Writing: A Few Words To The Writer

Writing, really good writing, is about thought processes.  Let’s examine just what writing does, not is, mind you, but does, for their is a difference.  When we write we put down on paper, yes it can be a computer screen, a series of words or symbols.  Symbols have meaning, we all know what a tree is unless you were born on a desert and have never seen one.  Tree is a generic symbol the represents a lollipop figure which has a brown shaft and a round green top.  If I write evergreen, then the top changes into a triangle.  If I write elm tree, then our perception changes from a very flat and simple representation to some image recalled from memory that generally matches an elm.  The fact that we may not be able to tell the difference between an elm, a chestnut, and an oak is of little relevance unless there is a great need to understand the difference.  This is how language works.  We speak in symbols that we have been taught through out our lives and for some of us the general meaning is sufficient to our purposes.  For others, those symbols require a greater understanding, a means of generating more symbols that represent and increasing exactness of meaning.  I can walk along the street, I can stroll along the boulevard, I can amble down the alleyway, I can march on parade.  Each phrase brings to mind a different image from memory.  New words are made up and adopted by many individuals to describe some variation in perception.  Ever hear of ditty-bopping?  I was in boot camp when I first heard that word used.  The friendly sergeant yelled out, “Stop that ditty-bopping!”  He was referring to the practice of rising on the toe of one foot so as to assume an air of cockiness.  Thus the head moves up on one step and down on the next.  Perhaps our drill instructor should have given the command:”On the left foot, ditty-bop, Huh!”  Well, there it is, the choice of words or symbols tells a story.

Should you, the writer worry about verb selection, pronoun use, split infinitives, dangling prepositions, noun usage, and so on?  Go back to my example on ditty-bopping.  Should I have used basic training instead of boot camp?  Basic training sounds so neutral.  Ah, but boot camp implies a gritty experience of eight to twelve weeks, depending on the branch of the service and the time of enlistment.  For those of us who have been through that experience it brings back vivid memories of both pain and accomplishment.  Did you ever have a friendly sergeant in boot camp?  Not very likely.  They were suppose to present at least the appearance of a no nonsense demeanor.  War is serious business and the sooner one realizes that the longer one stays alive.  Now why did I call war a business?  Because that is an apt description.  It is usually well organized as an institutional activity even if the execution isn’t.  Because we plan our activities of war.  How shall we invade and occupy this beach?  Should we carpet bomb or attempt to precisely target a position?  How much ground have we gained and many men did we lose.  What was the collateral damage to the civilian population.  We train because we want a uniformly trained soldier, his personal qualifications do not matter as long as they meet the minimum requirements.  Yes, we want a lock step behavior to our commands.  A company should move and act as one man.  What am I describing and how am I doing it?

A writer also concerns himself with the various methods of arranging words.  A simile such as he ran like the wind gives us an idea of haw fast “he” ran.  On the other hand, a metaphor acts a little different.  He is the wind implies different qualities to “he”.  Some people say, “I don’t have time to sit and think about all the niceties of writing.  To be successful I have to write fast and publish a lot of books so that one or two hit the jackpot.”  Writing and publishing a lot of crap because you figure to win the lottery of public approval is like buying Lotto tickets each week in hopes of winning that million dollar price.  You have just as much chance of doing both.  Every year millions of people attempt to win that popularity lottery in publishing novels.  Very few ever do win.  Even in this “indie” publishing world there are very few winners.  Yeah, you can publish a lot of badly written junk in hopes that you will attract a few dollars because fools like your junk.  Most of these indie authors usually sell their works to friends, family, and a few other indie writers because of that if you buy my book I’ll buy yours attitude.  If a book is trash it will always be trash no matter how many copies it sells.  And the publisher will always take his share as will the wholesaler and retailer.  You, the writer, are left with pennies on the dollar for you efforts.  Choice of words matters as does the arrangement of those words.

From each, according to his ability, to each, according to his need.  That is a rather nebulous grouping of words.  If everyone’s abilities are little but their needs are great then society will crumble for lack of means to meet those needs.  But let me suggest another way of writing that sentiment.  From the sweat of your labor the state will take what it wants and give back what it feels like giving.  Now if we were talking face to face, I could inflect the tone of voice and the pauses that would give my saying a great deal of sarcasm.  An actor can give various lines multiple interpretations where we, as the writers of words and phrases have a much harder time in doing that.  She pursed her lips and begged, “Please.”  Yes, we are not suppose to use adverbs like that.  He screwed up his mouth and spat out,”Damn you!”  How do you or I convey emotion?  She looked sad.  Oh, that’s a good one.  Her lips curved slightly down releasing the tension in her cheeks while her eyes held that far way focus, seeing nothing.  Well, that is a bit more descriptive of the expression of sadness.  How else might we describe that emotion?  Her words held no life, slowly rolling off her tongue as if they had no expectation of hope.  So I may be a little hackneyed in phrasing, but I am trying to make a point.  You can’t speed write your way through the creation of a novel or short story.  The craft of writing takes time if it be worthy of it hire.  And the art of writing takes a bit longer, it has never been instantaneous.  Yes, Balzac, on a bet, once wrote a novel in twentyfour hours and it was a very mediocre work.  But none of you are Balzac.  People, there are no short cuts, no formulas, no magical incantations to good writing.  It’s hard work, it’s effort, it’s that willingness to do what is necessary in order that one’s writing becomes worth another’s time to read.  It’s having respect for your readers.  If you want money and fame, go rob a bank.  If you want acclaim, learn to write well, put you brain into it, and then forget about the money.  It may or may not come.  You may never quit your day job.  To paraphrase Mark Twain, a man who wants to be a writer should write for three years.  If at the end of that time no one will pay him any money for his work, then maybe he was meant to cut wood for a living.


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