One of my oldest writing buddies and I decided to craft a Writing How-To Book back when we were in our late teens and struggling to get agents to look at our mildly crappy novels.
Over the years, the outline for this guide continued to grow. We still think of ideas for this book, and the thing is shaping up to be pretty epic, if not the eventual desktop reference for creative writing throughout all the lands.
What inspired us to begin the How-To guide when we were, and still are, struggling with the finer points of the craft? This simple phenomenon — perhaps your or a writer friend has heard of it? It’s called Re-Learning The Basics Every Six Months.
I’m talking that pivotal moment in your Work In Progress where you realize how much more effective the scene is because of your spicy dialogue. And that great part where you showed a character trait without having to say “Mr. Pickles was a bad man”. And that other time when you eliminated the majority of adjectives from a page and things somehow, some way, got tighter and hotter.
As a writer, my entire job consists of learning and then forgetting and then re-learning the most basic of basics. Like Drew Barrymore in “Fifty First Dates”, I often wake up and have to relive the same scenario every day just to make it to that point in the evening where I realize a simple rule of writing that makes everything so much easier.
I don’t plan to do this, nor do I enjoy being cyclically smacked in the face with the same lesson. It just happens.
I don’t know how to change it. I don’t know if I should change it.
Because as it stands, this cyclical face-smack has been a continual impetus in my forward-looking progress as a writer. Habitual forgetting (or some variation on this — maybe it’s just distraction) allows the clinching rightness of basic writing tenets to spear me like long-range javelin hunters on the prowl, time and time again.
Beta reading plays a healthy role in this as well. It is way easier to look at someone else’s work and see the areas for improvement, where they could have shown and not told, where their descriptions were excessive, where a simple one-liner would work better than a paragraph. Cultivating these beta eyes for others makes it easier to apply these eyes to our own pieces…
…Which leads to the forehead-slapping “Duh” moment where you remember that characters drive the action for approximately the 1,957th time.
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