This week I read a couple of blog posts about “Wasted Writing.“First, on April 7th, there was a post by Kirk Spencer on Mental Meanderings. Then on April 16, Marie Andreas wrote on the same subject (possibly from having read Kirk’s post, but I’m not sure). So here’s my idea: let’s call it “Practice Writing.”
I heartily agree with both writers that no writing is ever “wasted.” Not just because--if the material doesn’t work for your present WIP it might be saved for a different one--but because it was practice. Just like athletes and pianists, writers need practice in order to perfect their work and reach their goals.
Many years ago, a best-selling author, speaking at a conference I attended, gave some valuable advice. To paraphrase, he said it doesn’t really matter if what you’ve written today seems inadequate, sophomoric, or just plain “lousy.” You can’t really tell if it is or not until you’ve finished the whole story or novel. “I guarantee that when it’s finally finished you won’t be able to tell which paragraphs you wrote when feeling ‘inspired’ and which you wrote when the Muse was ignoring you.”
Another writer has said, “You can always fix a sub-standard draft, but you can’t fix a blank page.”
Multi-published writer Dean Wesley Smith has said the idea that writers don’t need to practice is a “myth.” A writer who writes one book and doesn’t sell it may rationalize the rejection by saying the editor didn’t recognize his genius, or that he hadn’t promoted it enough and readers couldn’t find it. These days, some of those writers put their first books on Amazon, not realizing first books are often not very good because the author hadn’t practiced enough. Smith says, in effect, “Learn from it and write a better book next time.” In other words, practice.
I think it was John D. MacDonald who said every writer must write a million rotten words before he begins to improve. Practice.
Years ago I collaborated with another author on three books, and one of them was published in 2010, the second was accepted by a publisher and will be released July 1st, and the third is currently being considered by a very good modern publisher. My friend and I decided to write together because we met in a writing workshop and discovered we complemented each other. My strong point was action and dialogue and hers was finding the perfect images, metaphors, and similes and a lot of “killer” descriptions. So when we began, we brainstormed a long synopsis for the book we wanted to write (one ran to sixteen single-spaced pages) and then I wrote the first chapter and got the thing started. I called it “down and dirty” and after that, she took over and cleaned it up, turning it into fine-tuned prose.
That was a true learning experience for me, and, after we went our separate ways, fictionwise, I taught myself how to insert all the lovely words my friend might have provided. And I sold those books too, and my friend has sold one of her independently written books, has the second under consideration and is working on a third. And the moral is that all those words we wrote before we met that weren’t published weren’t wasted. They were practice.
How about you, my friend? Did you practice today? I hope so.
Dean Wesley Smith