Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Writing Without Excuses

It's easy to find excuses not to write daily with the Internet, instant messenger programs, TV, DV-R, phone calls to return, and e-mail that seem to require an immediate response. The essays, film reviews, artist profiles, fiction, screenplays knocking about in my head will not spring forth fully formed and onto the yellow legal pad, marble notebook, or computer monitor if I don't plant my butt in a chair or on the sofa and write.

I used to be in such awe of some published writers that I felt frozen when I sat to write, but realized that I didn't set out to be wholly impressed, only enjoy the reading experience.

My mistake during this difficult transition from reader to writer was investing too much money and time reading how-to books on technique, rather than writing my way into a story or an essay. I became an expert on characters and viewpoint, scene and structure, description, and conflict, action, and suspense by reading and absorbing, not through practical application. The Elements of Fiction Writing from Writer's Digest Books remain in my library as a reminder of looking rather than leaping in the deep end of the pool.

The floodlights blinded me years ago during a Morningside Writers Group Fiction workshop. A member at the time grabbed my hand as would an older sister or mother: "Stop reading those books. You're hiding behind technique." It was obvious to her what I'd been doing because I easily cited writing terms and definitions when giving feedback.

I approached writing as I had acting. An actor prepares with exercises, warm-ups, script analysis, character notebook, rehearsals, and finally performance. Why would I be any less prepared to write and give constructive criticism?

Falling from Mt. Olympus was bumpy. I had to confront my fears of being a fraud head-on. What did I have to say that would be of interest to a reading public? Could I hold my own with writers who had studied the craft and earned an MFA? Was my imagination vivid and detailed enough that readers would suspend disbelief and travel to pre and post Civil Rights Texas?

I've stopped hiding behind the books on technique, and committed myself to making mistakes and learning from working writers in a workshop setting. I continue reading classics and contemporary authors, but I'm no longer depressed by what I see on the page. I don't know what the writer might have gone through to write his or her masterpiece that I'm either stumped, awed, or envious.

Writing and acting are both tightrope acts. When the writing and/or acting is good, everyone applauds, awards are bestowed, and some authors' work is immortalized on film. When the acting is bad, the performer isn't sent to Siberia, but can make a career of playing certain types of roles. When the writing is bad or untruthful, editors and critics denounce the efforts, and it ends up on on the discount shelf at the local bookstore.

Writing without excuses requires emotional, spiritual, and physical stamina. Do you have what it takes to become a successful writer?

1 comment:

Vanessa said...

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