Thursday, January 25, 2007

Writing Technique

Contrary to popular belief, all agents are not simply frustrated writers, at least I'm not. Sure I write the blog and I've penned fabulous query letters and marketing statements, but I don't think I will ever have the ability (and I don't really want to) to sit down and write a 400-page book. Which is why I'm always fascinated, and never question, an author's techniques when it comes to writing. Some of you work with a strict outline, while others allow your characters to speak to you and are never sure how the story will end until it does. Some write and write and write and literally spill the book on the page and then go back to edit, while others edit each word as it comes out and have a nearly perfect copy once the book is complete.

How you write is truly personal, which is why I'm often amazed, and sometimes frightened, by the number of workshops authors will attend on how to write. Or the number of conversations I have with my own clients (people obviously having success with what they're doing) on how they can do it differently. Why fix it if it's not broken? Sure you can always find new techniques that might work for you, but let me tell you this, you are never going to be able to do it the way someone else does. How one person writes is not necessarily the best way for you.

My advice: constantly look at the way you're writing and see if there are new techniques that might work for you, but stop comparing yourself to others. Not everyone can write three books at once, edit as they go, or hear their characters telling the story . . . and not everyone is meant to.



Michele Lee said...

Hallelujah! But it is hard to think you have to write at a certain speed to mamintain a career (or start one) when it's not possible in your life. It's hard to hear "Do more, push harder" when honestly, sometimes you don't have more to put into it at the time. We can't all be JA Konrath. ;)

JDuncan said...

Here, here! Well said for sure. I can't speak for other writers, but I don't attend writer workshops to find that 'better' way to do things. I look for easier ways to do them, something to make me more efficient. A lot of this is ways to get what I want down on the page more or less 'right' the first time, because I really am not fond of editing.

For others though, I can see the want for something better when they get told over and over again that they have stale dialogue or not enough conflict, when it becomes apparent that there is something fundamentally off with what they are doing. Besides one is always learning to be a better writer, not so much like someone else but an improvement on our own stuff, to refine our own voice, etc.

Workshops can be good just to get the brain thinking in different directions, which is a good thing as well.

Kimber An said...

Exactly, Jessica. There is also the danger of losing one's unique voice as a storyteller. That unique voice is what distinguishes each storyteller from the other and makes a reader want to buy. My advice to other storytellers is to hang onto it for dear life!

Kate Douglas said...

This is such valuable advice. I think when a writer is still struggling to "make it," they lack confidence in their own voice and style. Workshops have their place for the beginning writer, but I avoid them now for fear of being told I'm doing it all wrong! What works for me probably makes others shake their heads in dismay, but I do know I've grown more confident with each book, and my personal style is more deeply ingrained. Good, bad or indifferent, it works for me. (I'm one of those who sits down without a clue and lets my lizard brain have free rein. I never know quite what I'll come up with next!)

Jackie said...

I think that workshops are a occasional important part of creative life. I have not attended a writer workshop, but have attended painting workshops. Painting and writing are solitary occupations, which in my opinion, demanding that the writer get off the keyboard and meet people. Not so much as a learning experience, but as a social experience and observing experience. The other good place and cheaper is airports. LOL. I really have a hard time believing the writers who claim they sit at the keyboard for 16 hours daily. Perhaps what I would need more than a writing technique workshop would be a workshop teaching organizational and sitting still skills.
I'm a plot everything out on paper, draw timelines, make x's and o's as to who is doing what to whom, type of writer. I write woman's fiction action adventure. Works okay, until the smart mouth character comes barging off the page and just kicks the paper out of the window. Are they fun to write or what?

Cole said...

Thanks Jessica! I love this post!


RenaissanceGrrl said...

Amen to that!!!

We writers put enough pressure on ourselves without having to feel like our way is the wrong way and we must fix it. Bottom line when your manuscript is finished it's all about the story and whether or not you will find an agent/editor/publisher who loves it as much as you do.

2readornot said...

I attended a seminar on voice nine months ago...and it was such a freeing experience! Barbara Samuels was the speaker, and she mentioned (repeatedly) that my voice is my voice...I can't change it, I can't delete it -- it's mine. She compared voice to a potato, saying that we can fix the potato in different ways (our styles), but it's still a potato...and it can't be a tomato, no matter how hard we try.

Great stuff, just like this post! Thank you :)

Sharon Page said...

Great post, Jessica, and I like your advice to try different techniques but to not compare. I've learned a lot from workshops I've taken, and I find there is usually at least one point that really resonates. I feel (on my 7th contracted story) that I'm still apprenticing and still building my repertoire of writing techniques. I've tackled each book differently, which is something I never expected.

One I wrote from a synopsis, one from a chapter-by-chapter outline, and one from a really short synopsis. I was surprised to find that different stories within the same genre required me to use different techniques.

What I wonder is how much techniques grow and change with experience, i.e. after dozens of books, do a lot of things happen in the head first that used to happen on paper after many drafts?

LindaBudz said...

Thank you for this post ... The women in my crt group have such different writing methods from me.

I am an edit-as-I-go writer, and for some reason I always feel bad about that. I wish I could go full out and write a first draft, then go back and edit, but I just can't!

Think I'll let go of the guilt now!

spyscribbler said...

But if one only compares to oneself, how does one learn something new? How can you grow? You're right, though, learning something new can be dangerous, too.

I love writing and the written word, so I'll probably be perpetually studying other authors. I love it, and I love learning from them. It's hard break down an art into technique and that mysterious bit, but it helps me.

Besides, it's fun. :-)

Southern Writer said...

It's uncanny how often you write things in your blog that are the same subject that my crit partners and I have been discussing a day or two before. How do you do that?

My latest gripe has been how by following all the "rules," and listening to the advice of too many people, my novel ended up with a completely different voice than the one I intended it to have. It may be cliche, but I believe too many chefs really do spoil the broth, and from now on, no one will be allowed in my kitchen.

elysabeth said...

Amen Southern Writer - you go girl. We all need to find our specific voice which is what makes our stories unique (even if the same story starter or prompt is given - or that the story has been done hundreds of times before). It is the one thing that makes our stories different from the thousands of others out there.

That's what I have had to learn - now if I can just get my story edited and revised and submitted somewhere - lol - but I will keep on trucking - E :)

Zoe Winters said...

Awesome post! I'll listen to advice just to get different methods to try. But if something isn't broken...Yeah definitely leave it alone :)

Karen MacInerney said...

They say if it ain't broke don't fix it... but there's nothing wrong with a little tweak from time to time!

I for some reason am fascinated by other authors' work habits. I'm always looking for something to incorporate into my own writing life, I think.

And I've changed my style to fit the needs of the moment. I wrote my first book longhand in a coffee shop and typed it in at home. Now I type on a laptop (and I debated the wisdom of buying a laptop and messing with my process, by the way). And I often write at home, sitting on a couch -- although on days when it's hard to get motivated, like today, I head for the nearest coffee house and tell everyone who wants to talk to me that I still have 1500 words to write and they'll have to take a number. (For some reason, I abhor desks.)

But I am always tweaking things a little. I think shaking things up can be good sometimes!