My nephew asked me recently to look at a story he’s writing and give some feedback and asked if I had any advice about writing.
While by no means what I consider to be a writer, I had a few things to share that I thought worthy.
The first question was what makes a writer.
I don’t recall where I ran across this or if it was phrased this way (a bit of googling failed to turn up a quick answer), but here’s my favorite definition:
It’s short. It’s two words! But, it’s also a true thing. Writers write. You are a writer if you write. You write, therefore you are a writer.
If you want to add all sort of qualifications, you can. Things like “professional” or “paying” or “talented” can always be placed before “writer” as achievements or judgements or justification or decoration, but none of them alter the basic truth: Writers write.
Same, of course, can be said of most creative endeavors: Writers write. Painters paint. Potters pot (not entirely sure that’s a viable verb here – ah, yes, m-w.com agrees that it’s a decent enough verb).
This is my own observation: The distinction between where you are today and where you could be in the future is mostly hard work, with a strong dash of good luck.
I recently ran across a set of YouTube videos by Ira Glass (This American Life) on story telling and, more generally, how to improve your craft, be it story telling, writing, painting or nearly any creative endeavor.
For those who don’t know Mr. Glass, he, along with a number of very talented contributors, does radio stories. Definitely worth listening to. He has also recently branched out to a video version of the same idea on Showtime. At the end of the day, though, he’s telling stories.
Go to you tube, search for “Ira Glass on Storytelling”. There are four of them. About 20 minutes total. Watch them, pay attention to them, listen like someone is handing you free gold, because that’s what it is.[Note: Linked below]
The third section has a critical lesson: Being good at something takes time and practice. Don’t give up! Keep producing, preferably on a deadline.
Gordon, a good friend of mine, states is slightly differently: We get better at the things we practice.
Obvious, perhaps, but still an important realization. Talent will give some people a head start, but the reality is, the vast majority of us can get far, far better than we are at whatever we set our minds to if we practice.
My daughter is doing some videos on YouTube. Mostly for friends, but obviously anyone can watch them.
They’re not all good, but some of them are. She’s also getting better the more she does, whether we’re talking editing or presentation. But, regardless, she is creating. And practicing. With time, if she keeps doing it, she’ll get better. Or, as Ira Glass talks about in the third video, she’ll begin to close the game between what she envisions and what she can create.
That last is a really powerful idea and it’s one that is worth reiterating. Lots of people have ideas. Not all good, but ideas. They want to write something, make something, dance, sing. What keeps many people from doing that is that they picture the end result and they look at where they are now and they don’t know how to close the gap.
The short answer is: practice. Like most things in life, there aren’t shortcuts, only hard work.
Much of writing (or painting or singing or dancing) is mechanical. The rules, the structures, plotting, dialog. Those are all things that can be learned and can be improved.
Does that mean you will end up as a top selling author/artist/singer/dancer? Perhaps not, but if you could get 90% there on hard work, I think many of us, perhaps most of us, would be pretty happy and would be able to create what we see in our heads, or at least come close and enjoy the process!
Ira Glass: On Story Telling #1
Ira Glass: On Story Telling #2
Ira Glass: On Story Telling #3
Ira Glass: On Story Telling #4