I never took creative writing classes, which I fear is only too evident in my struggles with writing. Plus, I suffer from a particular version of dyslexia that causes me to read/see words as pictographs. In other words, if the letters resemble the form a word makes, how that word appears visually, then it reads the same for me. This assuredly is the residue of a past life in Egypt or the like. Consequently, I’ve always taken solace in Winston Churchill’s comment: “It’s a poor mind that can only think of one way to spell a word.” Nevertheless, a writer cannot hide behind such comforts. So I offer many blessings to the geeks who invented spell check.
Therefore, having been asked to share five tips on writing seems by its nature a very dangerous idea. What I’ve learned to date has been through learning the hard way – doing something again, then again and again, and so forth. There are various books on how to write, so by all means don’t stop here. But at the peril of those who might follow my suggestions, here goes:
1. Find a good editing team, people who not only know something of your subject matter, but also have a viable command of the English language—in other words, not your friends and family. I know it seems ludicrous really, but your personal “gift” as a writer just might not be comprehensible to readers.
2. Keep boiling it down; write using fewer words. This can be painful, editing out those brilliant passages that so eloquently express your writer’s soul; however, your readers may already be bored to tears and need to get on with their lives.
3. In contrast to the above: Show, don’t tell. Here’s where a writer must buckle down and deliver. Don’t’ just say, “Jack ran down the hill and Jill came tumbling after.” Rather, show what the hill was like: its dangerous rock-strewn slope inhabited by poisonous snakes, a place taboo to the hostile natives, and not just a hill but also a perilous descent. And Jack, although knowing better, was unable to further bear the anguish of Jill’s rejection. So the poor guy runs directly down the hill, tearing his new trousers with the cool logo. And it was just at this moment that Jill suddenly realizes it was Jack all along whom she should have been with, so she releases herself from the tragedy of her former lover’s death three years previously, a man she had had reservations about after learning he was taking unorthodox medication for an undisclosed medical condition for something he’d contracted in the steaming jungles of Borneo while questing to find the Arc of the Covenant. And suddenly, with her heart now opened, Jill races after Jack, spilling head over heel and landing at the bottom in Jack’s awaiting arms—their passionate embrace only interrupted by the necessity to acquire anti-venom and new trousers. (Better go read tip #2 again.)
4. Take your time—sleep on it. Writing is an alchemical process; it needs refinement and revision. Unless you’re one of those exceedingly rare and gifted writers who gets it perfect the first time, and perfect is quite rare, just a notch below being Unicorn, you’ll need to revisit your writing numerous times. It’s within this process that the writer’s skill set can be tuned before suffering your editors’ wrath. The danger here is to never move past this phase, to become engulfed in the endless pursuit of perfectionism. At a certain point you have to let it go and put your work out there.
5. Find your own voice. Don’t try to emulate the style of some celebrated author who gets on Oprah, has a write-up in the Times book reviews, and goes on that grand book tour that looks so glamorous (even though the poor writer is flying coach and staying in cheap hotels because he’s paying for it all out of his own pocket). Develop your voice, your writing. And even though you might fear your writing isn’t good enough, it’s the place where you must work to be authentic. A writer’s authenticity is what readers resonate with and appreciate.
Robert Owings is an explorer of consciousness and the author of the novel Call of the Forbidden Way, the first book in a forth-coming trilogy published by Cosmic Egg. Learn more, receive the first chapter for free, or order the book at www.robertowings.com.