AKA "Writing Without Fear - A Bad Idea"
In a comment on my most recent #FridayFlash, "Bones Don't Burn", there were a great many terrific comments, but one by pegjet really struck me. She said, "You are fearless with new styles of writing. I admire and envy your abandon." I've been thinking about that comment all weekend.
I don't think of myself as a particularly courageous writer. I've worked at the fundamentals to become technically competent - worked harder than some, not as hard as many. Once you have confidence in your ability with the mechanics of writing, that makes it much easier to focus on the creativity.
When I first started writing, I did it fearlessly because I didn't know what I was doing. I thought everything that came from my pen was golden - what was there to fear? Eventually, I learned enough about writing to understand the true nature of what I'd been writing, and became horrified at just what I'd been inflicting on my friends and family. I realized how far I had to go before my writing would be worth reading; I became paralyzed by fear, thinking I'd made a HUGE mistake in ever even trying to write fiction.
That state of affairs lasted a while, until I decided to stop trying for genius and strive for competence instead. Talent is an in-born asset: you have either a little or a lot. Competence, even mastery, though... that's different. Anyone who's willing to put in 10,000 hours of practice can get good enough to let sheer technical mastery fill in the gaps where talent leaves off. Powers of observation, rigorous drawing of connections or oppositions, workman-like construction of plot elements - all of these can be taught and practiced.
I have a general idea how much writing talent I possess, but I'm certainly no stranger to hard work. Intelligent effort and focus in acquiring and mastering new skill sets in an old song for me. The thing is, the key to true mastery is to switch up what you do, to not let yourself get complacent or self-congratulatory. A carpenter who's learned how to make a great table is a novice all over again the first time he tries to make a china cabinet.
I'm pretty up front about why I switch genres and styles. When you set yourself a challenge, there's no guarantee that you'll write something good. The only thing you can be sure of is that you will have the opportunity to learn something about your craft.
There are plenty of writing exercise books to choose from. I don't mean writing prompts; fun as they are, they won't impose restrictions on you that force you into unfamiliar territory. I mean, write a story that is only dialogue, or write and re-write the same story three times, first from the perspective of the woman, then from that of the man, then from that of the lady next door eavesdropping through the air vent. These stories are hard to write, but worth the effort.
May my muse save me from being a fearless writer! The day I go back to writing without fear is the day I've stopped exploring the reaches of my ability, stopped trying to improve. Is that courage? The willingness to risk putting out a clinker when something doesn't work? It's the only way I know to get better. To date, I've written about 200,000 words of fiction. Eventually, I hope to write so well that the question of innate talent vs. acquired skill becomes irrelevant. That's the writer's Turing test: is he an extremely talented writer, or merely supremely skillful?
Some people have twenty years experience. Other people have one year of experience, repeated twenty times. The difference is self-examination, and a continual effort to improve.
===== Feel free to comment on this or any other post.