Sunday, January 31, 2010

Advice to a Young Friend

A young friend just emailed me with her stream-of-consciousness report of her stab at writing a 500-word scene with setting as the most important element. She followed with a text message asking me how she could possibly succeed as a writer when there's so much competition.

First, she was THINKING when she should have been writing. Not thinking about the scene, but thinking about what other people would think of the scene. That comes later.

When you're writing, there's just you and the medium--the paper, the computer screen, the mind's eye. What does it matter if the metaphors are appropriate? What does it matter if the grammar is correct? What does it matter if the character is "too much YOU"? All that work needs to be done before you start writing or after you've got the scene down on paper. LEARN correct grammar, yes, but don't worry about it when you're creating. IMAGINE people different from yourself, yes, but do that before you take the plunge. Sort out the metaphors later, after you know what you're writing because you've written it.

Why would the setting be the most important thing in the scene? Let's see--The setting is threatening or difficult. Why is it threatening or difficult? Is it treacherous? Is it wild? Is it unfamiliar? The Land of the Lotus Eaters was dangerous because it was perfect. The protagonist was in danger of being seduced into unending delight instead of facing danger to achieve his goal. That means the protagonist had to be somebody to whom duty was more important than pleasure and community was more important than self.

Pick a setting at random. Let's make it easy, and make it one you know. Say you work in a book store. Why would a book store be a place of great importance? Let's say you're a writer with a new book. A little-known writer. Let's say you've talked the management into letting you do a signing. Let's say you've borrowed money from your family to buy 100 copies of your book to sell. Let's say you're shy, but you HAVE to sell these books at at least cost so you can pay back your parents. Customers are coming into the bookstore. Are they talking to you? Are they showing any interest? Are they passing you by? Are they looking at the books? Are they buying? Is the staff being friendly or rude? Did somebody steal a book? Did that please you or make you mad? Any cuties flirting with you? Anybody taking insult at anything about you or your book?

You don't even have to create a story arc--you only have to imagine this and write about it. You can do 500 words standing on your head!

As for how you can possibly succeed as a writer, ask yourself what you mean by "succeed". Do you mean "write well"? That's what I mean by success, and competition has nothing to do with that. Other writers can only teach me things and help me. They aren't my competition; they're my colleagues. Do you mean "sell and make money"? My only hope of that is to write as well as I can, with MY imagination and MY voice and MY skills, and to submit and keep improving and keep submitting. Like the sower of seeds in the Bible, fate throws out ability at random. Some people can't use their ability. Some use it but can't keep it up. Some lose interest or get discouraged or write like angels but don't try to market it.

Other writers aren't your enemies, they're your best friends. I've never known a good writer who wasn't generous with his or her advice or help. That's because most writers are readers, and want as many good writers to succeed as possible so they'll have more good books to read.

Relax. Write!


1 comment:

Cheryl Kaye Tardif, author & marketing coach said...

Great advice, Marian! I so agree. In the end, success is in the writing. :-)