How To Write

How To Write

I’ve been reading a book called How To Write: Advice and Reflections by Richard Rhodes. The book was published in 1995 –before the Internet took root in a big way — and so it comes from another time; a time before we had blogs, before social networking, before…people were living their lives online and glued to their phones. When How To Write was published, it was a time when people who wanted to write had to think about the barriers to getting someone to read your work. That is to say, before all the methods we have at our disposal to broadcast our thoughts, a person had to put “pen to paper,” plan what you wanted to write about, understand the format you were going to work in, and then start the process of filling in the blank pages. After that, they had to find someone to publish their work — and endure a lot of rejection. Now? Well, if you’re like me, you just open browser, log into a WordPress account, choose “+ New & Post” and it opens the form field to start keying in one’s thoughts. It’s an easy process, but that ease of use and the rapid way of publishing your work can lead to some setbacks. Sometimes I put in a lot of thought into what I’m going to write, and other times I just kind of go with the flow. If I’m just interested in “content” then my musings are probably more causal. However, if I really want to give a topic a more thorough going over and really write about it, I have to approach it differently.

All the advice Rhodes imparts upon a newbie writer is still relevant — even though anyone with a computer, Internet connection and a WordPress or Blogger account can say they are a “writer” by simply typing words on a screen. Just as the newspaper industry didn’t accept bloggers as journalists, I’m guessing that some people who write for a living may furrow their brows at people who say they are writers — but only write on their blog. However, such criticism isn’t about the tools used to express oneself. Rather it’s about the craft of writing — and that’s what Rhodes’ book is about.

From my early 20s I wanted to write — and, in a way, I did. I wrote stupid short stories and overblown and underdeveloped screenplays. I sidestepped the basics of writing and went for the brass ring in my quest to “hurry up and become a writer.” I paid for it, too. My writing was — as one of my screenwriting professors said — “callow.” I was so callow at the time that I didn’t know the meaning of the word. Only after a trip to the university library to find a dictionary did I understand what it meant. Of course I was offended when I found out, but in retrospect, he was correct. My writing was immature…it lacked depth, structure, and a main point.

Youth’s folly, I suppose.

What my writing teacher overlooked, however, was my total lack of inhibition in writing what I thought was funny. You know how little kids just draw whatever the hell they want without any knowledge of structure or form? The pictures are often strange, funny, disjointed and messy. Well, in a way that was me with the written word. I wanted to be funny and absurd in the stories I wanted to tell, and so, without understanding much, I wrote from the part of the late teen/early 20s brain that loves to shock, surprise and find humor in the darkest places. But that’s all it was: the easy laugh, strangeness for the sake of being strange, and crazy-ass stuff that would happen to the characters because…well, because that’s what I wanted to happen. I don’t think I saved much of my output during that time, but I have looked over fragments that have survived multiple moves and I just shake my head at how silly it all was.

That was then…

Now? Well, I want become a better writer, so I thought I would acquaint myself with the basics, and Rhodes’ book is good for that. I think because it was written before “all this” — you know the Internet — it’s a good reminder what it takes to actually write in a way that goes beyond trivial content.

Writing takes work.
It takes planning.
It takes thought.
It takes dedication.
It takes talent.
It takes imagination.
It takes creativity.
It takes courage.
It takes time.

And through these things, you will find your voice expressed through the written word.

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