There’s an interesting thread happening on Kboards right now and it’s got me thinking. The whole conversation is a few pages long but the debate was one I felt the need to join. This is for my fellow writers out there. Here’s the thread my reply below:
I bookmarked this thread with the intentions of reading it when it had gone a few pages and I’m glad I did. Good arguments and good debate on both sides.
But as usual I have my own opinion.
I too have stopped reading “How to write books”, not because I feel I know it all already but because I feel I know enough. I see some here writing with the goal of making money and that’s fine. The formula seems to contain a lot of “Do/copy what this successful author did” or “Follow the instructions of this book without fail” and that will somehow equal success. If your plan is to write in a popular genre that follows a particular and expected storyline, that may work. It may even improve your craft over time. But I don’t see it as a way to break out of the crowd.
As some pointed out there are two ways to improve your writing, read about it from others, and read a ton in the genre that you write in. Personally, I think you need a carefully measured amount of the first and you’ll never have enough of the second.
Someone mentioned Jimmy Hendrix as a person who is at the top of the list as a guitar player. I agree, he’s one of my favorites. But if you ask any instructor they’ll probly tell you that Hendrix playing was technically poor. If you really listen you hear lots of plinks and plunks and otherwise sloppy playing. So why was he considered so great? He had a unique voice. You could tell it was Hendrix on the radio after only a few notes the same way you spot an Eddie VanHalen, an Eric Clapton or a Slash with an opening cord. Their playing style was their signature. It’s as good as a picture of them. It’s equal to their fingerprint. It’s their identity.
This is where I feel too much reading about writing and too much “professional training” can become a negative. Simply because the more you do this the more you hamper the development of your own voice. If you aren’t developing your own voice you will simply start to sound like everybody else and most likely your sales will reflect it.
Put the money aside for a minute, just take it out of the equation and ask yourself this; Would I rather be the next James Patterson clone or the new guy with the writing voice that the readers can’t get enough of?
I get reviews that compare me with other authors. I read them with mixed feelings. I’m happy for about a second and then I start to wonder how to change that. One even freaked me out as it was the author I was currently reading. I put the book aside until the WIP was done.
Eddie Murphy had a joke/story about Bill Cosby calling him up and telling him that he swore too much in his act. Think about how he must have felt having one of his idles tell him he was doing something wrong. Eddie called Richard Prior and told him what Bill had said. Richard asked him if people laughed at his jokes. Eddie said yes. Richard told Eddie to tell Bill to “Have a Coke and smile and shut the F**k up!”
Now apply that to our world. What if James Patterson read your work and said you were doing everything right but then Stephen King read it and said you had no talent? Eddie told the same situation as a joke but there’s a heck of a lesson in there if you think about it.
So that’s my two cents. Read enough to get a good foundation, but not so much that you end up doing what everyone else is doing. Develop your voice over your skills. Screw the rules, make your own. Not everyone will like or approve of what you write. Accept that. He/She has talent is an objective opinion.
Even if it comes from someone you greatly respect.
Cormac McCarthy made the decision to do away with punctuation (punctuation!) and he’s got a Pulitzer. But man, what an amazing voice he has.