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.

45 Comments

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45 responses to “I’ve always wanted to write a book (part 1)

  1. “Writing is easy. All you do is stare at a blank page until drops of blood form on your forehead.” — Gene Fowler

  2. DaveC

    Dave,
    just a note: for some reason whenever you put in an Amazon link, neither your picture nor any link shows up using my browser. I normally use Firefox with a few add-on scripts to block flash/cookies/tracking. Oddly most other posts containing that sort of thing (like Sarah’s post yesterday) do show up.

    DaveC

    • sanfordbegley

      Works for me and I have Firefox. Does it work for you when one of the other Mad Geniuses does it or is it strictly Dave’s?

      • Dan Lane

        Dave’s pic links and Sarah’s, for example, are different. Dunno if it’s the link address (http vs. https), or if it’s where one is linked to an Amazon account and the other ain’t.

        One of my PC’s runs Firefox with NoScript and AdBlocker, and Dave’s pic links don’t show up there, while the others usually do. You can pull up the page source or possibly add an exception for MGC if your addons allow it. Someone better versed than I could probably diagnose this better thoough.

        • Holly

          I have the same problem with a slightly different browser–Dave’s links don’t show, everyone else’s do. Doesn’t matter if I pick allow all scripts or not, they just aren’t there.
          So if I want to use Dave’s link, I open IE, click on it there, and copy the url over to Pale Moon. And that works just fine. I can put up with IE being sloooooooow for that long. (Yeah, it’s my ISP, we’re the last house that gets dsl, after us it goes to dial up. But using a lean browser speeds things up.)

    • Probably a specific filter in AdBlockPlus. Go up to it and choose “Blockable Items” and look for something with Amazon AdSystem or similar words in it and click the red x to get rid of it. Then reload the page.

    • DaveC, I think teh internets just hate me. (actually I think it’s an Amazon/Firefox or security conflict. It does work on some browsers. I don’t know enough to fix it. Sorry.

  3. Dan Lane

    I never got to be the guy that goes down in the sewer with big rubber boots, either, but I did enough plumbing from the other end to say I’ve ‘ad me fill of it. *grin*

    Telling a story well is rather like deadlifting an engine block (even a simple one). Some people are just born with really excellent genes and they have worked hard enough and are fit enough that they can manage it (and maybe even make it look easy!). Others get there by dint of sheer mule-headed stubbornness and refusal to quit. Still others, if they are terminally infected with PC, might attempt to move the *world* so that the engine block levitates in place (because actually lifting it would be racist or something). Or so it looks from down here, that is.

    Perhaps I need to be more foolish, because simple does not really look like easy to me. *chuckle*

    • Dan, I think the only think I like about plumbing these days (I have done a lot, fish-farming, and on the farm in general) is that I don’t have to pay a plumber. I’m so brain dead this morning because I went shooting some wallaby last night, and my damn sights were just a little out. A lot out, and I know it immediately. A little… and that typifies the situation with many writers (me too) You hit but not as often as you should, or as hard as you should (which was my problem last night. What is normally a 45 minute job took me three and half hours). Most people can wrestle some size ‘engine block’ = story up. But when it looks easy… 1)the guy doing it is good at it, strong and experienced. If it looks easy… it probably ain’t unless it’s done by a complete weak novice.

      • Dan Lane

        While I’ve not done a *lot,* I was a steamfitter’s apprentice for a number of years, which translated to rather more than my share of industrial plumbing… and five weekends a year, unblocking toilets at a stadium that houses, oh, a decent sized town just in the stands. I only wish I could make a plumber’s salary when I’m fixing my own things (my own to include family and friends, because that’s what a man does, if he’s going to call himself that). The licensing exam is no joke, and while I am pretty sure I could pass it with a good bit of work and time, I know it’s not what I want to do in life if I can get away with it.

        Sights a *little* out clarifies what I’ve been hitting my head on lately. Very occasionally something I write comes out well, and I usually only know because someone else tells me, and my first thought is “how did I do that? How can I do it *again*?” If maybe a half a percent of what gets down in ink and pixels is good, or at least not bad, or could be salvageable, that’s a rather lot of work.

        And speaking of. Back to the typing-machine. Luck to ye, sir. If it were easy, there’d probably be good money in conning yuppies into thinkin it was hard, if one were to tilt their thoughts in that direction… Not that I would, of course. *grin*

  4. The part about being able to understand it is the key. Recently, I had a run in with a certain troll we all know and love…to hate, and, as usual he began to blast away at my own work. He quoted sentences from my first book. They were simple sentences. Nothing grand or glorious, just simple, workman-like sentences.

    What he didn’t get was that those simple sentences served their purpose perfectly. Readers know what the characters did and don’t have to read it over and over again to comprehend that, while his own work (that he rates as superior to any of ours, of course) has to be read over and over just to understand WTF he’s trying to communicate.

    All the beautiful prose in the world is meaningless if the reader doesn’t know what the hell you’re actually saying. It’s a damn shame that some writers can’t comprehend that.

    • Well, Clammy has always made it clear that he considers overwrought, overlong, spliced together sentences a sign of superior writing. (I haven’t read enough Silverberg to be sure that’s one of his qualities.) Although trying to compare his verbal diarrhea to Zelazny was really crossing the line.

      Which reminds me, I’ve mentioned one Steven Brust book that pushes the stilted style to 11, but for some reason I kept calling it “Five Hundred Years Later”. That’s actually the top of the blurb on the back, the actual title is “The Phoenix Guards”.

