiced for years. They also listened when an editor or critique partner showed them a right way to approach their story.

So what is a bad way? I'm glad you asked. Otherwise this post would now be done. A bad way is to not learn before ever putting pencil to paper, or opening a new Word Doc and typing your first word. Before you can begin practicing to be a published writer, you must first learn what it is to be a writer. There are a lot of pretenders out there that just rush into writing and publish. Some of those writers do well and become very popular, but most give up after one or two books because the negative reviews are just too much to deal with.

Picture courtesy of Linda Adams VA on WANA Commons
With E-Book publishing so convenient to do these days, it has become very easy to see your dream as a published writer come true. The problem is, if you aren’t approaching the profession like a professional, you will get slammed in some way. It will either be several negative reviews, or books being returned, or something along those lines. I’ll also point out that there are a growing number of speed readers that will read your E-book and return it within the time period. That is basically a form of piracy, but that is for another post another day.

There is no way to please everyone, but if nobody likes your book, there is a good chance it was you, not them. It’s fine to write something warped, out of the box artistic, or purposely against the norm, but be prepared for not being famous or popular. There is a method to the madness of writing. After all those years of “pantsing” I’ve realized this and I’ve spent the last two years learning to write like a professional.

The first thing every writer should do is read. If you aren’t a reader, then how can you be a writer? Your favorite published writers are great tools. I don’t mean their egos are too big. Their books are edited and they have learned to write the right way. Study their narrative, their dialogue, concepts, story flow and plotting. Take your favorite book and break it down into an outline describing the basics of every scene. Find out what the writer used to keep the tension in each and every scene. Does that sound like too much work? Well no professional will ever tell you mastering a craft is easy. Even athletes have to study and train to stay on top. If you can master breaking down someone else’s story, then you can definitely write your own.

A Must Read for Writers!
One of the greatest books I’ve ever read for writing is called Story Engineering. This book is amazing and full of information on how to plot out a story and give it everything the reader would ever want. Coming up with story ideas is the challenge for a lot of writers, but once an idea comes to you, then you must learn to write like a pro. There’s a lot more to writing a novel than just checking your grammar.

So the first step to making your dream of a writer coming true is to learn. Read, read, read, and then study books on writing, then read some more using the new incites you’ve learned from writing like a pro. It’s unbelievable how you suddenly see the world, television, books, etc.

I’ve been challenging myself by guessing the murderer in murder mystery TV shows. I try to figure how a movie ends and will guess throughout the movie. I have begun doing this with books and although sometimes it’s annoying to be right, I love that I’ve learned enough to know where a store should go if it was written professionally. I also try to figure out where the inciting incident is and every key moment or scene in the movie to know where the writers are going and how the movie flows. There is a pattern to it all, and once you can see the pattern like a blueprint in your mind, then you have begun to understand what it takes to write a story.

If you want it, you have to do it yourself. Books don’t write themselves and writers don’t educate themselves. Go out and learn before pretending and Self-Pubbing a novel that’s crammed with amateur writing mistakes. Another wonderful resource is Kristen Lamb. Yes, the person herself. Check out her blog, and there you will find books she’s written for writers trying to make it in the new digital world. Her blog posts are educational and inspirational for writers or anyone trying to make their dream come true. She has helped me so much that I am tempted to write up an entire inspirational post on talking about just Kristen.

Every time I learn something new about writing, this song plays in my head. I had to share it with you guys. If you’re a writer, good luck on your journey and I’ll see you on the other side one day.

Now I need to go wear my pants of shame and finish up some more Weapons & Warriors for the majority of my readers. Thanks for sticking with me. I’ll have something soon. Now back to my Writer Cave.

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