Another writing blogger, whose scribblings I often enjoy, pointed out in one of his musings a while back that with all the articles, novels, e-books and blogs available today, more words are being written now than ever before.
As he also pointed out, a lot of that writing can be summed up in one word … forgettable.
Sadly, I agree with him.
I’ve seen a lot of things written by the new surge of independent, self-published authors that are not only forgettable, they’re often trite, badly formatted, poorly written and downright boring.
I suppose that’s why my local library didn’t want my books in their collection when I first asked if I could donate them.
Two of the four books are award-winners. All have received 5-Star reviews. But folks at the library hadn’t read a single word, and they were adamant in wanting nothing to do with them.
They said “no” because I was an indie author, and that … at least in their minds … put me in that nefarious one-word category where they dump the work of a lot of indie authors:
Looking For a Reason
I don’t blame the library for their early reluctance. Unfortunately, a lot of the writing being done by indie authors is just plain terrible, and they had no reason to believe otherwise about mine.
That is, not until Kirkus Reviews … a venue they both know and respect … had good things to say about my novel.
I’m happy to say the library has now accepted my donation. I’ve even registered for their Local Author Fair this fall … a venue where they ask authors to come, sign some books and promote the library.
It started me thinking. A lot of writing by non-traditional authors is bad. Not all of it, but enough to leave that kind of sour, negative impression of anything related to indie … even with the explosion of non-traditional publishing in recent years.
Why is that?
OK … it’s just my opinion, but I think it goes deeper than not having a cadre of editors to fix things. I think too many indies are still trying to follow the simplistic rules laid down to them as gospel when they were in school. Rules dictated by instructors who never came close to having a best-seller to brag about.
They listen to the kind of pablum that continues to be handed-out, or worse … sold … in writing classes and the myriad writing publications, but their work doesn’t get any better.
To Write You Have To Read
I believe it’s primarily because they never actually read the works they admire, and reading is the key.
I don’t mean just reading the words. I mean reading the story again-and-again to understand, at an intrinsic level, why it works. To get stronger as a writer that kind of analysis is crucial.
Why does the dialogue seem like real conversation? How does the author’s description evoke a reaction from all your senses? Why do you find the main protagonist, or any of the characters at all, memorable? How did the author actually make you see the scene?
Conversely, if the story was bad, why was it bad? Where, exactly, did it fall apart?
Most writer wannabes never read stories like that … with the intention of finding out why they admire them. If they did, they would discover the great secret truth about writing. Pretty words and grammatically correct sentences don’t mean a thing.
It’s All About Storytelling
Storytelling is the secret truth about good fiction writing. It’s never been about pretty words and grammar (sorry again, Mrs. Bliss, but it’s true) … because no matter how perfect the body looks, it’s the engine under the hood that makes the car move.
That’s not to say you don’t need to understand grammar and spelling and proper formatting. You most certainly do. However, most of what they teach you in school, or in books on writing, could be summed up quite simply as bodywork.
It’s all right, as far as it goes … but I’m telling you here and now it doesn’t matter how pretty the car looks (or how perfect your sentences are). The vehicle may seem pretty, but if the engine just doesn’t work you’re not going anywhere.
Good storytelling is the engine of good writing.
I’ll say it again, because it’s the most important thing you can learn as a writer. It’s the storytelling that matters most.
People like a story that makes them laugh or makes them cry, that thrills them … or scares them out of their minds. People want to FEEL something when they read your stories. If the engine doesn’t work, your readers aren’t going anywhere with you. In fact, they may never travel in one of your stories again.
It’s why I enjoy reading Stephen King. Some people don’t like the genre in which he writes, but in every case, even in the few stories I really don’t care for myself, his writing clearly displays his most wonderful skill: HE KNOWS HOW TO TELL A DAMN STORY.
If you want to write, learn to pay attention to things like that. It’s not easy. For some, it may be the hardest thing you do.
Don’t get me wrong. Writing doesn’t have to be painful. Writing should be fun, and it should be magical … for the person banging on the keyboard and for the people who read it.
With a bit of luck, and the concerted effort it takes to read and analyze the things you like, your own writing can discover the magic. It’s the “concerted effort” part that brings dismay, and some degree of hesitation, to many … but it does pay off and I guarantee you’ll have a smile on your face when it does.
Better yet, so will your readers.