Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Writing Is Not A Mystery

Writing is not a mystery.  It's not.  It's an activity, a craft, occasionally an art, a skill, and a process.  As with any art, craft, skill, process, or sport, mystery can enter into it when there is a confluence of agility, personal qualities, and circumstance.

In and of itself, however, I wouldn't call it a mystery.

Demystifying the process is not too tough.  Writers create mystery around themselves to make the task at hand seem more difficult (it's actually difficult enough already).  Writers ascribe mystery to make themselves feel better when it's not going well or when they are scared to approach it.  Writers call it a mystery when they are not yet writers, feel that they should be, yet have no idea how to begin.

When it comes to writing, people sit down to type the great American novel or screenplay as if no preparation is needed or even exists.  This soon lands most in a whole lot of trouble, the kind that usually leads to defining writing as indefinable - a mystery.

Why do so many treat writing as if it were different from other disciplines?

As a writer and a coach, my observations lead me to believe that, in part, it is because both the essential skills and tools are readily available, and taught to almost everyone at some time in their youth.  We learn the alphabet as toddlers, to write letters in pre-school or kindergarten, to read in elementary school, grammar in middle or high school.  We have pens and pencils and paper and computers and printers all around us.

Unlike other crafts and arts, the tools themselves are secondary.  It's not a big investment to become a writer - you can steal office supplies from your temp job if you must.  You don't need $100 running shoes (actually, you don't need $100 running shoes), a Yonex racquet, 5 pairs of toe shoes, a drum kit, no - just paper and pencil are good for a start.  It doesn't matter if you're using a fountain pen or a MacBook Pro - you can still write at a high level.

So -- that means everyone can write, right?

(Insert skeptical face here.)

One would not attempt a Swan Lake pas de deux without ever having set foot in ballet class, practicing, stretching, toning, learning the choreography, but only from seeing productions of the ballet.  

After being a tennis fan for years, one would not step onto the court to battle Roger Federer, having never taken a lesson, or played, or done strength training.

Anyone can write, but not everyone can.

It doesn't work that way.  It works the way being a prima ballerina or Roger Federer works -- you have to actively cultivate the skills to approach the craft as an art.  You have to show up consistently. You have to practice.  If you want to be better than the pro at the club, you have to put in your 10,000 hours.

In the way that talking doesn't always mean communicating, knowing how to write sentences does not always translate into the craft of writing.

Most of all, you have to start simply.  Build your muscles up, and your stamina.  No marathon Crime & Punishments until you've done your scales.  (Yes - mixed metaphor - well done for spotting it.)

(First in a series on Demystifying the Writing Process.  Next up:  Where to Begin.)


t1g3r said...

Thank you! Following this with someone who is interested in writing but hasn't gone beyond the odd scribble now and then!

E. Amato said...

Thanks! There's a second one up, as well. If you search the blog for "writing is a mystery" you should find all the posts as they come up. I've missed this week, but still hope to get on in!