Thursday, January 24, 2008

First steps

I posted this in the comments section of Dennis G. Jerz's blog ( yesterday:

"I suspect one of the hardest things to teach beginning and early career writers is the difference between the 'art' of writing and the 'business' of publishing. I learned long ago--and much to my own dismay--that I was never going to be an 'artist' that other writers hold up as an example of literary brilliance, but I could be a 'businessman' who produces clean copy, meets deadlines, and works well with others. If I do all that on a consistent basis, my primary 'audience'--editors--will ensure that my work is seen by a broader audience."

Jerz teaches "Intro to Literary Study," "a course [...] designed to introduce students to the writerly and scholarly virtues (critical thinking, self-motivation, the writing process) they'll need to develop as English majors and as college students," at Seton Hill, so my comments took the conversation a few steps beyond the intent of his original blog post.

Even so, learning these things are important steps in the development of a writer, and steps that all of us who teach new writers--whether we teach in a formal classroom setting as Jerz does or in informal workshop settings as I do--need to keep in mind.

Good writing begins with clear thinking, or a strong ability and willingness to revise what muddled thinking has created until it becomes clear.

Good writing comes from self-motivation. For many people, writing is a chore that is assigned by others (a theme assigned by a teacher, a term paper assigned by a professor, a report assigned by a supervisor) and it is accomplished in the least amount of time with the least amount of effort. Writers, though, even when working on assigned material, find ways to self-motivate because the writing itself is what provides them with joy.

Good writing comes from established processes. While a million monkeys with a million typewriters working for a million days might accidentally create a work of sheer genius, it is more likely that a single writer who has mastered the processes of writing will do so. While we don't all use the same methods, we all have a process for generating ideas, a process for outlining our ideas, and a process for transforming our outlines into articles, essays, short stories, or novels.

As important as they are and as hard as they are to take, learning these things are only the first steps for someone whose ultimate goal is to become a professional writer.

And these steps cannot be skipped.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great elaboration, Mike! I agree with you 100%. These steps apply to the freshman student and the rookie freelancer equally.
-- Mike Arnzen,