Writing is a huge learning curve.
When I started writing fiction (yo! dog! that was only a year ago!), I thought my writing learning curve would look something like this:
Do you see where this cursed thing goes down? As in, sliding down the mountain in an avalanche triggered by my own faulty footing and serious lack of climbing skills? Ugh.
And yet, the progression has still been forward, albeit with a few stumbles along the way.
Somewhere in the middle of this climb, I tried to explain my struggle with craft to my husband using an analogy: discerning the difference between two pairs of brown pants, one from the Gap, the other from a famous designer.
I think I used a fashion analogy because my husband I are style-challenged, and the world of fashion was obscure to both of us.
Although I was well into my writing escapades, I found I couldn’t see the difference between the pants—someone would tell me one was from the Gap and the other from a fabulous designer, but to me they were just brown pants. While some manuscripts were obviously from very beginning writers, the difference between a Gap story and a designer story was obscure to me.
I asked myself: “If I can’t tell the difference, how can I possibly write differently?”
So, I embarked on a quest to be discerning – I read more widely, entered contests, and observed different styles. Nathan’s 1st paragraph contest back in October of aught-nine was a tutorial in beginnings and voice. Other back-to-back surveys of many writers helped my brain soak up a database of style. Slowly, I could begin to tell the ones that had Voice and Grace – the ones that leapt off the page and grabbed me by the throat and said READ ME.
I could see the difference between the pants.
This was a revelation, and yet also frustrating. Although I could now see the difference, I had no idea how to make the Gap pants into designer pants.
This is where my writerly friend Rebecca blogged into my life and recommended Style: Lessons in Clarity and Grace, by Joseph M. Williams. I’m only part way through Williams book, but I can already see how it will change the way I write, for the better.
As I muscle my way through his book (although it is clear, it is difficult for the grammar-challenged) and use it to make my WIP more shapely and graceful, I’m beginning to see how to craft the designer pants. A nip here, a tuck there – some radical surgery on sentences that I thought hopelessly frumpy. I’m taking my Gap-style sentences and am able, through much effort, to turn them into designer-style sentences (sometimes).
Being able to run the sewing machine, doesn’t make me Versace. But I’m beginning to see the path, the way towards that higher level of writing, even if I’m only part way down it.
I told my husband the other night, “I know how to change the pants!”
He laughed at me, but not in an unkind way.