Friday, October 01, 2010

Questions for Writers #2

Second crack at briefly answering some questions a student sent to me a while ago. He wanted to know:

How do you vary your style when the occasion calls for it? And how do you know when?

And I said:

You’ve answered your second question with the first. You know when when the occasion calls for it. How do you know that you know? Well… because something doesn’t sit right. Because you’re feeling a phantom pain. Because the “notes” of the story don’t ring as clearly as they should…

I tend to believe that one of the things that separate “real” writers from wannabe writers is that the real ones don’t ignore their own instincts - including responding to feedback from others. Responding to your own instincts can be hard, and scary, and be a lot of work.

But there’s absolutely no reason you have to get everything right the first time. Just the opposite. It makes much more sense that you won’t get everything right and that the rough diamond of a story you dug out of the ground will only really sparkle when its cut, polished, weighed and shaped and turned under a microscope. Too often, though, writers are so happy that they’ve found the diamond at all that they don’t do the necessary hard work thereafter.

As for how to vary your style… well that’s going to vary with each instance. Trial and error. That’s the only real way. Try it. Write it. Read it. Sometimes it’ll work; many times it won’t. It’s all part of the process, though, and only you can find the way that will work for you.

Added thoughts?

Well, just to stress that part of what it means to really become a writer is that you develop the capacity to honestly follow your instincts. So often, I see aspiring writers listen to feedback, maybe even agree that this or that thing really needs to happen... They might even admit that they knew that character or scene or point of view choice was a problem to begin with, and then... they don't do anything about it. Or they nibble around the edges, changing a few things, but not addressing the heart of the thing that might make their story really awesome. Why? Because writing is a bitch. It's hard getting the words on the page in the first place. Who wants to mess with them once they're there?

Writers do. Not because they want to, but because sometimes they have to. And, bottom line, it's up to you as the writer to come to terms with it.



Blogger Andrea Eames said...

So true!

6:56 PM  
Anonymous Ethan Iktho said...

It's funny to see that when the subject is about creating, all arts come to the same : you learn the rules, by school, reading, seeing, listening, and then you jump into the unknown. You just create. It may take a lot of work, especially for writers (when historical researches are needed, let's say), but in the end what makes the difference between a book and a GOOD book is your own touch.

And you can't learn to have it. You've got it (great), or don't (bad news).

Greatings from far away.

12:14 AM  
Blogger David Anthony Durham said...

I agree, but I'd add that even if you "got it" you still need to work hard to develop it!

9:52 AM  
Anonymous Ethan Iktho said...

And then there is the other (interesting, I think) topic about what a writer must listen to or not. Some best advisers, friends, specialists or both, will say; "Listen to what those who know how it works will tell you", and some will say; "Listen to your instinct, that's what makes you different and unique."

I'd bet on the second. Because you can do it starting from the second to the first, but hardly starting from the first to the second.

I know it can seem totally silly, but I'm sure it is the heart of creation.

Or am I wrong ?

8:14 PM  
Blogger David Anthony Durham said...

Not wrong at all. I agree.

3:38 PM  

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