Monday, 1 October 2012

An upright sea with slots in it

There are writers.

Then there are good writers

Then there are awesome writers.

A writer might write: “It was raining.”

A good writer might write: “It was raining on the night John died, falling relentlessly from the iron-grey sky like God Himself was weeping.”

But an awesome writer might write: “The sky rained dismal. It rained humdrum. It rained the kind of rain that is so much wetter than normal rain, the kind of rain that comes down in big drops and splats, the kind of rain that is merely an upright sea with slots in it.” ~ Sir Terry Pratchett, Truckers

It is not for a writer to decide how good a writer they themselves are. My writing has been described as many things from “terrible” at one end of the scale to “outstanding” at the other. I like to think of myself as a good writer with occasional moments of awesomeness, but that’s by the by.

What we must always do is strive to be better. Don’t settle for rain when you can have an upright sea with slots in it.

When I have my editing hat on, for the most part the authors I edit are happy to take the suggestions I offer. They accept that the changes I suggest make their writing better and shower me with gratitude and presents. Okay, I lied about the presents. But you never know, maybe one day someone will (hint hint!).

However, now and again I get the odd one who resists. They defend their clichés (“but that’s why I used it”) and their dull dialogue (“but that’s how people really speak”) and their hackneyed phrases (“but I read it in romance novels all the time so it must be okay”).

Don’t settle for being average. Don’t settle for being clichéd. Strive to make your writing different and original. Don’t use the same tired old phrases you read in other people’s romance novels, find a fresh new way to say what you want to say, a way that no one else has said it before. Don’t copy, create!

If you’re just a writer, try your best to improve, to make yourself a good writer. We all had to start somewhere. There are very many outstanding web pages with excellent tips on how to improve. Read them. Apply them. Don’t think you’re wonderful. You can always improve.

If you’re a good writer, the same applies. Don’t sit back and smirk and assume that your writing is perfect because you’ve got a publishing contract. You’ve been contracted because the acquisitions editor thinks your work can be turned into something saleable. But if your writing was perfect there would be no need for editors. Listen to your editor. Strive to be more than merely good. Go for awesome.

If you’re an awesome writer already, then you have the hardest job. You have a very high standard to maintain. Do you want to be a one hit wonder? If not, you have to maintain those standards of originality and freshness for book after book after book if you want to be the best you can be. You have to lead the field with all that achingly fresh new talent biting at your ankles.

Sometimes I read something so awesome that it makes me weep to think I can never ever be as good as that. But then if I gave in to that attitude I might as well not write another word. Something keeps me going. And just now and again I read something I wrote and think, “Actually, you know, that’s not bad.”

And maybe, just maybe, one day I’ll be awesome, too.

1 comment:

  1. "Don’t settle for being average."
    Of course not, but also be careful not to confuse simple with average, or clarity with simple.

    "Don’t settle for being clichéd."
    Yet freshness is elusive and the familiar also works in the right context. The writer should elicit the desired response in the reader. At times a cliche is the perfect blunt instrument.

    The most important thing for a fiction writer is to tell a good story as well as possible. Then, as you suggest, let others tell you whether it is good or bad or awesome. But don't listen to what they say too closely unless it hold keys to ways you can improve.