      And Clammy finally got around to insulting Kiwi, although the anticipated surge in sales has yet to appear. I dunno, writing a kinky Avatar fanfic and titling it “Fifty Shades of Blue” just to annoy him has a certain appeal.

    • This, precisely. Clamps and Frau Blucher (to a lesser extent. Even ET dims in the light of c-lamps) are wondrous examples. First you need to communicate. Pretty prose is worthless if it fails at that.

      • I’ve always thought that workman like prose that communicates the idea clearly is always preferable to beautiful prose that tells me precisely nothing.

        Of course, to someone like Cramps, this is the sign of some deficiency. Pretty telling that a guy who wants the government to tell us how to live also wants to tell us what we’re allowed to enjoy as far as literature.

  5. Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

    After visiting sites like this, I avoid saying “I’ve always wanted to write”.

    Of course, I have attempted to write stories so I know a little about the difficulty of writing of an interesting story.

    • Luke

      Heck, what I’ve always wanted was the *motivation* to write. 😉

      • Luke, that’s easy. Pick up a Hugo winner. When you’ve TBAR-ed it you will say ‘I could write better than this’. ;-/

        • Luke

          Of course.

          But that doesn’t automatically lead to spending hundreds of hours sitting at the computer actually writing a story.
          Especially when the temptations of the internet are always only a click away…
          🙂 I respect the heck out of those who can actually see the project through to completion.
          And then repeat the process. Over and over and over.

          I’m currently psyching myself up to make another run at it. We’ll see how it goes this time around.

        • Synova

          It’s amazing how well that works. Not necessarily picking up a Hugo winner but every now and then a true stinker of a trad published book and my confidence levels go WAY up.

    • Drak, there is nothing wrong with saying ‘I always wanted to write’, and trying. The normal statement involves people who can’t or won’t try. It’s often either an assumption that it’s easy, or that that if a Drongo like me can do it, well then they’d be brilliant. If it is really ‘I want to write’ I do my best to help and encourage.

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  7. Writing is easy, you just pace the hallway arguing with the voices in your head until you write everything down and the voices shut up for a couple of days.

    • heh, but it never comes out as well on paper as it does in my head. Especially at 3 AM, when I work it out, half asleep, and can’t remember it in the morning, except it was great. And don’t tell me to keep a notebook at the bedside. I tried that, and 1)It took me half an hour to read the two paragraphs I had written. 2)They were neither logical nor beautiful.

    • Oh it’s not just me then!

      My sympathies. Ever found yourself wishing you could shake the characters who make smartass remarks while you’re writing?

      • Worse, when you’re not writing. “Hey, when are you going to write MY story? Forget those losers. It’s me you want.”

        • LOL I’ve had that while doing stuff that involves writing but not fiction – say, homework! I’ve had instances of the ‘arguing’ getting loud enough in the midst of writing that I find myself wishing I could chuck them out of the house for a while to run in the yard or something.

          It’s… surreal. o_o

  8. I’ve written a novel that the grade level evaluators put between 6th and 9th. I figure that means it’s readable. My editor will let me know. But for unreadable I nominate Umberto Eco or Thomas Pynchon.

    • Thank you for bringing up grade level evaluators. I always use the Flesch index on which some of these rest, and for me, it is a valuable tool. Caveat: The danger lies in assuming 1)that’s all you need 2)that’s an accurate measure of readability. It’s not. It’s just a cluebat (and I need it) not everything. My own work runs between 78-84 (depending on the book, the target). When I started writing I was around 40, and granite was less dense and and more pleasurable (and didn’t last as long). But, for example, Misty Lackey is a number of points harder to read BY THE GRADE ELEVATOR, but it would appear, not in actual fact. So you can have a book where the words are comprehensible to grade 5, the sentences are short and simple… and it still might as well be Greek to most non-Greek readers. It’s a tool, not an answer. Use it (I do) but test your work on people. They’re the measure, the answer, the final arbiter.

      • Luke

        Cool toy!

        I’m not sure I like it though. It keeps flagging jokes, shout-outs, and especially puns.
        A couple of examples:
        I looked up from my quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore, and told my daughter to go and ask her mother.
        and
        The sign was tattered and flapping in the breeze, but it clearly indicated that this was the King in Yellow Shoggoth Breeder (LLC).

        • Well, if it is any help, I really want to read the King in Yellow Shoggoth Breeder (LLC) 🙂

          • Luke

            Both the sentences were actually from the same bit. I’d be happy to send you the piece. (It’s flash. I’ve played with expanding it from that, but doing so kills the joke.)
            Would you prefer .doc or .rtf format?
            And I’ll need a place to send it.
            My e-mail addy (if you can’t lift it from the sign-in) is Nose(underscore)of(underscore)Death(at)Yahoo(dot)com
            Which doesn’t have nearly as entertaining a story behind it as you’d think.

      • Oh, I’ve workshopped my book plenty at my local, free writers workshop.

  9. BobtheRegisterredFool

    I’ve always wanted to write a program.

    I’ve always wanted to fabricate someone on a CNC machine.

    I’ve always wanted to build a better pump.

    I’ve always wanted to figure out the simplest and cheapest way to build a legal firearm, spread the plans, and license out the bits to finish a working unit.

    I always wanted to draw something.

    If you can find ideas, you can find more than you can execute. They aren’t notable unless you execute them. Sorting out useful and useless ideas is partly a matter of having executed in the past. Execution is work.

    If I don’t do the work, I don’t really want to do it.

    Specific ideas are more interesting then generic. ‘Help get these components designed, fabricated, and assembled’ versus ‘do a project’.

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