07 February, 2013

The Pen should not be mightier than the Headsman's Axe

I learned a lesson today that I'd like to share with you.

This is something every writer will tell you, and I must have told myself six hundred times before now, and I'm sure I'll have to tell myself again by next week.  Hopefully by seeing my rant in text here, it'll help some people.  Hopefully hoping you people will read my rant will help me.  God I love convoluted sentences.

Elmore Leonard in Ten Rules on Writing said, "If it looks like writing, delete it."

In the past two hours I've written 1,500 words.  In the past one hour I've written NOTHING!  Zero words.  You know why?  I sat there trying to smash this four paragraph section into my second draft because I liked the way it was written and it seemed like it would make sense there.  But if it belonged there, I wouldn't have had to cram it in!

Trust your instincts, Luke.  Damn it.  That goes for all of you, too.  Trust that if it feels like you're trying to "prose" your way through something, give it a battle axe instead of a pen and chop it's f**king head off.

Another famous expression is "No tricks."  I think that's also Leonard, although I'm fairly certain Damon Knight said it in Creating Short Fiction decades before.  It's something he pounded into the heads of Clarion students.  All of these expressions have extremely vague meanings and it's one reason learning to write is such a pain in the lower quarters.  My theme here is always to trust your own interpretation, because you're ultimately teaching yourself.

So here's an unusual interpretation for you, combining both quotes.  "If you feel like you're trying to trick your reader or your story into accepting a thing, kill it and then slap your wrist."

I also hereby copyright:  "Black ink should not be mightier than the Red Line of Death."

Now back to writing.  If the next two hours provide 3,000 words, maybe I'll stop slapping my wrist.  (I've learned to do it between paragraphs.)



Diana Bletter said...

As Stephen King says in ON WRITING (I'm paraphrasing) "Murder your little darlings." We have to be ruthless with our own words. Thanks for the reminder.

Ryan Ferguson said...

Good reminder to all writers. I struggle with trying to implement isolated segments into my fiction and it never turns into anything but an ugly-stitched zombie of a story.

So like all other zombies, it had to be shot in the head and burned.

Aditi Gandhi said...

I think I comletely get what you trying to express. i myself feel the same. Good job :-)

Wm. Luke Everest said...

I'm glad you guys found the post helpful. Writing it helped me. I've been good to my story every since.

(Love the zombie analogy, Ryan.)