Respecting the art of writing

Over the years I’ve been involved in writing groups I’ve found myself in conversations about how much technique matters. It appears there are two schools of thought.

On one side are those who think it doesn’t matter much. They argue that worrying about correct spelling and formatting kills the creative flow and it’s much more important to get the story out. Punctuation and other such tedious matters can be sorted out by the editor/agent you will definitely get once you’ve finished your novel.

The other school believes technique does matter. If you don’t master the basics of technique and present your work in a professional manner, it won’t even get looked at. No-one will be able to enjoy the genius of your story if they have to read every sentence three times to work out what you mean.

I’m on the side of technique. I care very much about the correct use of commas. I think understanding sentence structure helps you make your point clearly. There are twenty eight books on my shelf on the subject of writing and there were some I read that I chose not to keep. I read blogs on writing. I critique other people’s work so that I can improve my own. I read as many novels as I can and try to analyse the technique, although sometimes I forget if I’m enjoying the story. Some of the most fun I can have is talking about books and writing.

For me, technique supports storytelling. The two are intertwined. The most beautiful, perfectly executed writing can’t make me enjoy a story I don’t like, but I can appreciate the craft. The most interesting story can, however, be lost under poor writing. I’m not really talking about the odd spelling mistake or confusing you’re and your; these are small things that don’t interfere with understanding what the writer meant. More confusing is random placement of commas, running dialogue in with narrative, malapropisms, and poor paragraphing. Short sentences that start with the same words nearly all the time get boring, no matter how much I liked the idea of the story.

When you’re writing your first draft, it doesn’t matter. Just get the words down. Worrying about presentation at that stage isn’t productive. But when you rewrite technique is what will make your story come alive. Knowing how to finesse your words will get your great story noticed.

I think, in life generally, how you do what you do matters as much as what you do. Attention to detail makes a difference to the result. That’s what makes something great as opposed to good. I do agree that perfectionism can be used as procrastination and my working life has taught me that a perfect product not delivered on time (or at all) is not perfect. Getting the task done is more important in some circumstances. So, I’m a recovering perfectionist learning to love good enough. Caring about technique doesn’t necessarily mean you’re a perfectionist; it means you want to do the best job on your story that you can. Good enough doesn’t mean ‘oh whatever, that’ll do’; it means the best you can achieve in the time you have.

And I think I’ve always found it hard to express what I feel about how technique supports and enables storytelling. So when I read Editors on Editing: Respect Your Art on Women’s Memoirs, I thought that is exactly what I mean. Sloppy technique shows a lack of respect for your art. Writing technique is the equivalent of stretching your canvass and choosing the right thread and needles.

One thought on “Respecting the art of writing

  1. All art requires good technique. The use of a brush, the ability to get inside a character you're acting etc. Writing is no different. Mater the technique or no one will understand the story…or want to.

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