I’ve always wanted to write a book (part 1)
“I’ve always wanted to write to book.”
If I had a dollar for every time someone has, on my telling them what I did for a living, said that to me, I’d be just as broke as I am now, but I’d have had a lot fun spending a lot of dollars.
For years I had a standard reply: “Well, why don’t you?”
Which tended to kill that line of conversation as dead as a tyrannosaurus * probably because the only good answer is ‘because I can’t’, although ‘because I’m not that dumb’ has merit too.
So now I’ve settled on “Really? I always wanted to be the bloke that goes down sewers in big rubber boots. Unfortunately, I failed the IQ test for it. So I had to settle for second best. They told me writing was the closest thing to it, even easier to get into, just not as well paid, and just as smelly.”
That tends to have much the same effect on conversation, with the added plus of making their eyes steam. You can only normally achieve that effect with Ghost Chili pepper.
The truth is it is both easy and hard to write a book. And a lot of it does have a great deal in common with dank sewers. There is one cardinal difference, in sewers you need to remember that water** always flows downhill. In writing you have to remember money always flows to the Author (ergo- you are bottom of the hill). The ‘easy’ part, is that writing, provided you actually can both read and write, is not hard. Making that writing into a coherent, readable story can be… easy or hard. Easy if you’re a natural story-teller. No help and hey, it’s readable. A few pointers and it is good. And that, so often, seems to be where the true naturals stop. Going further is hard work, and it’s not something they need to do to achieve adequate results. There are exceptions, and there is a spectrum of natural ability, with some people starting where others never quite get to. The further from ‘natural’ you are the harder work it requires. The point is, if you’re not brain-dead and you work at it, you can achieve some kind of story.
The problem of course arises with what people take as ‘working at it’.
You see in my grumpy opinion, mostly they’re working at the wrong thing. They work on grammar. Work on prose. Work on structure. Work on characterization. Some, heaven help us, work on non-binary PC claptrap.
These, with the possible exception of the last (which will probably earn you a Nambula, and please the inner circle of the Society of Futureless Wombats of Arisia.) may help you with what you need to work at. That is their purpose.
Their purpose is not themselves (Which people, grammar-grundies in particular, forget). The purpose of your writing is not to display perfect grammar, or lyrical prose, or the perfectly structured novel. It is to communicate with the reader. If the reader just doesn’t get the story, because your sentences are incomprehensible, grammatically correct or not… you’ve failed. If he has to work hard to do so, you’ve failed (although your chances of a pretentious literary award may have improved). If you use sentence fragments, split infinitives to boldly go, punish Capitalization and have ad lib relationships with passing punctuation… and your reader/s get your story perfectly – you’re still golden. That’s why we have grammar etc.: Not to constrain or be a goal in itself, but to help to make that communication more reliable, easier, and more effective.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, mantelpieces and others, is what a writer needs to constantly work on. Most of us start with high ideals about what we’d like to write. My own are still a long way above me. But if I was going to give you one bit of advice, it would be reaching those goals is a lot easier once you’ve learned to tell a simple story, simply and clearly, so that most readers get exactly what you’re trying to say (which is tricky with bad grammar or spelling). I’m too fond of saying that fool can tell a simple story well if he tries. A man who is no fool can tell a complex story so complexly you have read every sentence twice, or more. If you have to do that, he may be a clever man, but he’s very poor writer. No. The book is not ‘deep’, unless you put it down into the sewer for the bloke in big rubber boots to be terrorized by. The man who tells a complex story simply and clearly, now, he is a genius and a treasure to readers.
So, if you want to write: you need write to be read. Start simple and clear. When you can do that you have a foundation for the rest.
As today’s freebie treat: The Best of Twisty Christmas Tales is up on Amazon Kindle as free download for the 8th & 9th. Yes, I do have a story in it. The editors say reviews would be a kind payback. Picture is a link.
*unloved and unlamented, alas.
** and it’s not all water.