Once I was rewriting a scene, listening closely to the sound and rhythm of the words in a passage, looking for ways to strengthen it, and it made me wonder: how many new writers take the proper care with their words? How many truly listen?
There are a number of ways to show that you’re a genius at writing. You might have break-neck pacing, or characters who become more and more alive as the reader learns about them. Your plots might be brilliant, or your argument scenes might impress and inspire.
But guess what? If your story doesn’t stand out based upon the beauty of your words—your sensitive use of language, your tone and style—it really won’t matter.
You see, lackluster prose is perhaps the biggest bar to publication.
When I open a story for Writers of the Future, I pay attention to the author’s use of language. If after a couple of pages I don’t see something that convinces me that the author has got some unique talent, I’ll pass.
That’s the way that other editors handle the submission process, too. We look for authors who convince us through their use of words alone that their work will stand out. That’s why so many editors say that the first thing that they look for is a powerful and convincing voice—either the author’s narrative voice or the character’s voice.
That may not sound fair to you. You might respond, “Ah, but my story doesn’t really get going until page ten.” Too bad. As an editor, I’ve looked at “pretty good” stories long enough to know that in most cases, if the language doesn’t entertain, then in all probability the story will have lots of other problems, too.
Many writers come to the craft late in life. They may have been computer programmers or healthcare workers or policemen, but they’ve always had that nagging desire to write. They’ve read great stories and may even have some wonderful talents—a gift for setting, or a deep understanding of businessmen and thugs—that can help them find huge audiences. But such writers often feel that they don’t have time to learn the writing craft, explore it. They don’t have time to take poetry writing classes, for example, and they think that it’s optional.
Guess what. It isn’t optional.
A few years back, I did a study of Writers of the Future Contest winners. I found that most of them had spent years studying the craft—taking writing classes, workshopping, and studying long into the night.
It’s not just the agents and editors that will judge your storytelling skills by looking primarily at your style. You may be able to get published, but then find that you’re hobbled because critics won’t review you, booksellers may not want to buy your work in large quantities, or librarians don’t feel that your work has enough merit that they want to carry you at all. Then of course there are the avid readers out there, organizing book clubs and talking to friends about the works that move them most. Many of these readers are exceptionally well-read. They know good work when they see it.
There are some great writers to learn from when studying the use of language. There was a time, back in the 1800s and 1900s, when poets were rock stars. When Edgar Allen Poe gave readings in Boston, women would throw off their clothing and swoon. So people spent huge amounts of time perfecting their craft. It wasn’t until the early 1900s, when radio allowed music to be played across the country, that poetry began to fall out of use.
The truth is, you can’t make a living as a poet today. You can take your poems and turn them into song lyrics and do much better, but very few people can pay their bills by selling their poems alone. The poets that I know all rely upon grants and teaching salaries and little secret writing gigs to get by.
I’m not going to teach you lessons on poetry. That goes far beyond the scope of this tip. But I am going to recommend that if you want to become a professional writer, take the time to learn to write with beauty, grace, power, and distinction.
Writing Publish Profit
A little over 30 of us have gotten together to make the Writing Publish Profit Super Stack. We’ve pooled 28 books and courses on the craft of writing together, so whatever your need, there’s an expert for you.
My contribution is Writing Mastery 1, an online course of nine videos and writing assignments on the most common writing weaknesses keeping work from reaching publication quality.
This started as an online writing workshop, but as more people became interested I created this audited version, without the time constraint of meeting weekly or the bottleneck of receiving my personal feedback, so that more people could improve their craft as their busy schedules allow.
You can see a preview of Writing Mastery I at mystorydoctor.com/pi-writing1-audit/.
If you like what you see, pick up the audited workshop plus 28 other books and courses for $48 at davidfarland–infostack.thrivecart.com/wpp/.
Build a Bridge for Jason Mills
One of my friends has this GoFundMe going on to help start an independent bookstore with her autistic son:
Like most mothers, I’d do anything for my children. My son, Jason, has high-functioning autism and it has challenged him all his life. With a lot of help and encouragement, he was able to graduate cum laude from high school. After some private lessons, he finally received his driver’s license and is driving his own car.
Employment, however, seems to be the wall he can’t hurdle. He applies but is rarely given the chance to even interview. When he was turned down for the third time for a part-time position at Barnes & Noble this past January, I decided it was time St. George, Utah had an independent bookstore of its own, selling all new books and offering a full slate of events. A bookstore with a heart for those on the autistic spectrum (as well as other disabilities). A bookstore that would give Jason a job and train him to take over one day should he so choose. And it’s a natural fit for him–he’s always loved books and even taught himself to read by age three.
You may think indie bookstores are dying, but it’s just not so. A bookstore can be a profitable business if done right. Between 2009 and 2015 when so many other small businesses were going under, the number of independent bookstores rose–so much so that a Harvard professor set out to study the anomaly to find out what they were doing differently. In short, he found that truly successful bookstore (some of which pull in millions each year) all engaged in what he called “the 3 Cs–Community, Convening, and Curation.” That’s what we’re going to do with our bookstore.
At the end of this month, The Book Bungalow will open, and a Grand Opening is slated for mid-October. We’re reaching out to the community, gathering a carefully curated collection of books, and filling up the calendar with events (check us out on our website).
In fact, thanks to Affogato Coffee Shop, we’ve already had our first author event–featuring “Chasing Portraits” by Elizabeth Rynecki–just this past week before we’d even opened, and we sold 19 of the 24 books sent by Penguin Random House.
Please consider helping us raise $10,000 by September 24th.
Learn more or donate here.
Give Books to Kids for Christmas
My daughter-in-law is doing a fundraiser to help give books to children for Christmas:
Christmas is an exciting time of year but for some families it is a stressful time. I want to help relieve some stress for local families who can’t afford gifts for their kids. I am running a book drive to help these families. If you would like to donate I am looking for just 40 people to donate $25 to make my goal of $1,000. All donations and my company’s match program will help give kids books for Christmas! I am running the book drive Thursday, September 13th through Friday the 14th!
Learn more or donate here.