Friday, November 7, 2014
Primer Course for Aspiring Writers
Aspiring writers and editors, pay attention. Class is now in session.
The modern literary world is a tough place to live. The quality of the craft has dropped off a cliff while the quantity has proportionately spiked. Anyone who can scrawl a few sentences suddenly thinks he has what it takes to write a book. I assure you, he does not.
Learning and mastering the craft of writing takes years, if not decades. One cannot simply "decide" to write a novel one day. Just as specialized knowledge goes into, say, building a house, the same is true for writing. This means understanding mechanics, punctuation, grammar, spelling, and syntax. These are the required materials to build a book. If they're even a little crumbly, the whole thing will collapse. Essentially, being an effective writer also requires one to be an effective editor.
Some so-called editors with whom I interact have a shaky-at-best grasp on the aforementioned aspects of writing. For example, in the United States periods and commas always goes inside the quotation marks at the end of a sentence. However, I consistently see editors place it outside the quotation marks. Incorrect uses of ellipsis, dashes, and apostrophes (never add apostrophe-s to pluralize a word) abound. Also, I don't care what you learned in sixth grade Language Arts - unless you still use a typewriter, please stop using two spaces between sentences. It's archaic, a throwback to a more primitive age in literacy, and nearly no editors want to see them any longer. (For more in-depth reasoning behind this, read this and adapt accordingly.)
My question is: who do you think you are? You "writers" and "editors" who come at the craft full of passion, swagger, and good intentions (and often delusions of grandeur), but lacking elementary understanding implicit to successful writing? You don't just get to say "I'm going to be a writer (or editor)!" without paying your dues. Learning to write and edit requires education. It requires a tremendous amount of reading. Most of all, it requires years of practice, of trial and error, of harsh rejection.
Of course, with the dumbing down of modern readers, all this is probably moot. Readers are not the discerning, discriminating, lovers of fine art any longer. They don't care if someone splashes comma splices, dashes run-on sentences, or misspells every other word. This has led to a complete saturation of the industry, an embarrassment and obstacle for those who still cherish it and hold it sacred. Those who've paid our dues, in other words.
I've spent decades honing my craft and am finally beginning to see some return on it. It's only fair others do as well. If you're an aspiring writer, do yourself (and the rest of us) a service and take basic writing courses. Then take advanced courses. Then take pride in what you write. Learn from your mistakes. Share your talent with the world. After all, your work is your legacy. Do you want it littered with dangling participles and misplaced modifiers?
Make the world a better place, not more unbearable than it already is. Make it one where the real masters of the craft can make their name.