“Good writing is supposed to evoke sensation in the reader, not the fact that it’s raining, but the feeling of being rained upon.”
– E.L. Doctorow
Writers are a rare breed. As I’ve said before, a real writer is more of a writing “addict” than a hobbyist. He or she writes because s/he can’t not write. A real writer feels compelled to write, is bursting with ideas, stories, plots, metaphors, characters, a clever turn of the phrase. One way to spot an amateur is someone who, when asked why they write, responds with something like, “Because I want to be famous” “I’m expressing myself;” or the omnipresent, “I have something to say.” When you hear that, you’re not hearing from a real writer, but a writer wannabee. As master editor Sol Stein explains:
“Those are all occasional outcomes of the correct intentional, which is to provide the reader with an experience that is superior to the experiences the reader encounters in everyday life. If the reader is also rewarded with insights, it is not always the result of the writer’s wisdom but of the writer’s ability to create the conditions that enable pleasure to edify.”
Real writers may ply their craft to impart a timeless truth, message, hint or a nudge or an aha! moment, but not in a self-serving manner. An author should stay in the background. Once he or she bounds into the scene or story – “tada! Here I am!” – S/he becomes an intruder, a distraction or an interruption that detracts from the power and pacing of the material. (First-person narrative may be an exception, but even here the author should tread lightly to avoid focusing the spotlight solely on himself at the expense of his characters or story.) Says Sol Stein:
“My advice to writers yearning for publication is to minimize description, and be sure you don’t stop the story while describing. You are a storyteller, not an interior designer.”
Remember John-Boy Walton? There’s an example of a writer-in-the-rough who got it. John Boy didn’t just enjoy writing. He didn’t just love words, stringing sentences together, appreciate the rhythm, pacing, or painting and polishing of a good story. He worked at it. Practiced and practiced. Rewrote and rewrote. Sought professional instruction, advice, constructive criticism and editorial input. He took courses and classes. Wrote reams and reams and more reams. Edited and published his own newspaper. John Walton, Jr. invested years, yea, decades honing his craft, sharpening his skills, learning, growing and stretching as a writer before he ever published his first novel.
He learned from those mountains of rejection slips. He worked as hard at polishing and perfecting his writing as his Daddy and Grandpa worked processing lumber at their sawmill. Most of all, writing wasn’t a hobby or a sideline for John Boy Walton (aka, Earl Hamner, Jr.). Writing poured out of his heart and soul like water from a spring. Writing defined John, Jr. Compelled him, propelled him, frustrated and fulfilled him. Writing was who John-Boy Walton was.
He got it. Do you?