Thursday, January 7, 2010

ya wanna write? (2)

"Here are five bullets for the boys on the boat.

Here is one more for the saint."

Second Bullet: Study. I know that sounds unpleasant, but... study.

If you're going to be a chef, you probably need to know what food tastes like. If you want to be a writer, you're going to have to read.

I know this is ridiculous, but I've met an awful lot of people (young and "very adult") who want to be writers, but do not read. It's not even that they don't like reading... they just don't read anything.

I don't know. Maybe they have this image conjured up about how we writers live: you know... the nonstop partying, the wild book tours, and the groupies... God!, they're everywhere.

Well, all that's true, but you can't have those cherished perks unless you've got a solid background as a reader.

Text messages do not count as reading.

Neither do textbooks.

Hear that teachers and schools? Nothing turns kids off to reading like a nice fat textbook. I don't even know why they exist. Nobody reads them. Give a kid a textbook, and it's like saying, here kid, carry this around for the next nine months, it may increase your upper body strength, because, God knows, you're not going to read it.

You have to find your reading.

It's out there, kid, so don't be a wimp and give up on the hunt because it doesn't jump off the shelf and hit you in the face.

If you are very lucky, you might have a parent, a teacher, librarian, (usually independent) bookseller, or even a friend who knows this secret about reading (that you have to find it) and will be your hunting partner.

That's a pretty cool relationship to have with someone.

And, when you read, you have to really read. You have to pay attention to the details: what makes a paragraph, how the author uses punctuation, spelling, and grammar. There are lots of different techniques out there, and not one of them is absolutely, infallibly, correct.

But "Study" also means this: (and remember, you said you want to be a writer, and I'm just trying to make it easier for you) When you are in high school, you will need to find the person who is willing to look at your writing (even if it's just a paragraph response to an open-ended prompt -- it doesn't have to be anything fancy), who has the time for you, and the ability to do this, and make you work to improve your technique (Remember, the voice part comes later on in life). Hint: this person is not always an English teacher. Go ahead, English teachers out there... let me have it. I know this is a lame defense -- in fact, I'm not even trying to defend myself -- but I have an awful lot of friends who are English teachers. The truth is, a lot of them can't write. (A lot of them don't read, either, but don't tell anyone). But that person who can help you is there. Every high school usually has a few of them.

After high school, it means you're going to have to NOT AVOID taking classes where you must write with execution and technique. These types of courses cut across all disciplines, and they're usually going to be the ones your friends (you know, the guys you hang out with who can't understand why you like to read and write) will tell you to never take.

This first part of the journey -- like learning how to become a chef -- deals with the technical foundation of writing. It's nuts and bolts stuff, but it's really easy to steer yourself away from and still come out of high school with a record that gives some kind of false testimony to your scholarly achievements. And, more and more as we've dumbed down the masses to a collective blob of children that has "Not Been Left Behind" (and we can prove it because they can navigate through a TV Guide), high schools are willing to let you not get left behind and do exactly that.

So you're going to have to work a bit, kid. And that brings me up to the third bullet.

No one said it was going to be easy, kid, but if you can't swallow these first couple bullets, give up now.

This is the easy part.

[Author's Note: Tomorrow, I am catching a very early flight to Arizona for the weekend, where I will be appearing at "YAllapalooza" at Changing Hands Bookstore in Phoenix with fellow authors Blake Nelson, Carol Snow, Cecil Castellucci, and Mark Williams. But I still have a few more bullets left for you, and I will not disappoint. Just the posting times may be a bit delayed]