December 14, 2008

WRITING ADVICE: Lin Oliver: Learn and Practice Your Craft

(To see all the articles on writing, click on WRITING ADVICE label to your right.)

“Learn and practice your craft before you are published – create work product!”

At least I was doing that, right? I’ve been writing stuff since I was thirteen years old! I’ve generated more work product than you can shake a stick at. I have paper files full of product! I have floppy disks full of product! I have hard drives full of product!

Or do I?

Not to diss on journals, blogging (what’s this you’re reading right now?) or other forms of writing for myself, but do the exercises I do from the books I read on writing, my blogs, my diary, my notes to myself, angry letters to God and doodle actually count?

Or is Lin trying to get at something deeper?

For me, it’s deeper. If you read my blog, you know I’ve been experimenting with flash fiction. In April of 2008 ( ) I started writing flash fiction in earnest. But I wrote about short-short fiction in one of my first blog entries, so the thinking isn't new. I’m wondering if what Lin was talking about was writing PRODUCT. The word implies that it’s something I’m going to sell. If I’m doing that, then I’m not writing to please myself but to please an audience, an editor first and a reader second.

With that realization, I took a step in that direction by revising and making two of my flash fiction pieces “Wereworm” (from THREAT) and “Streetwalker” (from THIRTEEN) into submission manuscripts and firing them off. Both came back pretty quick and I made it a rule a long time ago not to submit anything during the Thanksgiving-Christmas-New Years holiday season. I’ll start again in January.

Any other thoughts?

1 comment:

William said...

Does all that stuff in every writer's files (and blogs and forgotten disks and journals and emails etc.) "count"? As writing--yes, by definition. As "product"--well, it is produced, so in a literal sense, yes.
But does it count as "work product"? Since Lin Oliver was talking about the goal of publication, I think the answer is--maybe.
One thing all writing counts for is practice, the development of writing habits. There can be a problem if the habits of one style of writing, such as texting abbreviations or the breezy shorthand of email, creep back into "regular" writing without the author's awareness (text or email *in* a story, of course, would be a good use of that e-communication habit). But it's still better to be writing than not writing--something I'm reminded of the hard way every time I get lazy and have to kick myself back into the writing habit.
The discouraging thing about "practice pieces" is that so many of them didn't start that way, but were intended by the writer to be publishable. I have those depressing files and disks of unsold manuscripts too. I find it really difficult to admit that a story is unsaleable and let it go--if anyone has the secret of doing it painlessly, please let me know! One thing that helps me is to remember that some bit of a failed story may be used later in a different manuscript. And thanks to digital storage, I never actually have to throw anything away--it's still there if I need it later (oddly enough, it turns out that I seldom do).
I think what Lin was saying, to an audience eager for publication, was that if you want to be published, you need to develop the habit of regularly producing professional, saleable work, with an audience clearly in mind. That's where selecting, polishing, submitting and resubmitting come in (excellent advice, if only I can manage to take it myself . . .)
An interesting point, maybe for future discussion: In writing for an audience, should you be thinking first of the editor or of the reader? (I've seen both views furiously argued in writing books and articles, as well as the "write for yourself first" school of thought).
Hope the flash fiction is successful when you resubmit!