Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Writing Novels and Things #7: 10,001 hours (and things that are good)

I just want to touch on the 10,000 hour thing again for this post, if briefly, because I've been thinking about it a lot. Also, Funds For Writers have just launched an essay competition, which is more or less along the same lines (Diligence), and I think I want to enter it.

(I wish I were Jewish, by the way, because I have a brilliant title for it, which would only make sense if I were Jewish. Fortunately, I am writing a short story that it also fits into, so the brilliant title will not go unused. I once seriously considered Judaism conversion, on a side note to this side note, and I took a class in Biblical Hebrew, but I didn't follow through. Anyway.)

So, the important thing about these 10,000 hours, I have discovered, thanks to the excellent article below, that these 10,000 hours must not be a mindless, unfocused slog whereby you churn out reams and reams of words (so Nanowrimo novels and Morning Pages may not count) just to say that you have. You need to learn from them, every time you write. You need to be looking into technique, structure, style, and all aspects of the craft when you're writing, or you're just reinforcing bad habits.

Put succinctly: Bad drivers don’t get better at driving. They just get better at being bad drivers.

So that's something to think about and has possibly changed the way I write entirely. I have been, at various stages, and still now, what is known in the writing community as a 'discovery writer' or 'pantser', which is a writer who doesn't really plan things and just writes. I have found in the past that this approach is quite effective, and often pleasantly surprising, but not always. And it would be more effective and pleasantly surprising if you were already an expert (i.e. you'd done your 10,000 hours), so writing well was instinctive, rather than lucky. So I'm going to try planning and plotting and things for a while, and see how that goes. In theory, it should mean that I have to do less of the dreary editing stuff, which I don't enjoy (apart from, occasionally, in my day job). 

I shall, no doubt, keep my public informed.

Now on to some nicer things, which means articles that say what I want them to say to make me feel good about my writing.

This one: Why Most of What You’ve Read About Characterization is Untrue

Is good.

Mostly, it's saying that originality (in this case with respect to characterisation but I think it works across the board) is in the way you tell a story, rather than the basic outline of the story. Because most of the stories have been told, but they haven't all been told in every conceivable way yet! For example, there's a story about a strong teenaged girl who falls in love with a vampire and it kind of tears both their lives apart. You could tell it one way, a la Twilight, or you could tell it the good way, and be Buffy. Broadly, they have similar stories, but it's in the telling that they vary so wildly. 

(This is probably not the best comparison, as they are told in different media, but you get the idea.)

When I was doing my masters, and novel work shopping, this one guy I knew was writing a really funny book that was essentially a diary of someone addicted to a well-known social media site. I always looked forward to the lessons where we'd workshop his stuff, because I knew I'd be able to read some witty, sharp, and pretty original, diarist writing that was always interesting. He always had a problem with it though, because he felt the plot was unoriginal, and I could feel him stalling on the whole project until he could think of a way to write a plot (and action and things) that nobody had ever thought of before. I don't know if it ever sank in but I would beg him not to think about that, because the thing that was special about his writing was the way he was writing, and there were no original stories anyway. I haven't heard from him since the course ended, but I do hope he finishes the novel, because it was very good, I thought.

So I thought that article was encouraging, selfishly, because that's what I believe and that is, I think, what makes my writing good. I have written a lot of speculative fiction (and the two short stories I've had published do fall within that genre), but I don't really see myself as a far-out ideas man. And I don't think you need to be to be a successful writer, is what I think! All completely justified by the above article.

Also, because I realise that this post is getting a bit long, this other article is fun, and quite informative:

Five More Mistakes That Will Expose You As a Rookie

I have to confess that some of these are new to me (fonts, character not being as important as story) and some I know but don't always follow (back story dumps) but a lot of them I already follow, instinctively (dialogue, names, first person). This is good, because it means that I am learning! Actually, it means that I have learnt! 10,000 hours, here I come.

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