Bullet Wisdom

I am an Active Duty Officer in the US Army. I am a Husband, father, writer, hunter, gamer, and SOLDIER. This blog is a forum for my many hobbies as well as my random musings.

Friday, March 5, 2010

The Weight of What's Right

I thought I was a smart guy. I had a great verbal. In college, I breezed through creative writing and literature courses. Over the years I continued to write, in professional and academic arenas, and was successful in both. Then I started my quest to publish a novel, and experienced writers and even some professionals have pointed out I had more good fortune in my first year than should be allowed an aspiring author.

So why does it feel as though I've learned nothing.

Case in point, I entered a YA contest over at Kidlit. The premise was simple, agent Mary Kole sifted through a few hundred openings, and picked her favorites. Mine was nowhere near the top five, and after reading through her winners, probably nowhere near the top fifty. The winner's opening, especially the top three, had voice that took on a life of its own. Compared to theirs, mine is weak, lifeless, and way too drawn out.

Fortunately, I've scheduled a rewrite.

One of my writing partners (here) unintentionally helped me realize I had a lot to learn about writing. It started with a lecture over passive verbs; she looked at my critique of another member and politely pointed out what I thought was passive tense, was actually past perfect. Like any good professional, I immediately went to school. As coincidence would have it, one of my favorite writer's blogs, Cec Murphy's Writer to Writer, recently addressed appropriate uses of passive voice.

Having spent an adult lifetime trying to crush the evils of passive voice, now I'm thinking I should reconsider. However, the hard part is when to pick and choose those special moments to actually use a specific style technique to achieve a desired effect. In reading Cec's opines of proper passive voice, I picked up his thoughts regarding use of progressive tense. What the heck is that? Now, I know.

Up to now I've simply been putting words on paper without giving much thought to using the actual structure of the sentence as a literary weapon. The second and third order effects have me reconsidering my use of an outline as more than just a story-planning device. As an old boss told me, words matter because they have meaning. How they are used is probably a close second.

Several months ago, my father, an avid reader, quoted me some unknown dead writer who was asked by an interviewer when he learned to write. The writer replied something to the tune of, 'It took a quarter million words for me to start learning.' I'm horribly paraphrasing, and Lord knows, I wasn't listening all that well (sorry, Dad), but only now I can begin to understand the point of his discussion.

Knowledge is heavy, and the more of it I pick up, the more there's an obligation to use it. You can put as much, or as little, as you want into your projects. You can throw a hundred thousand words into a program and call it a manuscript. You can even call your friends and tell them you wrote a book. The way I see it, cranking out the first 'book' was easy, and to date, I haven't really written anything.

But I'm working on it.


Danni said...

I've read the first chapter of each of you manuscripts and you've come a long way in a year. Your eagerness to learn and adapt is what will make you thrive. You seek out knowledge and apply it to your own work. As long as you keep that open attitude, you will continue to grow.

Diane Girard said...

Good writers are writers who continue to learn and to explore the way that language works in order to find their unique voice. It is important to know the mechanics, but writing that will last rises above whatever mechanical failings it has ( even great writers have flaws).


Angela Addams said...

I think most writers feel like they will never be good enough...and that's before they see a page that's been ripped apart by an editor!

As a writer you must always be on the look out for new information, new knowledge and as frustrating as it can be, you must push forward and drive yourself toward your goals.

I can say that in the past two years of striving for publication, I have learned a lot...from a lot of people who have been working at it longer than I have.

It is tiring, but in a good way. I will succeed and so will you.

Falcata Times said...

Hi BW,
Louis Lamour once said that Writing was like digging for gold, you had to dig through a ton of dirt to hit the good stuff.

Every writer learns as they create and whilst you don't think that you have, you've learned more than you think. Whilst this might sound a bit weird you have to remember that you're still learning your voice.

Learning by doing gets you so far but one piece of advice that I think is oft overlooked these days is read, read, read. Not just genre's you like but read a bit afield of them. I've read everything from Romance to general chick lit alongside firm favs such as historical ficton, fantasy, thriller etc.

Even read books that have been panned as they can teach you as much from what not to do as a good book can teach by positive example. You'll get there but the journey may be long.

Diane Girard said...

I'm glad Gareth mentioned - read. It always seems so obvious to me, but sometimes the obvious needs to be restated.

Emma said...

Pick up a copy of the Chicago Manual of Style. It will be the best investment you've ever made.

Selestial said...

First, thank you for the shout out. That made my day (and I was having a pretty good day).

Second, it's all about learning. Most writers who succeed didn't stop learning with that first publication. And heavens know I'm still learning. Every time someone rips apart my writing, I learn. Embrace knowledge wherever you can find it :)

Michelle said...

Sounds to me like you have learned a lot.

Part of becoming a good writer is seeing your mistakes and learning from others. I'd say you're well on your way.