Old & New Tricks

Hannah has had a series of excellent posts about writing in the last little while. The most recent one deals with "sidestepping the learning curve" and it reminded me of a section at the very beginning of The Green Book, but I’m only getting time to type it in now. I agree with it, especially since I believe that if I’d read what Koch has to say on rewriting earlier I’d have saved about a year and at least a draft on Girl’s Gang.

This is fairly longish, which is why I’m posting it here and not there. Behind the cut.

It also left me with an acute distaste for sending people off into deadly isolation to waste their time reinventing wheels. Except in journalism, writing is a necessarily solitary trade, the most chronically solitary of all the arts. Writing’s inordinate quotient of solitude, and the need not only to tolerate that solitude but even to love it, is an immovable fact of the metier, and one of the most salient psychological facts you must grasp about it. Yet too often aspiring writers are condemned — as if in punishment for their wish to write — to feel their way to the most elementary methods of craft entirely on their own, hit or miss, and without any help whatever. There is no need for this absurd waste. Every writer is fated to face things — and plenty of them — that will have to be mastered alone, in solitary struggle. These real problems will leave no time to waste fumbling for the obvious. Most writers tend to exaggerate the obstacles to getting good work done. Even a small technical problem — let’s say, how to revise a draft — can leave them mired and hopeless. I’ve heard about entire projects, months and even years of work, lost over an issue that a few words of sound advice and ten minutes of straight talk might have solved.

Unfortunately, all too many perfectly intelligent people, generally of the writing-can’t-be-taught school, really believe that writers are supposed to teach themselves everything, all alone, and by magic. They would never dream of asking a pianist or a painter or a composer — leave aside a record producer or a film director — to find out everything about the craft without help. In these areas at least, nobody would have the slightest difficulty grasping the necessary interplay between what must be taught and what must be picked up privately in the knack of any technique. Why not writing?

3 thoughts on “Old & New Tricks”

  1. The main thing that I wish about writing communities and groups and such is, I wish there was a bit more focus on workshop skillz and how to learn ’em. I think it’s–not so much the writing that people are expected to figure out for themselves, as how to cope with all the other stuff that goes on around the writing.

  2. That’s really interesting, Hannah. I never realized how lucky I’ve been with workshops. In every workshop I’ve ever been in, there’s a good deal of ground-laying at the beginning to make sure everyone knows the ropes and, most importantly, isn’t giving damaging feedback. In fact, the first workshop I was in (which was online) had a fabulous enforcer and she would toss people out on their ears if they were making trouble either with crits or with unwarranted snark.

  3. Pointed here by the Bear.
    Wonderful point. I think it’s always more tempting to want to teach people “how to write” — criticism and teaching has a heirarchy as well, and it’s cooler and more intelligent to criticise someone’s style than their formatting.
    Except when I say it like that it sounds as if I think it’s deliberate and conscious, and I think it’s neither, really.
    I think it comes out of a misunderstanding about what’s easy and what’s difficult, and what people will and will not generate from themselves, subtly helped along by the ever-chattering ego, but I don’t think it’s deliberate.
    We all just sort of go along assuming that somewhere there’s a minion to handle that boring stuff.

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