Saturday, October 20, 2012
It's All About Technique
Unfortunately, you’ve been taught just the opposite. While you studied literature in school, the aim of that exercise was to get you to understand the thoughts of famous writers and not necessarily their techniques. In their quest to make sure you didn’t copy parts of the works of other writers, your teachers pounded the idea that all your thoughts needed to be original. The last original thought not based on work that had been done previously most likely was that of the first person who learned to write. So why should you be any different.
While it’s okay for artists to sit in front of the works of old masters and copy them, the same doesn’t apply to writers—at least that’s what you were taught. In fact, it’s just the same. In order to improve your writing skills and develop good technique, you have to look to other writers, but not those who wrote long ago—in other words, not those found in traditional literature. Instead, you need to read and analyze the works of contemporary writers—at least ones not further back than the 1940s and 50s.
To begin, you first need to learn to read like a writer. Read over a piece of writing to enjoy it for what it is, but then go back over it and study the writer’s technique. If you liked it, ask yourself why. If you didn’t, also ask yourself why. See if you can figure out what made you read this in the first place. If you have a favorite writer, read as many works of his or hers as possible, then pick part of a particular one to study.
In order to study a piece of someone else’s writing, you need to put it in the same format as your own. Copy a few paragraphs of particularly good writing into your word processor. Make sure it’s double spaced, then print it out. Look at it as if its your own writing. What do you notice about it? Are the sentences consistently long or short? What about the types of words used? Does the writer employ any special techniques?
After you’ve studied this sample of another writer’s work, compare it directly to one of yours that’s similar in topic and tone. Why is the other writer’s work better? Now try to write a few paragraphs of your own on the same topic and in that writer’s style. The more you read and study of that writer’s work, the more of his or her technique you’ll subconsciously pick up. Over time, by reading and studying a number of other writers, you’ll soon develop a technique all your own that has bits and pieces of the technique of others woven into it.
A good way to get yourself moving forward is to put together a reading program. Pick writers who you like and who write about similar topics. Also pick a few that write about other subjects that you don’t. If you’re a non-fiction writer, start with non-fiction works, but pepper your program with a few really good short stories or novels and pieces of creative non-fiction. If you’re a fiction writer, start with works from the same genre as your own—historical fiction, romance, mysteries, etc.—then pepper your program with a few select biographies and works of creation non0-fiction. Follow this program for three to six months. Afterwards, you’ll begin to notice a distinct improvement in your writing as your writing skills and technique improve.