Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Your Writing Is Only As Good as Your Preparation

I was watching one of those house programmes, where the couple were doing up a flat to rent it out as a holiday apartment. They finished, the agent came round and duly pronounced on how much - or how little - it was going to achieve. The presenter tried to tell them it was because the decorating work they'd done was poor, but they were having none of it and said those immortal lines, 'He doesn't know what he's talking about.'

(I love it when people with no experience say that about experts who make their living from doing whatever it is. There's something v satisfying about it, especially when they're proved wrong later. Schadenfreude in action. But back to the post...)

Even I, with my tiny TV screen, could see that the standard of work was poor and said as much to a friend I know who is busily doing up a house. 'Ah,' he said. 'It's all about the preparation. If you skip on that, you'll always end up with a poor finish.'

I don't think the analogy entirely works with writing because while some writers plan extensively before they get started, others head off into the blue. What I do think is that at some point a lot of work is going to have to be spent on doing stuff that doesn't always seem obvious.

That may be planning, it may be research, it may be editing, it may be character development, it may be re-writing, it may even just be thinking. Whatever, actually doing the writing is a relatively small proportion of the time that should be spent on a piece of work to produce something that is easily readable.

In my experience, both personal and that of students I've observed, there comes a 'Clunk' moment. Oh, your brain clunks. It takes a long long long time to write something good. It's not something that can be bashed out by next Tuesday. Craft skills have to be learned, through classes or practice or both. Time spent is key to getting a good finish.

And if you don't believe me, if you think I don't know what I'm talking about, well....you can guess what I think about you!


Seeing Eye Frog said...

Without a sophisticated and wearable brain scanner recording everything you think for a long while, I don't think we can ever really say how out of the blue a piece of writing can be. Nothing is written in a vacuum and such 'spontaneous' writing (and we'll only care about it, notice it, if it's 'good' anyway) may well have been being 'written' and refined over a long period in some internal monologue, coming out fully formed, presumably indistinguishable from (a more instant) genius.

Sarah Duncan said...

Seeing Eye Frog - as I said in the post, the preparation may just be thinking. But it needs to be done.