On Writing:

IT SEEMS WE find our own “style” of writing|

>> Hold on, Richard!!  What do you mean, those quotation marks around “style?”  Why did you put those there?  Do you mean the word style or do you mean some sub-set of the word of which a reader is not aware and you’re not either?

And what about “It seems?”  Richard, do we find our own style of writing or don’t we?  What’s your reader supposed to do with seems?  You write to communicate, and then you pour a bag of ashes in the water, muddy it up with seems?  Look at your muse – she’s in the corner, sobbing!

Welcome to my mind, as I write.

Sometimes that internal dialog happens as I write, more often as I edit what’s been written first draft.  When it happens in the midst of first-draft writing, it happens in a blink, so fast that I don’t even touch the Shift key, let alone the quotation-mark around “style”…I get a lightning message from my grumpy inner writer and the editing happens before the key is touched.

There are writers whose first draft is their last: Nevil Shute for one.  I don’t believe that because I can’t imagine 1) not reading over a manuscript before sending it to the publisher, or 2) not being able to improve one’s first draft by making changes as one reads it.

That’s the way it is for me.  First draft goes down fast, just to get words on paper.  Words on paper (or in electrons or paint or stone or some fixed medium) is the heart of writing…anything else is thinking or talking or wondering or dreaming…imagining scenes without committing to form.  For writers, Words on Paper is the center of our calling.

After the first draft comes the second through the nth draft.  It used to be that drafts were discrete creatures: a writer typed her story, made changes to it by hand, typed the second version, made changes till she could change no more.  Five drafts, ten drafts.  An editor at the publishing house would pick up any typographical errors that got through.

Instead of “drafts,” here in ComputerWorld, we’d better call them Working Reads, the story taking shape in a flow of process instead of a harsh pyramid of separate versions.

Zsa-Zsa, on Her Walk went through 37 working reads before I touched the Publish key to put it on line so you could read it.  The writing in the second read was much improved over the first, it was improved but less dramatically the third read over the second.  The thirty-seventh read was barely distinguishable from the thirty-sixth, a word or two changed, a typo corrected.

I have no central plan or strategy to editing, I simply keep reading a story over and over till I don’t find any more changes to make.

Ah, there’s a lot to say.

What I’ll do is just keep expanding this chapter a bit every few days.  Meanwhile, if you’d like to learn a whole lot about the practical writer’s life in one terrific story, find Writer Ferrets: Chasing the Muse, or the chapter titled Budgeron and Danielle in the collection Curious Lives.

It had 220 working reads.

“Very.”  I cleave unto Mark Twain: “Every time you’d use the word ‘very,’ use the word ‘damn,’ instead.  Then before you send your manuscript, go through and take out all the ‘damns’.”

Try it and see how much more direct and clear is your writing when you abolish “very” along with “seems.”

When your reader can predict your next word, or worse, your next idea, you’re in trouble.  A writer’s job is to offer what a reader hasn’t already considered, or to offer what she has considered in a different light.  Soon as you know you’re saying what others have said, and in the same way, stop writing.

I guess the following needs no explanation, but I’ll explain if you want me to:

Forget the facts.  Tell the truth!

3 thoughts on “On Writing:

  1. Dear Richard,
    I’ve been meaning to write you for years! I guess I didn’t think you would be interested in “my” research, but I just feel that I have to write at this time..
    I was a teenager at Tarrant County College where I was majoring in Art. I had this wonderful teacher called Chris Gobbles. He was trying very hard to teach me that I was unlimited, but with little success. I guess I didn’t feel worthy at that time of such magic. For our final, he gave us a small test on creating and then asked us to go into the figure drawing room. He had set up incense with clothes pins around the room. He was sitting on the bench where the models sat and he had turned down the lights and had a spotlight on himself. He then proceeded to read to us “Johnathan Livingston Seagull”. My life changed at that moment.
    I will tell you more about the journey tomorrow.
    Love and Light
    Kathleen Ford

  2. Hello, I just stumbled on this website and as a reader I would like to tell you a story. I am sure you hear millions of your fans tell you how great you are or how you inspired them; of course I too feel the same way, but I would like to tell you that your book Illusions landed in my hands in a very different way then most. I can tell you for a fact I would have never known who you were if the event I am going to explain did not happen. So let me start, my dad and I were driving to a friends house and I remember I saw a box of old stuff on the side of the road last time I came over, fortunately I let my curiosity get the better of me and I went across the street to look through the box. The box was filled with books and magazines. I grab most of the books and started to read the tattered and dirty book titled Illusions. When I started reading I got to the sixth page were I read “perhaps it is no coincidence that you’re holding this book; perhaps there’s something about these adventures that you came here to remember”. At that moment I found I could not put your book down. It was something I took care of and felt angry at the previous owner who had treated it with such waste but at some degree I was glad they did because if they did not the book would not have happen to belong with me now. This may not get to you or maybe it will, but I just wanted to ask a favor my 17th birthday, that is coming up(April 24th) and just wanted to ask what was your favorite quote from Illusions, because when my teacher assigned my class an independent reading assignment one of the questions is to state a quote and I am having a hard time because I can not place the whole book under a 1/2 page space for this section. PS: if this does get to you I want to just say as a high school student I am glad my teacher let me switch books to write about yours because then I can let someone else know how great of a book you wrote. Thanks!
    ❤ Evangelina a new fan of yours!

    • You are so right! That book was waiting patiently for you to come back and take it home with you. The best quote there changes, it depends on how your life is going at the minute. One for all themes of mind may be the one which removes a judge, and makes us decide for ourselves: _Everything in this book may be wrong._

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