The Discipline of Writing

I was reading over some messages from some followers on the internet, and one question struck me pretty deeply.

“A writer can gain knowledge, style and clarity, but how does one gain discipline in the craft?”

I read this late last night, and decided that it would be best to ponder my response. After all, we are all struggling with our own place in the writing world; we each have our own reasons for writing, and wanting to write, and to take it beyond that, and attempt to refine our skills through self-discipline was something I had never been asked. I can’t say that I am overly dedicated to the craft as I probably should be… so I didn’t want to just throw out any old answer.

Having given it some thought, my response was pretty simple. I said, “Two things: recognizing that writing is not a hobby, or a weekend warrior’s game; and having a strong sense of desperation.”

I may have said the first part to get some attention; but the second part is absolutely true. For a lot of writers, the craft of writing is something that they dabble at, or attempt at doing. However, somewhere in there between writing down a whimsical story in afternoons, or in the few precious hours we have after work is not the same as truly sitting down and pushing ourselves to write a novel, or composition from start to finish. I’m not making light of those that do write only when they have the time, but when it goes from being a hobby to a job, then it needs to be approached as such, and understood as such.

Writing for me is an act of desperation. From the first word, to the very last word. I am hammering out a path in my future that I willfully want to happen. I won’t eat, or have money for my family, to say nothing of bills if I don’t push it to happen. No one else is going to write this book for me; no one will stand over my shoulder and lead me through the hard parts, and coach me to do better. The burden of responsibility rests solely on my own shoulders.

At some point, it stops being a hobby, and becames the career. For many of us, that alone is the nudge that we need to be self-disciplined. That is the straight and narrow, and that is the defining point.

Do More Reading

For the past few weeks, I’ve been polishing up on some of my reading. Not a bad idea, really. I mean, I do write crime fiction, suspense fiction, and on occasion scary stuff. So why let the old wheels get rusty?

I was once talking to a fellow about being a writer, and that writers needed to be well read; something we both agree on. This is a common fundamental with almost all writers the world over, and not just writers do this; carpenters, painters, engineers and architects spend huge amounts of time studying their craft. They see what others have done, they see how others have done it, and they gain insight, inspiration and confidence. Guitarists listen to songs and music that feature strong guitar parts, learning under the masters, while strumming out a three chord progression in their basement to keep from waking the house, and listening to Clapton, Hendrix, and Page.

Writers should be the most starving people in the world for books to read. I mean it. We should be so ravenous for literature that we’ll read the fucking phone book out of necessity, but when it comes right down to it, we don’t put in as much effort into the other half of our craft as we try to do with the scribble part of it.

One of the books currently on my reading list is called, What’s A Ghoul To Do? It is written by Victoria Laurie, and it’s the first in a series of Ghost Hunter Mysteries. Since most of my novels involve murder or death in some way, then I gravitate toward the crime novel genre; books by James Patterson, Mo Hayder and Stuart MacBride, just to name a few. This book, What’s A Ghoul To Do? is a good example of a staple novel. By staple, I mean, a novel that is intended to provide entertainment to the masses. You aren’t going to find overly elaborate and exhaustive narrative, no compelling dialogue and character interchange. You will find a few of my pet beefs grammatically, but as a writer, this is where we are to spend our time.

Video games have become such a back burner thing that I probably spend less than four hours a week on my console, and that’s probably way too generous an amount.

Now this next part will probably step on a few toes, but then I’m more or less repeating the resounding echo of many great writers and authors over the past several decades. No matter what you learn in school or college, there is no better framework for a good writer than to be a great reader.

“But, Mr Devere, does that include fan-fiction? There’s this really great writer that’s written this two hundred thousand word fic about Will Robinson and Luna!”

Sorry. That’s not really what I mean. Granted there are some immaculate fan-fiction stories out there, and they are upper-tier English literature, for the most part I’d have to shake my head and tell you, “No. Don’t do that.” Reading a lot of fan-fiction as a substitution for a book is a big gamble, and can end up like two apprentices teaching each other. Unless you know for sure that the person you are reading is very good at the craft, you are only going to be as good as the people that instruct you. And, each book that you read is one more small layer of instruction. If you want to gorge on fan-fiction and I can’t talk you out of it; then go for the writers that remind you of those kids that were top in your class at school. Those smart kids that everyone would go to at the end of the period and beg to help with homework. Don’t go for the popularity, that’ll get you no where.

“What about the classics?”

Go for it. I must’ve read two hundred books that predate 1900s era literature before I ever started writing. Not because I was trying to go for some record breaking feat, but because I lived in a rural area with no cable TV, and I learned that a book was a more lengthy and rewarding form of entertainment. So if the classics are what you are into. Then hot-damn jump up high, and slap someone’s momma, you are on the right track. Famous author Dean Koontz mainly sticks to reading classics for reasons that involve character creation. He’s commented that modern characters are and I paraphrase like method actors. The writers are trying too hard sometimes, and it comes off as having no realized depth. “No Freudean villains.”

There is nothing wrong with reading a cheap book. Take for example the Ghost Hunter Mystery. It smacks of romance, endless amounts of wit; comes complete with almost every cliche, including a token homosexual for the hot chick, and introduces some silly escapist scenarios. Is this sort of book beneath me? Certainly not. If you are under the belief that only masterpieces should be worth your perusing, then you will be waiting a long time for the next one to be judged such. Also, it doesn’t hurt to take your editor glasses off, and take your scrutiny and put it in the bottom drawer. When you read a book, be a reader; absorb this shit. Don’t let typos fuck with your head, because that’s not the writer; I know… it’s the copy editors. Grrr! Learn to relax, chillax, and enjoy your craft.