This morning I’d like to begin a new series – I’m not sure how long it will last, but I think it’s a pretty good idea and I’d like to know your thoughts (really – I LOVE when I hear from my readers – thank you to all who’ve written in the last few months especially), so if you enjoy it, let me know by sharing it with others. Or just telling me.
The official title is, “Blankety-Blank Mistakes I Made Before Being Published” – I have about 50 in mind, so we’ll see how long this goes without running out of momentum. I intend these all to be short blurbs, because come on WHO THE DEVIL wants a heavy reading assignment on Monday Morning anyway!?
I hope to post them all in e-book form soon (and of course, wonderful subscribers, I’ll e-mail it to you for free!).
Also, for the real writers out there: I realize that title sounds really self-aggrandizing and commercial, but consider this: I almost titled the series “Monday Mourning”, and I thought it not the best thing to show up in your inbox at the beginning of each week.
So, YOU’RE WELCOME.
And, without further ado – let me show to you some scars of mine. Good scars. The kind you learn from:
Mistake #1: Failing to Read.
Stephen King has wisely quipped, “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have time to write.” When I first set out to write a book, I did so having read only a smattering of popular fiction and non-fiction titles. Thinking I understood, then, how to write a best-seller, I went on to half-plagiarize a novel, which I only realized was cliché and copied drivel when it was pointed out by my tutor at Oxford University.
I’d thought my inherent talent was enough to careen me over those who’d buried themselves deep in books to produce profound works of art, but the truth is: if you don’t read, you can’t write.
Reading teaches us to hear great writing. There’s a science to writing, yes. You can read about it. But it’s a science of the ear: good writers know good writing when they read it. Can all of them tell you why? Probably. But if you know the science, and you don’t have the EAR for the science, you’re not a writer.
And the only way to develop that ear is by reading lots of very, very good stuff. And by good stuff, of course, I mean stuff you like. Because the “ear” is not universal. The ear is you. It’s what you like. It’s not what you don’t like. And, like music, there are basic rules: but these rules can be bent, and broken. But if they are, they need to be broken by someone with an INCREDIBLE ear. So you need to learn by osmosis – get reading.
But reading doesn’t just shape style – it shapes content. Being well-read provides a many-splendored pool from which we can create something truly original. Ernest Hemingway once noted in an interview that it was impossible for him to say where his ideas came from, because the mind is a deep, dark well from which things spring forth unannounced. And behind those things are ideas. Books. Stories. Things you’ve read. The less you’ve read, the less pops out of the well. It’s the art of stealing. Picasso once said, “All art is theft”. I believe that’s true – but it’s creative theft, at least.
So, the less you have to steal from – the more half-baked your work will be. The more you read, the more you have to steal, and the more original your work can be. See how that works?
Now, stop reading this, and start reading something worth reading. Go. Now. (If you don’t know where to begin, I’ve compiled a resource called “Classic Fiction – A Guide to Being Well-Read in One Year or Less”. It’s a collaboration of several popular and elitist lists of the greatest novels of all time. It’s free to all my e-mail subscribers – so, you could subscribe and get more Writing Fails. Or, you could hi-jack it from someone who has, which is totally legit and I still respect you).