How to write right…? Yeah, right.

There’s a wonderful article going around from The Atlantic in which the author brilliantly articulates the logic behind his writing method (The Case for Writing A Story Before Knowing How It Ends, by Andrew Dubus III). Definitely worth a read. It has reminded me of a shoot-from-the-hip essay I wrote recently to a group of fellow writers discussing the perils of authors prescribing to others, especially novice writers, methods for how to write. As I’ve shamefully neglected my blog as of late (deep in the throes of writing and revising my sequel to ISLANDS!) I thought I’d repost my thoughts for your consideration, with just a few alterations…

There is certainly no one right way to write a book, and there’s no one way for each of us to write. I have written six novels, now, and I’m working intensely even now on my seventh. I can honestly say that I haven’t written any two of them the same way. I’ve used colored note cards, no cards, written fast, and written slow. I’ve thought ahead, blazed ahead, written endings first, endings last. I’ve slogged forward when I didn’t want to write, and held back when I did want to write. I’ve rewritten in the middle of a draft, I’ve moved forward without ever looking back. I’ve shared first lines (for God’s sake) with anyone who will listen, and withheld entire completed manuscripts from my wife. I’ve outlined, I’ve kept a dream journal, I’ve forced daily quotas, I’ve rewarded myself for meeting milestones, or not. I’ve stuffed books in drawers for months, I’ve glued myself to a chair for weeks. I’ve used paper and pen, typewriters, computers. I’ve drank coffee, tea, beer, wine, whiskey while writing. I’ve written standing up, I’ve written in bed. I’ve killed my babies, I’ve carried golden calves to the hilltops. Passive voice has been used by me.

Once, I even handily used an adverb!

I’ve honestly used every strategy for writing that I’ve ever heard of, and I’ve broken every ‘rule’, and each method was correct at the time.

We can build myths about how we are supposed to write, and get stuck doing things a certain way without stopping to consider that other strategies may work, too. We must seek to avoid a very real danger: that novice writers will think particular strategies will get them further than others. This may be true for a given individual, but each writer has to feel out that path for him or herself. We risk closing those doors for the eager writer who doesn’t understand this.
There are a ton of different ways to plot, a ton of different tools. We should encourage folks to share out what works for them. More tools makes us more versatile. But we shouldn’t encourage folks to warn others about what doesn’t work, or what isn’t right.
Find what works for you at the time, and do it. But don’t limit yourself to only doing that, all the time. And never limit the creative process for others by suggesting that there are wrong ways to write.

One Response to “How to write right…? Yeah, right.”

  1. You are so right! I’m working on my third novel now, and the process has been different for each one. I think it’s important to try lots of different techniques to see what works best for me. I’ve never tried a typewriter though…I think I’ll skip that one.

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