Daily Writing Tip 56 of 100, Don’t Be a Chimp

For one hundred days, I’m going to post a writing tip each day. I have a whole bookshelf full of writing books and I want to do some reading and increased studying of this valuable resource. This will help me keep track of anything I’ve learned, and help motivate me to keep going. If anyone has a favorite tip of their own to add, contact me. I’d love to put it up here.

Today’s tip – Don’t Be a Chimp

Source – Gotham Writers Workshop: Writing Fiction: The Practical Guide From New York’s Acclaimed Writing School

“If I could have reached my rod I would have blown his guts out.”
—-The Big Kill, Mickey Spillane

So let’s see where we are in the creative process. Promising ideas + hard work = good fiction. Well, not quite. Something is still missing.

To tell a story effectively, you will need some mastery of craft. By craft we mean the time-tested practices that have proven helpful to the construction of good fiction.

Good writing comes down to craft far more than most people realize. True, anyone can write a story without training, which separates fiction writing from such activities as performing heart surgery or piloting a helicopter. But a working knowledge of craft is almost always necessary to make a story really good, worthy of being read by all those strangers. You could build a chair without any knowledge of woodworking because you have a good idea of what a chair is like. You would cut the wood and hammer the pieces together, and sure enough you would have a chair. But it would probably be wobbly, unsightly, and destined to break. It certainly wouldn’t sell. The same is true of fiction.

You should learn craft because it works. The “rules” of fiction craft weren’t created by any one person in particular. They simply emerged over time as guiding principles that made fiction writing stronger, in much the same way the mortise-and-tenon joint emerged as a good way to join parts of a chair.

When I read of learning craft I think of Malcolm Gladwell and his ten thousand hours. The idea is that it takes ten thousand hours of practice to get really good at something… and, conversely, if you spend ten thousand hours at something, you will get good at it.

I wish I could go back in time to when I was a teenager. I would tell me, “Write for two hours a night, most nights; three hundred days a year. In seventeen years, you will be a writer.”

If I had started at, let’s say, thirteen – I would have been a real writer by thirty. I could live with that.

But I didn’t know that at thirteen. Nobody told me about the ten thousand hours. Shame. So many years wasted.

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