What writing secrets can you reveal about your work?
September 8, 2015
I WAS AT A WRITER’S CONFERENCE not long ago, and one lady listened to one of our esteemed speakers and walked away, sadly shaking her head.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
“I attend a lot of Writers Conferences,” she said.
“Nothing wrong with that.”
“And I hear a lot of authors speak or hold workshops,” she said. “I leave thinking that they’ve made it in the publishing world, and they could tell us how they did it so we could do it, too, but they’re keeping those secrets to themselves. They don’t want to share. They prefer keeping us in the dark.”
She’s not alone in her thoughts.
But the reality is this: I doubt if any of those writers can really tell you how they write the way they do.
They simply sit down at a computer.
They have a particular idea percolating in their brains.
They have a scene or two playing out in their imagination.
And they put it all on paper.
They can’t explain their style.
They can’t define it.
They just write it.
However, I did run across some interesting comments made by noted authors on the subject of writing. I’ll run the quote, and then include a brief writing sample.
Personally, I prefer the advice of Richard Ford, who won the Pulitzer Prize and PEN/Faulkner Awards for fiction for his novel, Independence Day. He suggested to writers: “Don’t have children. Don’t read your reviews. Don’t write reviews. Don’t drink and write at the same time. Don’t write letters to the editor. (No one cares.) Don’t take any shit if you can possibly help it.”
Others have their own advice for writers:
Annie Prouix – Proceed slowly and take care. To ensure that you proceed slowly, write by hand. Write slowly and by hand only about subjects that interest you. Rewrite and edit until you achieve the most felicitous phrase/sentence/paragraph/page/story/chapter.
Excerpt from That Old Ace in the Hole (2002): “It was a roaring spring morning with green in the sky, the air spiced with sand sagebrush and aromatic sumac. NPR faded from the radio in a string of announcements of corporate supporters, replaced by a Christian station that alternated pabulum preaching and punchy music. He switched to shit-kicker airwaves and listened to songs about staying home, going home, being home and the errors of leaving home.”
Roddy Doyle — Do keep a thesaurus, but in the shed at the back of the garden or behind the fridge, somewhere that demands travel or effort. Chances are the words that come into your head will do fine, eg “horse,” “ran,” “said”.
Excerpt from Doyle’s Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha (1993): “Kevin was waiting. He’d told some other fella’s. They were waiting I didn’t care. I wasn’t scared. He’d beaten me every other time. They were different; I hadn’t wanted to win. Now I didn’t care. He hurt me I’d hurt him. It didn’t matter who won.”
Esther Freud — Cut out the metaphors and similes. In my first book I promised myself I wouldn’t use any and I slipped up during a sunset in chapter 11. I still blush when I come across it.
Excerpt from Freud’s Love Falls (2007): “They smiled at each other — a seal on their pact, and then spirals of alarm, of dread, of delirious excitement shot through her body with such force that her appetite disappeared and finishing her breakfast seemed suddenly as arduous a task as being asked to plough a field.”
Joyce Carol Oates — Keep in mind Oscar Wilde: “A little sincerity is a dangerous thing, and a great deal of it is absolutely fatal.”
Excerpt from Oats’s A Fair Maiden (2010): “And that striking white hair, soft-floating white, lifting in two wings from his high forehead. His skin was creased like a glove lightly crushed in the hand and was slightly recessed beneath the eyes, yet no more, Katya thought, than her own bruised-looking eyes when she had to push herself out of bed at an early hour after an insomniac night.”
That’s how they do it.
What do you do to make your writing your own and spoken in your own voice?
Caleb Pirtle is the author of The Golgotha Connection.