Monday, July 21, 2014

Quit Trying To Write A Great Novel

Every now and then I pull out one of my favorite books to make myself feel miserable. I know, this might sound strange, but I pull out Irving Stone's THE AGONY AND THE ECSTASY to remind me of the great times I had when we lived in Florence. In any case, on a recent virtual trip with my buds, Michelangelo and Lorenzo, I stumbled across a nugget of inspiration that I thought was amazingly relevant.

So, the scene is taking place in the Sculpture Garden and Michelangelo has just finished is version of THE FAUN and Lorenzo is seeing it for the first time. Theoretically, it is this sculpture that gets Michelangelo the work with the Medici family.

"Ah, the Faun from my studiolo," said Lorenzo.
"You left out his beard."
"I did not feel it necessary."
"Isn't the job of the copyist to copy?"
"The sculpture is not a copyist."
"Not even an apprentice?"
"No, the student must create something new from something old."
"And where does the new come from?"
From where all art comes from. Inside himself." (Irving Stone's THE AGONY AND THE ECSTASY)

One of the things I look for in writers when I am looking at their manuscripts is how natural the writing flows off of the page. We are really looking for writing that is not "forced" and the story is told organically by the author. For many authors, however, that writing just doesn't occur and much of it comes from the fact that the author is simply trying too hard.

I do think the title of today's post is really the essence of what I am trying to say. Quit trying to write that great novel. Just write it. If authors would simply let the words flow, let the characters do their thing and tell the story naturally, the voice of the writing will truly emerge.

My son with his swimming and my daughter with her horseback riding have seen the same thing. On the days of practice when their coaches and trainers really start working on technique, both of their skills seem to really decline. Why? Because they are simply thinking too much about what they are doing. Their brains are focused so much on arm position, body position, aiming the horse in the right direction, and so forth, that the writing just doesn't look fluid and natural. When they are in competitions, however, those skills should just come out naturally because the body just "knows what to do."

The same applies to writing. You know what to do with dialogue, narration, character development and so forth. So just let it flow.

If you think it just applies to writing, let me also say it applies to pitches, query letter and synopsis writing. When authors sit down with me to pitch their stories, I tell them to not give me their "memorized elevator pitch" or to even "read the pitch to me." I explained to a writer this last weekend at the PNWA conference that I want to hear their real story and not the one they think their story is that they have crafted in that prepped out speech. It is again back to the idea of being forced.

Now don't get me wrong here. I don't want you to "just wing it" or just head into your writing blindly. You can still plot. You can still draft. You can still wordsmith. The key, however is to allow that writing to happen naturally as you work. You will be surprised at the results.

1 comment:

  1. I tend to lean this way also. Talent is something you are born with although it helps if it is enhanced and encouraged. But even Michelangelo had to please his patron as did Mozart and other artists of the past. Those who didn't may be celebrated today but they likely laboured in penniless obscurity. The Medici's gave their artist sufficient latitude to follow his own path. Does the reading public follow suit?