Wednesday, July 6, 2016

A Would-be Writer's Magna Carta

I am not a “popular’ author, not now, not yet, and I am not sure if there ever will be a yet. That doesn’t stop me from trying to write my best. And “best” changes every time I relook at a piece or poem I’ve written. Frankly, I can’t help but to write; it’s an addiction, a craving, a need and a want. Simply to express myself, as I discover me, is my goal; good, bad or indifferent (never indifferent).

Since retiring as a technical writer after 30 years, I now have the total freedom to express my writings when and where, what and how I please, in assorted mediums meant for sharing. And here is the cornerstone of the foundation of all good writing: 

The First Rule

#1 Please yourself. To be only pleased or even happy or ecstatic (haven’t reached that yet!), is a drive I’ve found in this craft we call writing. Craft and art. For altho I study the craft intensely, the art is learned over time, not taught. It’s a great feeling to find the words that suit perfectly, that can neither be added to or subtracted from, like the jot and tittle. The words and phrasings that fulfill my soul at the moment I write them, and later, more so, when I rewrite and polish, are a joy. Rewriting and polishing confirms my love for the theme or concept, feeling or experience I choose to share at any given moment. A satisfying piece or poem energizes me to continue.

The Second Rule:

#2 Let the moment control. Every moment is a mindset, viewpoint, opinion and most importantly, a commitment. I let my fingers type what comes to mind. I may pause, I may go nonstop. I let the letters and words, sentences and paragraphs free from the cage of self. Free from judgment, self-editing, over-thinking and pre-planning. I am not an outliner, I am a pantser, a seat of the pants type guy. You may be an outliner and if that works, then that is right for you. There is no right or wrong way to express yourself using the written word. And I hold strictly to that foundation. To me it's all experimental. At this point my audience is only one person in the world of existence – me.

That brings me to the foundation itself: the rules of the craft of writing, of which there are four,

1.       Know the rules. The book Elements of Style contains the easiest to understand and the very best advice. 85-pages packed with succinct aphorisms, and tried and true successes. But before that assurance arrives, your own educational background in the English language, grammar, punctuation, mechanics, exceptions and all the rest, is your never-failing bedrock. Some things must be unlearned, others reinforced, more others repeated over and over to understand and implement. And there is lots of help in this, tons! Free courses on Purdue's O.W.L. lessons and other edu’s, Chicago Manual of Style or The St. Martin’s Handbook. Google is the first-line, dictionaries and thesauruses the second. There simply is no opportunity to flounder or guess or be imprecise.

2.       You’re allowed to break rules and make rules. Change is the single constant in this vast universe. As they say, “Everything changes, and nothing changes,” but in reality every atom is vibrating, constantly, and vibrations are life itself. It’s been said we contain the universe inside us. Use it! Meditate, ponder, wonder and question! Above all, ask for guidance and help. This is how we find our own voices, our “me’s,” our soul and psyche. Our motivation to exist. And that voice is unique to each of us, and it shares with us all that is or will be. And in discovering ourselves, we are allowed to make and break rules of conventionality and expectation, to thrill our readers with new truths, a never-exhausted vat of truth, a mine rich in gems of inestimable value.

3.       Be clear and concise. Don’t waffle or hesitate to share, but do it in such a way as to leave a definite impression. Don’t be misunderstood. Don’t be a politician trying to accommodate all voters views and needs. Let your words not just speak for themselves but for you, the inner, real, no-more-secrets, you. Be definite with the force of your own confidence and conviction, hopes and dreams. Think not what your reader will do for you, but what you will do for the reader. And to do that effectively, you must separate the wheat from the chaff, the pertinent details out of a myriad of details. Banish thoughts of reaching all readers and focus on your audience. Address them only, clearly, with authority. Again, do not waffle or vacillate, use vague words and indefinite nouns and verbs. Never be afraid to express what is you alone with crystal clear clarity and preciseness. That is the sole guarantor of achieving positive response. “Truthfulness is the foundation of all human virtues.”

4.       Verbs do all the heavy lifting. I may set the scene with description, but much better is to do so with action. Nouns may be subjects or objects of sentences, but verbs link them with aliveness --  not boring, meaningless death. Dialog and internal monologues fill the edges, may complete the scene or picture, and enhance realism. Stephen King and others eschew adverbs, so I use them, haha, sparingly. Adjectives are details. Prepositions are movement markers and placeholders. Pronouns are identifiers. Conjunctions are joiners of similarities or opposites. Articles are the glue that holds the sentence together, and the fewer the better in my opinion, depending on immediacy of action.  Verbs show action, conflict, emotion, doing not telling, movement and life, forwards and backwards, up and down, sideways and all ways. They are indispensable in showing motivation. And the heart and key of every great story uncovers universal human motivation.

The oldest form of communication is grunts and body language, or motions. Next is speaking, incorporating even more body language. The third writing. All require an audience, even if only oneself. So listening and seeing what’s communicated is the first step to understanding and realization. Good writing is not talking, because the listener is removed, usually unknown, a stranger, not an intimate. Yet, as one read’s written words, images and symbols form in one’s head as if the writer was personally addressing the reader. As if it is a conversation we readers say the words in our head aloud. Writing is personal and so is reading.

So the question I ask myself when writing is not “Who is my audience,” but rather, “Why am I talking?” Good writing needs, must have, purpose and intent. A goal, and that means objectives and milestones. A measurable advance to clarity. We writers refer to it as “theme,” with subthemes and offshoots, most often appearing as stanzas or paragraphs and groups of paragraphs called chapters. If we wish to communicate to anyone other than ourselves, purity of motive is required. Coherence is mandatory. Honesty is indispensable, for, who wants to be lied to?

I’ve given you my opinion on what it means to be a writer, for me.
What does it mean to you? Do you follow rules or make up rules?

I’d like to know if you’re willing to converse.