Lee French on Writing

You work a day doing whatever it is you do for money. If you’re lucky, you’re making a living writing marketing copy or web content. If you’re not so lucky, you’re compiling steps in computer manuals, feverishly working to beat a news editor’s deadline, or scratching down policies and procedures in some industry you haven’t the slightest concern for. If you have no luck at all and didn’t stay in school to meet all the right people who could actually get you published and get you a writing gig, you’re just surviving the days so you can get home, or maybe you’re taking writing vacations from time to time. Texas writers in particular seem to have a rough go of it. After all, writing wasn’t a skill prized very highly in Texas culture until the Internet came along.

Work All Day, Write All Night

Some writers fall in that work-a-day pit and never come out the other side. They lose interest when they don’t have immediate success and just do what they have to in order to make a living. These are the most dangerous writers. The reason is that they have all this pent-up need to spread themselves on a page somewhere… anywhere. And these are also the ones who become closet bloggers. They blog away and if the planets align, they gain some sort of following and then, with enough positive (or negative) reinforcement, the people in this group of writers start to believe they are not mere bloggers, but a new grassroots breed of journalist.

Best Writers are Finding the Web

While much of what you find on the Web is informative and interesting, I learned during my tenure as an Internet Marketing Director, that much of what you read has very little to do with fact. I am convinced that some of the best fiction writers of our time are no longer writing books, but are writing for the Web, churning out copy that can be every bit as fictitious as a novel. Perhaps we are at a point where we are going to have to concede that a scrivener making a living writing on the Internet can be considered a Texas writer.

So You Want to Write

Writing is like anything else. It is a combination of how an individual applies what he or she understands. At best it combines unique techniques from various masters and morphs into something new and undiscovered. At worst, it’s a regurgitation of the mash Ms Fuller taught you about grammar in fourth grade. The art is in the word choice, the sense of language and of meaning and of rhythm. The art of the author is often given all the credit. However, I contest that the artist cannot create without a solid set of tools with which to work. And the only way to gain those tools is to dig yourself into a situation you don’t know how to resolve. Do I use an ellipse for this pause, or a comma, or an em-dash? Do I end the first paragraph of a character’s diatribe with quotes, or is it understood that the character continues on when the quotation mark begins the next paragraph? These are the simple kinds of problems authors start out with.

The Style Guide is Your Friend

Find a good style guide and stick to it. I like MLA, but many people prefer AP style or the Chicago Manual of Style. Pick one and refer to it when you have a question. Above all, don’t get caught up in style too much. The more time you spend wondering how to keep from using comma splices, the less time you are convening with your muse. Let me state it like this. The creative side of writing is standing in the presence of God and enjoying the time you spend there. The tool side of writing exists to help you communicate accurately your experience in the beauty of the creation. And with both the artistic and scientific aspects of writing, the only way to get any better is to write and write and write some more.

So if you are a writer, write. If you have something to say, say it. If you have something to do, do it. Don’t be upset, say it. Don’t be upset, do it. And if no one cares for what you’ve created, you must not let this bother you. You are creating either for yourself or God. Do not create for others or for money. As soon as you go down that road, your creation is no longer yours and never can be won back.

Go forth and write. And write well.

2 thoughts on “Writing

  1. Brilliant. Really great.

    MLA? What kind of treasonous nonsense is that? Just kidding, of course.

    Letting style rules get in the way of good writing is quite dangerous. To paraphrase a famous quote:
    Write it all; let the editor sort out the rest.

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