liz_marcs (liz_marcs) wrote,

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On Writing...

I totally spaced on Earth Hour last night. In my defense, it was because I was attempting to make my own environment more livable, i.e., plaster-dust free.

I managed to clean out all my kitchen cabinets and wash every food-containing and food-holding thing I own. That is an accomplishment and a half.

Although I'm mystified how I've managed to dump 6 garbage bags of junk I don't need and isn't good enough to donate to charity from just 3 rooms (bathroom, living room, kitchen). I, apparently, have been keeping a lot of crap I don't need since I moved here *counts on fingers* more than 5 years ago.

And I haven't even gotten to the bedroom or my office yet. Wheeeeee! Something tells me I'll have to hit up Costco to get tons of garbage bags to finish my spring cleaning.

If anything, there's finally daylight (so to speak). I'll have completed the worst rooms in the house (plaster dust speaking) by the time midnight rolls around tonight.

And have I mentioned my hands? They're all bruised and cut. They look like they've been in a prize fight and lost.

In any case, while enjoying my morning coffee and a quick breakfast of cold cereal (I'm getting really, really sick of cold cereal since I've been eating that for dinner for a week.), I came across a most excellent essay on writing via comments in The Slacktivist.

Sex, Death and Christian Fiction by Simon Morden (who I've never heard of, but I may need to seek out his books now) talks about why Christian hardcore.

Okay, not exactly news to anyone who's been reading The Slacktivist's takedown of the Left Behind series. And punking on modern Christian fiction in general is a lot like shooting fish in a barrel.

The catch here is that Morden is a devout Christian himself. What's more is that although the essay (which started life as a speech) starts out as a criticism of the Christian fiction industry and comes from that perspective, it morphs into one of the best short essays on writing I've ever read. Whether you're Christian or Very Much Not, you'll definitely get something out of it.

From Morden's essay:

Firstly, we need to become good writers. We need to cultivate and exercise our talent. We need to be able to say, "What I’ll write tomorrow will be better than what I wrote yesterday." How do we get to be good writers? By reading: what we read influences how we write. My influences include the thousands of books I’ve read. But if I have to mention a few, I’ll talk about Ray Bradbury. Lewis and Tolkien. Julian May. Arthur C Clarke and John Wyndham. Orson Scott Card. Some of these authors are Christians. Some are avowedly not. I believe that writing well pleases God.

We become good writers by writing: it’s said – how true this is, is debatable, but it’s fair comment – that it takes a writer half a million words to find their voice. Half a million words is five decent length novels. You’re going to commit yourself to writing five probably unpublished and unpublishable novels before you break the half-million word mark. Part of writing is being read, too, and accepting criticism, and going back and changing what you’ve written. Find some friends who’ll be honest with you. Remember that finishing the book is just the start of the process.

There is no secondly. Getting published takes two out of the following three: Talent, Perseverance, and Luck. You cannot control Luck. Which means you have to concentrate on Talent and Perseverance, both of which are hard work.

Of course, I can't talk about writing essays without at least giving a hat-tip to Steve Martin's essay, "Writing is Easy!".

There's a funny story about how this essay came to my attention, one that does not put me in a terribly good light.

First, you have to understand that, for me, writing usually is fairly easy. Granted, I sometimes get burned out because, hey, I actually write for a living, a minimum of 8 hours a day, 5 days a week. Writing, especially nonfiction writing, has never been all that hard for me to do even under tight deadline pressures.

The problem was this: Because it was so easy for me, I thought anyone could do it. All they needed was the right tools. A copy of Stunk and White, a good basis in grammar, a little practice, and a keyboard. Talent, near as I could tell, didn't play into it at all. It was all mechanics. Get an idea, do a little research, write the idea. Simple as that.

I should mention that I was only a few years out of college when I believed this. You'd think I'd "get it" when I was in college, but no. See, most of my friends in college were either other journalism majors or were people who were good writers taking the Liberal Arts track. So, because everyone I knew were people who could write well, it followed that everyone (with the right tools, enough practice, yadda, yadda, yadda...) could write.

This attitude led me to cross swords with one of my bosses when I worked for a trade magazine. It started, ironically enough, with him complimenting me on making an article about a dry subject an interesting read. Somehow, this compliment devolved into an intense discussion (I'd almost say argument, but it stopped just short of that) about writing in general.

My stance, as I've mentioned above, was, "Well, anyone can do it. Writing's not all that hard."

His argument, "For you it's not all that hard. For other people it's impossible to write a grocery list. You can have all the 'right' tools in the world, but without talent you can't actually use them."

We went round-and-round on this for almost an hour, and at no point were either one of us going to give.

The next day I came into work, a photocopy of Steve Martin's essay was sitting right on my keyboard.

Point made, and point taken. That singular essay didn't just change my professional life, it honestly changed my whole attitude toward myself. By God, there were people out there who believed I had talent and were willing to beat me over the head until I believed it, too.

And yes, I thanked my boss for making his point.

I still have that dog-eared photocopy, and every time I need a little kick in the pants, I re-read and remind myself that someone, somewhere out there believed in me enough to force me to look in the mirror and recognize something that I just couldn't recognize on my own

I'm sorry to say I lost track of that boss after he left the company and moved on to greener pastures. If we ever cross paths again, I'll be sure to tell him that I still have his photocopied gift.

Go. Read Writing Is Easy!, even if you don't read Morden's essay. You'll thank yourself for it.

As for me, I have a long day of nuking the last of the plaster dust out of my apartment.

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