by IAN TOWNSEND
How many aspiring writers have chased the dream of writing professionally by following the “surefire way to write a bestselling novel?” You were pulled in by the promises of “foolproof plotting,” “unforgettable characters,” and “unbeatable stories,” but you only end up with frustration and unfinished works. So what’s going wrong? Surely something is missing here. What they don’t tell you is that these tips, tricks, and plans don’t work for everyone. Method and craft knowledge is only half of the equation.
It may sound like I am putting down all of the authors who publish writing craft books. This is absolutely untrue. I have learned from some very talented writers and teachers, and the thing that I have learned is that there is no ONE way to write. The Author Q&A Series I started really brought this idea to the forefront for me. I interviewed two spectacular writing mentors, and their methods are different on many levels. Their craft books further highlight the differences in writing styles, and I love that.
THE MORE I READ ON THE WRITING CRAFT, THE MORE I REALIZE THAT THERE IS NO RIGHT OR WRONG WAY TO WRITE
I’m enthralled when authors share their knowledge and technique in the hopes that it will assist a burgeoning writer find their own course. What I really have a problem with is the predatory works that seek to shill people out of their money and time with false notions. If I see ridiculous promises, I’m not going to waste my time. I would rather spend my time under the tutelage of Deborah Chester, KM Weiland, James Scott Bell, or any of the other various writers who aren’t snake oil salesmen. Teaching is not about creating clones, but giving people the skills to succeed using their own talents.
WE ALL HAVE TO LEARN FROM THOSE WHO CAME BEFORE US
The problem comes when we try to fit who we are as writers within a box we aren’t meant to be in. There are so many fantastic writers in our history, and we could spend lifetimes studying how they created the beautiful literature and flowing prose that we adore and strive to emulate. I think we would find that there are differences across the spectrum that make each writer unique. While plot, character archetype, genre, writing style, and anything else could be similar, there are things that make each writer their own special creator. We can all start out walking a beaten path, but at some point we have to branch off on our own.
When I came back to writing, I was searching for the path that would lead me where I wanted to go. I searched craft books, websites, and just about any source I could for inspiration. When I found something that felt right, I chased it. I began absorbing knowledge and testing the methods. I tried to emulate the styles of authors I enjoyed. Some things worked and others didn’t. Some failed spectacularly. The thing I found out was I had to find my writing style. I could not put myself in the shoes of another writer. I can’t write with cookie cutter methods. To make a truly unique story that maximized my full potential, I had to transform the methods and lessons from other writers in to my own specific form.
I struggled with this at first. I kept trying to fit myself back into the box. When one box didn’t work, I looked for another one. I didn’t get anything accomplished until I stopped trying to follow the rules so rigidly. I started following the things that worked for my writing.
6 months of mangled notes and barely any progress turned in to 51 pages and over 31,000 words in a rough first version plot summary in just under two months.
It’s been an amazing experience as a writer learning my own approach. It has given me confidence in my work, and an ability to share it with others. I have always enjoyed blogging, and I loved being a journalist, but I’ve never had the courage to share any of my fiction work. I sent out my plot summary for content review this week, and it was liberating and horrifying at the same time. My work has a LONG way to go before it is done, but it’s a good start.
Don’t chase a dream and try to fit it within someone else’s success. Learn from them, study their methods, and then build your own design. There are many incredible teachers and mentors who legitimately want to help the aspiring writers who seek them out. They will give you the tools and tell you the methods that they mastered. It is up to you to use what you learn to create your own style. Being unique, original, and imaginative is what makes writing so much fun. Don’t be lazy and try to stick to the paved roads of authorship. Originality will set you apart in your story as well as in how you craft it.
Be brave like the protagonists you invent. Explore the untamed wilds of writing.
The trodden path can only take you so far.
Ian is currently serving in the US Navy. He is the proud husband of a rock star viola player, the harried father of a 3 year old hurricane daughter, and is hard at work on his first novel, a fantasy tale. His personal blog, The Town’s End Tribune, helps keep his writing claws sharpened when he is not writing fiction. Born and raised in Texas, he has traveled far and wide, but is currently mired in the swamps of New Orleans, LA.
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