Saturday, May 21, 2005

Speaking the Language

For years I’ve wanted to be a writer. I’ve not always wanted to actually sit down and write, but I’ve wanted to be a writer. I don’t think I’m alone in this. People like me/us keep publishing companies solvent by purchasing how-to and inspirational books whilst in the pre-writer phase. Among the many things I bought to persuade myself I was writerly* if not really writing were several annual subscriptions to Writer’s Digest Magazine.

Now maybe it’s me and maybe it isn’t (several letters to the editor have commented on how the mag has improved of late), but I always found the articles in WD a little too simple: Show Don’t Tell (of course not), Avoid Clichés Like the Plague (duh), Substantially Reduce Your Adverbs (you betcha). I’d come away from scanning an issue thinking: well I can do that, this writing thing’s not so hard after all. In fact, why even bother writing when I’ve got all this mastered?

Have I mentioned yet that I wasn’t actually writing much, if anything?

Now that I have a fat pile of MS pages on my desk, I see that it’s not as easy as I had thought. Wait! These are just pages of narrative telling, no showing in sight. Clichés are standing out like sore thumbs. And perhaps I too-hastily estimated my skill at eschewing adverbiage. Writer’s Digest not only makes sense now, but it makes a difference, too. So do the how-to books and the inspirational tomes.

They say to learn a language you need to immerse yourself in it. Not to get ecclesiological, but I used to be a sprinkler when it came to writing. Dribs, drabs, drips, drops. Whatever I managed to write failed to transform me from pre-writer to writer. Diving in the deep end last fall – now that did the trick.

I'm not kidding myself anymore, either. I know I’ve still got a long way to go. But at least now I’m speaking the right language. (Five points to me for rejecting the pun when writing the penultimate word in that sentence.)

And while I’m on the topic of speaking a common language, let me add that I’m enjoying reading Christian fiction as much as I’m enjoying writing it. Part of what led me to want to write in the Christian niche were the books in the late-80s/early-90s that presented salvation as just one more obstacle to overcome on the way to the big finale. It wasn’t always that blatant, and it didn’t enable the main character to call down holy fire to resolve the climax, but in book after book it was the means to the end. I didn’t care for it (on technical grounds; I was glad the character got saved, but it didn’t always serve the story well). Lately I’ve been immersing myself in modern Christian fiction and (largely) enjoying what I’ve found. There are a lot of well-written stories out there presenting the Gospel – or a Christian worldview – that are content to put it out there, but don't require a commitment by characters or readers by page 325. It seems the industry’s speaking my language. Whoodathunkit?



*Among the "101 unconventional lessons every writer needs to know" in Robert’s Rules of Writing, Robert Masello shares that it’s okay to “buy the smoking jacket” (Rule #56). Part of becoming a writer is wanting to be one. Not every kid who wants to be a writer (or tap dancer or ballerina or fairy-princess or veterinarian or what have you) will realize his or her dream. But it still starts with the dream. Don’t want to be a writer and odds are you won’t. Want to be one and maybe – just maybe – you will (perhaps you’ll even get published). I don’t feel enormously terrible about the years spent not writing (a little remorse, yes, but not a lot). What I’m doing now redeems them all. The pre-writer phase is over. The writer has entered the building (even if he wears a ratty bathrobe instead of a smoking jacket).

4 Comments:

Blogger sally apokedak said...

I don't have the smoking jacket but I did buy a house twenty years ago with a garage apartment that was to be my writer's retreat. Never wrote anything there. =0)

I subscribed for sixteen years to Writer's Digest, too, and wrote diligently two days a month after the magazine came and I'd devoured it.

Thanks for the memories,

sally

6:51 AM  
Blogger J. Mark Bertrand said...

The best way to pass a bathrobe off as a smoking jacket is to wear a fez with it. That's worked wonders for my own writing, and I commend the practice to you.

8:27 AM  
Blogger Paula said...

Chris,

Loved this post. I've found it to be so true!

9:01 AM  
Blogger lindaruth said...

Great post, and it was not "frivolous meringue." :)
Linda

9:35 AM  

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