I’ve become a horrible person in my old age. And that goes way beyond falling asleep so hard that I slept through my alarm and left my poor long-suffering blog fans waiting for hours in vain. No, I’ve become one of those terrible people that Heinlein talks about who tell the unvarnished truth in social situations.
To be fair to me (ah!) it’s not on everything but when it touches on one of my areas of specialty. Or rather, it involves tons of things, but it particularly rankles me when it even vaguely touches on one of my points of expertise.
For instance, yesterday someone was complaining that we shouldn’t measure writing just by output. (At least I think that’s what she was complaining about. Later responses edged towards incoherence, so maybe she was complaining about the color of the sky or the fact it hadn’t rained or maybe millennium hand and shrimp.)
This is one of the things that makes my fangs grow, my hair stand on end, and my eyes go blood red.
Look, yeah, I’m not encouraging anyone to write ONLY for volume. If you’re a lousy writer… No, actually hold that thought. But anyway, there are people so bound out in their own issues and their belief of what writing is FOR that they can write dozens of books all completely boring, predictable and preachy. There is more to writing than that.
But supposing you’re just your average newby writer, quite inept and cute as a button, someone who reads for fun and who, consciously or not, internalizes what he reads and the techniques he sees and lets them bleed out into his work, you’ll get better the more you do it.
There are no ifs, ands or buts. You get better the more you do it.
The countervailing argument is native talent and art. If you are naturally very talented, do you really need to write a lot? Can’t you write a book every three years and have your adoring fans follow you around?
Well…. maybe. How do you feel about your luck? Do you often win the lottery? No?
Look at it this way: there are millions of books out there, more being released everyday. Even if you were a natural hitter like J. K. Rowling with her first book, what are the chances enough fans would find you to give you a slavering fandom, waiting with bated breath for your next release? Right. If you have two, or three, or, you know, ten there’s a better chance of being found.
But it goes beyond that, too. Even if you’re a natural (such people exist, but they’re rare as feathers on a bear) you will improve with practice. Trust me on this, I’ve seen people do it. You get faster, cleaner and just better.
And as for art, the kind you have to sit around waiting for the muse to pour out the blessed words into your ear… I’ve written muse-possessed a few times. Yeah, it’s a high. Yeah, you the writer love the product.
I call these “Heart stories” and it’s happened to me with a dozen short stories and a few books (the latest being A Few Good Men) two of which have never sold (yeah, I need to rewrite and… well, now I know what sells, don’t I.)
Nothing matches the high of a muse-ride. Nothing. But it hits maybe a half dozen times in a lifetime. And it’s not infallible. The muse might be screaming in your ears, but if you don’t know how to write dialogue, don’t have practice at immersive description and are iffy on word choice, you will still botch it. Hell, if you don’t know how to shape the plot the muse is feeding you, it will still throw readers out (which is why I have a three-book fantasy that needs a complete rewrite.)
What I mean is, talent — eh, who knows if you have it? your mommy will always tell you you’re prefect (not my mommy, but probably your mommy) — art — who knows art? Sure, the muse rides people sometimes, but the result can still be a mess — but craft? Craft will stand by you. Why? Because everything that you’ve done a hundred times you do better.
Unless you’re so bound up in bad ideas and bad techniques (alarm bells for that should be that you write “to send a message”, or that you want to write say in the style of the 19th century (It was a different world. You might love it, but the reading public isn’t the same. You have to adapt) or that you’re so wedded to the one first world you created and which is unsaleable in and of itself (I resembled that for years) you will improve. Heck, even in the later you will improve. You just get tired of it and move on. I did) you’ll improve with practice.
This is btw known as trust the process, and of course I didn’t because no one could explain to me how ti worked. I still don’t get how it works, but I know it does. When I went over my old short stories to collect, there’s a marked break in readability and just quality between before I started writing a short story a week for a year, and after.
Do I know how it works? No. But I think it applies to everything, not just art. For instance, this morning I ironed a shirt for my son. Why? He can do it, right? Sure, but it takes him an hour or so, while I can do it in five minutes. I couldn’t when I first got married, but I’ve ironed thousands of shirts since then. It’s easy and quick.
Or when I was a little girl, I watched my mom peel potatoes with a knife (I don’t know why we never bought a peeler) and get a tiny little peel, so thin you could see the sun through it. if I tried it I peeled away half the potato. By 18 and having been set to peel potatoes often enough, I could peel almost as well as mom.
It works for mental skills too. Part of the issues we have now with people reading fast and writing expressively is that our school system (don’t get me started) as eschewed the “boring” practice which is the only thing that creates those skills.
I can tell you it works with foreign languages. The method I used both for learning and teaching was/is “learn vocabulary” “memorize basic grammar” “Buy books/texts written for natives and sit down to read them.” The first book in English took me almost six months, and is scribbled in pencil all over with translations (Dandelion Wine. I don’t know why I thought that would be a good idea.) The second took me a month. After that I was reading at normal speed.
Same goes for things like speaking in panels. The more you do it, the easier it gets, the more the answers come almost automatically, the more you can do it while dying or asleep (I’ve done both) and still be entertaining.
The truth is, anything you CAN do, from brushing the cats to composing music gets better if you do it a ton.
Now we all start from different places and for instance if I decided to become a dancer it would take me longer than the years I have remaining. Because I have no balance and my coordination is probably negative amounts.
But unless people are actually insane, they don’t usually fixate on things that they know they are much, much worse than the normal human being. Though even there you can get gains, if what you want to do is just become closer to normal. Because I’m fairly active, I no longer fall over my own two feet while walking down the street, even though it was a daily occurrence till I was about ten.
So, you want to do something? Practice. You want to excel at it? Practice some more. You’re already good but want to be excellent? Practice.
Ignore things you can’t quantify like art, talent, divine inspiration, etc.
You want to do something? Do it as well, as hard and as fast as you’re capable. You’ll improve.
Or you can sit and whine. And then you’ll become an expert whiner. Which is an accomplishment, I guess.