Wednesday Writers Wisdom: As A Writer Part 4 by Jessie B Powell
What is Wednesday Writers Wisdom?
I’m glad you asked. I originally started this series to share writing advice with other writers, especially beginning writers. I know when I first started writing again in 2010, I needed a lot of help. So, thus WWW was born. You can expect to find writing advice shared by me, other #ourwriteside authors, and guest authors. Our emails are always available for question suggestions as well. I’d like to start the conversation and answer those questions you must have answers to. After all, this isn’t just OUR Write Side, but it’s Yours, too.
Our Wednesday Writers Wisdom continues with Part 4 of a 5 part advice series written by the November author of the month, Jessie Bishop Powell.
Meet Jessie Bishop Powell
Authoress Powell has generously written a 5 part series for you about her personal writing process she’s gleaned from being published, being active in the writing community, and working under the daily distractions of being a mom of children with special needs, too.
Jessie Bishop Powell grew up in rural Ohio. She now lives in Montgomery, Alabama with her husband and their two children. She has Master’s Degrees in English and Library Science from the University of Kentucky. Jessie’s first book, Divorce: A Love Story was published as an e-book by Throwaway Lines in 2011. The Marriage at the Rue Morgue , her debut mystery, was released in hardback on Friday, July 18, 2014. The sequel to this, The Case of the Red-Handed Rhesus, will be released in November, 2015.
AS A WRITER (Part 4): How to Write, a Prequel of Sorts
I want to talk about the things that work for me as a writer, but I have to precede that with a whole essay full of qualifying statements. Because let’s face it, other people, better writers than me, who make boatloads more money at this gig, have written entire books full of excellent writing advice. Do not look to me for advice!
A whole lot of what I have to say merely echoes them, and since they said those things already and better, I suggest you go read them instead. Here. I’ll give you a teaser and a short list. The teaser is that the only way to learn how to write is to do it. Sit down and write. And understand that writing, as an act, involves a lot, and I mean a lot of revisions. So with that in mind, listen to what’s already out there.
My mom gave me a copy of Strunk & White’s Elements of Style when I was ten or twelve. I have no idea which edition, but I still have it somewhere. It’s an excellent guide to the basics. And you need the basics. I’ll get up on my high horse on this one point. Learn grammar. Please, learn grammar. It’s one thing for E.B. White to break every rule in his own book (which he does) and quite another for an inexperienced writer to do it. The rules are flexible, but until you internalize them, you have no business screwing around with them.
There. I had to get that out of my system.
Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones is about finding your writing voice. She is very New Agey, and Zen, and Spiritual. She takes some of the stress and pressure out of the composition process. If Strunk & White get you in a feathered tizzy of comma clauses and run-on sentences, Goldberg helps soothe you back into motion.
Anne Lamott’s Bird By Bird is another incredibly important work in this regard. She demystifies drafting, and this was probably the first book that convinced me it was okay to leave a really bad sentence in place and move forward, then come back later and fix it. She essentially gives you permission to suck and reassures you that you can un-suck later.
My last two go-to books are both by Stephen King. His 1981 Danse Macabre is less writing advice and more behind-the-scenes tour. He looks at how horror works, through a history of movies and comic books. And for pity’s sake, forget the genre. The things that work in horror work in all writing, and because the author is not preaching, he teaches very well.
King’s more well known how-to-write book, On Writing, is a bit on the preachy side. It’s amazing. I love it. But it was written some twenty years later, when he was not only a household name, but an experienced master who had sailed around the horn and back a few times. His perspective is much different, and his bluntness may be off-putting for the beginning writer who has talent but lacks knowledge.
And here’s the thing. The thing about all of these books. Only about a tenth of what they suggest works for me. Only about a tenth of it will work for you. But your tenth will be a different tenth than my tenth, which they will also tell you. That’s why I’m telling you to go read them rather than imitating me. Remember, I’m still suffering from fraud-syndrome. If you’re looking for advice, it seems far wiser to check in with the masters.
But I do want to tell you what helps me (and what doesn’t), and why. So in the final installment of my series, I’ll try to explain why it does so. If this sheds some light upon your own writing, that’s wonderful. If it entertains you, that’s even better.