Wednesday, May 5, 2010

On Writing: A Philosophy

People have asked, inquired, mused, implied, commented, criticized, and complained. Normally, such things would be ignored by me, but it's been pervasive enough that I've decided to address it.

What am I talking about? Writing, that's what.

Now, I'm the first to admit that I'm not a writer, so don't read this with that perspective in mind. I've been published, but nothing that was a big deal. What I am, however, is a reader (yes, there are paid readers out there). And I used to "run" writers. Usually screenwriters, but there's been one or two who've gotten memoirs and short stories published under my watch. Not that they really needed me... they were just lazy (don't tell them I said that).

Anyway, long story short: writers need output. Writers write, after all. Those who talk about writing (or worse, talk about "ideas") and never write are most certainly not writers. It's no different than someone wanting to be a baseball player but never playing baseball. Intent is rarely judged in any professional world. Execution, however, always is.

There are many "writers" out there who only like to share what is invariably referred to as "polished" or "ready" work. While I admit that this is a luxury that makes the process ideal, it's not really how it works. Editors and readers typically get involved rather early in the process and, in my experience, actually love to do so. There's always a cringing moment when one starts to read "polished" or "ready" material, because it's rarely anything but.

One of the tenets I operate on and like to instill in aspiring writers that I know and/or work with is that 90% of everything one writes is crap. It's true of the great authors, it's true of the bad authors, and it's true of aspiring authors and wannabe author/bloggers (certainly it's true here). 90% of what you write is crap. But everything written, no matter how bad, always provides something usable (such as character or plot) or editable. Getting something written allows the process to continue. WRITING IT ALLOWS THE PROCESS TO CONTINUE. Those who talk about writing will be and are relegated to, well, talking about writing.

I am not a producer. I can't do a fucking thing with your idea (which, as far as producers are concerned, probably involves hiring a WRITER to WRITE it). What I can work with is a draft, no matter how bad anyone thinks it is.

And the more one writes, the larger that 10% is going to be.

What's the moral of this rant? Write anyway. Type anyway. Writer's block is bullshit and doesn't exist, unless your hands and fingers are broken (and even then, there's voice recognition software to get around that obstacle). I "write anyway" all the time, less as an exercise and more to prove my point. And guess what? At least 90% of that stuff is crap, and I'm being generous. But it's workable material, rather than vague ideas in a head that refuse to come down and put themselves on paper (virtual or otherwise).

Writers write. So write. Accept that it'll be crap 9 times out of 10. If it's written, it can be improved. If it isn't, well... keep talking.


Baino said...

Stop being coy. You're a writer and sometimes a damn good one so get off that high horse! Not only that, you're a 'reader' and have been a professional one at that. . .your opinions are valid. Not always agreeable but anyone who is serious about being published should listen to your arrogant ass and take note. Good post Jeff and I don't give compliments lightly. Criticism is hard. I can't take it but then I have no aspirations to publish but those of your followers who do could do well to listen.

Indulge me: I have a keen writer friend, she's never published, she's good but her genre (teen fiction) is tough. She's marketable but submits almost completed works and doesn't like being told to re-edit, redevelop . .result . . still struggling to be published after 4 years. Four expensive years. I can't help think that if she'd really listened, she'd be a best seller by now.

Every time an editor opens an unsolicited submission, they're hoping they'll find new undiscovered talent. Or so I'm told. No matter how raw. Some of your commenters are damn fine writers and should listen to your FREE (HELLO! FREE . .GRATIS .. PRO BONO) advice.

Sorry, I'll jump off my soap box now!

Brian Miller said...

thanks for shooting straight up jeff...and its true...maybe one day i will find that 10%...smiles.

Kate Hanley said...

Great post and so true. It's a great reminder. I got an essay published once in a newspaper and for a while I thought I could be a writer (as in the professional sense). Not so much but I enjoy it so I do it. And, BTWs agree with Baino, you're writing is great!

Lorenzo — Alchemist's Pillow said...

So true. 'Nuff said.

Harnett-Hargrove said...

Hear! Here! As Yoda says... there is no 'try', only do or not do. -J
Speaking of that I'll travel down the page as I've been gone awhile!

Tess Kincaid said...

Excellent advice, Jeff.

Tom said...'re right. Damn. Oh...and you're one of the best writers i've come across in the bloggerverse--not only that you know the ins and the outs.

PattiKen said...

I have to start with my favorite phrase in this post: "the larger that 10% is going to be." Ha. I love that. That would be a really good trick, if you could pull it off.

I tend to agree with everything you say here. There is just one sticking point for me. You would know far better than I, but from all I've heard from writers trying to get published, getting past the gatekeepers to reach that editor who can't wait to tear into your raw work is pretty tough. At least until you are a proven writer. Or so people say.

Tina said...

Yeah, that free advice thing? That's another very attractive part of what you do out here. LOVE that comment about writing more to produce a bigger 10%. It's mathematically obvious (math degree here) but not everyone gets math, or is even interested in it ;-) Thanks for this very good (FREE!) advice. Apparently I DON'T have writer's block anymore. What a relief.

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