Friday, August 20, 2010

The Difference is...

I just realized... (yeah, I'm kind of dimwitted, so shut up)... the difference of my mindset between writing the two novels is this:  With The Pacific Between, it's more like "Hey, look at me, I can frigging write! I'm a writer!"  and with The Terrapin's Trail, it's more like "Hmmm, how can I write this amazing story so my readers will enjoy it?"

It sounds really simple, isn't it? And kind of a "duh," too.

It's not like there's not a good story in The Pacific Between. It still like it, and I love the characters. But there are a lot of things I could have done differently had I thought more on the story and less on "being a good writer."

It's understandable, though, and I think a lot of new writers have gone through the same thing. We all have something to prove. We all want the prospective agent or editor or reader to say, "Wow, this person can really write!" The problem is, good writers are still a dime a dozen -- it's actually expected that you can write, if you want to get published. Many authors are damn good writers. So what makes me special? What makes my work special?

All that writing stuff is important -- VERY IMPORTANT. I can't stress that enough. I think it's a mistake for writers to ignore the rules or guidelines or grammar or style or craft. They are all important as part of the writer's toolbox. You can't jump before you learn how to crawl and stand first. And you can't run before you can walk.

Still, what I'm talking about here is not the importance of the craft. Again, it's VERY IMPORTANT, because everything else is built upon that foundation.  What I'm talking about is the mindset, and the focus of fiction writing.

Often, especially for new writers like me or even seasoned writers, the focus is off. We're so hung up on being writerly and the language and all that (especially among literary fiction writers -- you know who you are), and we forget the other side: the readers. So often I hear writer say "I write for myself. I write what I love."  That's really great. But you also write for an audience. Writing is about communication. When you tell a story, what are you doing? You're not telling the story to yourself. You're not telling the story so you can feel better about yourself, and how great a writer you are.

You are telling a story because your readers may want to read that story and enjoy it.

Yes, The Pacific Between got published and received good reviews and all that. But as I look back on my process and the way I wrote it and reread parts of it, I realized how skewed my mindset and process were.  It wasn't until near the last 1/3 of the book did I realize what I wanted to do was to tell a great story.  Sure, my language might have suffered a bit, but damn, the last part of the book turned out well. The plot clipped along. The characters were alive. And the readers were hooked and they kept flipping the pages.

But the first half?  Very nice descriptions, dude, but it was slow. I can now see it painfully, how the first half and the second half differ because of my mindset. The former was all about being writerly, and the latter about telling a good story.

I can see clearly now, the rain is gone...

So, my fellow writers, while it's important to improve your craft and become the best writer you can be, please make sure you don't focus on the wrong thing. Make sure you not only write for yourself because it's your passion, but also because you want to write for your readers. You need to constantly think about them.

Focusing on telling a good story, I now love my writing even more!

5 comments:

Kim said...

So eloquently stated, Ray. And, as I finish up polishing a chapter for a book that's not mine, I had planned to begin a first edit on my NaNo book. You describe perfectly and I mean perfectly, what I need to remember. The story started out wonderfully with the full voice of the character and by the end of those 50k words, I was just writing to be clever. I really appreciate you sharing your experience and wisdom.

Ray Wong said...

Live and learn, Kim. Live and learn. :)

Kathy said...

Good post!

Now hurry up and finish your new book. :)

Dawn Colclasure said...

Great post, Ray. It was very thought-provoking. It made me reflect on how I have changed as a writer since that first book. One thing I've noticed is that I've been more focused on the business aspect of authorship, and not so much the creative aspect. We need to keep that creative aspect alive, because it is the foundation from which good writing can grow. For this reason, I will try to get back to the heart of why I wanted to be a writer in the first place, which was to tell a good story people can enjoy.

Ray Wong said...

@Kathy The end is nigh

@Dawn Yup...