Today, I’m proud to present Jeffrey Chapman, an aspiring novelist from Montreal who not only writes short fiction and novels, but also manages one of the fastest-growing writing groups in the city: JustWriteMontreal.
Jeff is one of the few people I know who gets all my pop-cultural references right off the bat. This seemingly endless well of knowledge adds depth and snark to his writing. It also makes for excellent conversation. Hook up with Jeff on twitter.
I’m like a crack-addled meth addict when it comes to writing advice.
Every day I read tweets from author-types, looking for nuggets of wisdom about the craft of writing. I follow a bunch of people that have great writing advice (my favourite today is Chuck Wendig – check his blog). I have stacks of books that cover different topics on writing (current bedtime reading is PLOT & STRUCTURE by James Scott Bell – Amazon link here). I take classes, attend workshops, and go to seminars to hear others talk about writing. I feel like I’m learning.
That’s the thing: there’s so much to learn about writing. Figuring out the craft is important to become a decent writer. Understanding plot, making dialog believable, injecting the story with action and compelling tension are concepts that will make people enjoy reading what I write. There’s also the “weeds” of language – spelling, grammar, punctuation, metaphors and similes – they’re important as well, and they fascinate me. I’m in love with the English language.
But I’m not writing. At least, not writing much. Reading about writing dominates the free time I’ve given the craft. It’s a problem I’m working to fix. So how can my confession help you?
Although obvious, it’s good to start by remembering we have a finite amount of time. Reading is important, and making an honest study of the craft is not a waste of time, but it’s not the only way to learn. The act of writing will teach you. Just as musicians must put in countless hours with their instruments, so too should writers. Put one word in front of the other, completing your tales, and you’ll improve. Although cliché to say so, practice really does make perfect.
Also, consider this: you’ll have something to improve. We learn during the revision process, and because we’re human no first draft is perfect. As painful as it can sometimes be, the best place to start is with your own work. Read it aloud, hear the words in your head, and you’ll often be able to spot weaknesses. Does it sound stilted and awkward? Does your punctuation use (or lack thereof) leave you breathless? Attack these issues. If you’re stumped, then it makes sense to seek help from a book. It also helps to share your work with writing friends, but the only way that will happen is if you actually get the damn words written. Seriously, WRITE first.
Here’s another way to look at it. Have someone tell you ten random numbers between one and nine. Commit them to memory, wait a whole minute, and then say them aloud. Now have them tell you ten new numbers, and immediately write them done. Wait a minute, and then read them back. Which is easier?
Okay, that might be a useless test, but the point I’m trying to make is that there’s a kind of magic to putting words down on paper. Things just stick better when you actually write. Some smart scientist with fancy equipment could probably say something about brain waves and memory muscles and such, but I’m sticking with “magic.”
Let’s come back to the topic of time for a moment. Life is finite. If we don’t spend it telling the stories that burn inside us, we should be out experiencing it. If anything, living life is the best way to collect stories. So I’m going to sound like my father for a moment: do as I say, not as I do. It’s the only way you’ll get that story written.
And with that, I’m going to shut up and go read some writing blogs.