The art of writing—really? Hmm, yes and no. There is the artistic side, the impulse to create an aesthetic work that is satisfying to one’s self and has the desired effect on one’s audience. This appears to be the driving force for most of us that write as a creative endeavor. I don’t believe this can be taught or learned. You either have the desire to do it and act on it, or you don’t. For some of us it takes awhile. I’m nearly sixty-two as of this writing. I ignored the impulse as long as I could. It just didn’t seem practical. Yet here I am, writing to you when by all acceptable standards I should be thinking of retirement, spending time with the grandkids or napping in the Barcalounger in front of the TV.
Basics – Communication
At the end of the day, all writers, whether they are mystery writers or writing in other genres, are communicating—working to get an idea across to their readers.
This requires that one first get the reader’s attention. Sounds simple enough, but with all of the media and all the content available through all that media, getting readers’ attention can be a real challenge. This falls under the heading of Marketing and PR which is a whole ‘nother blog—probably several.
It also requires that one deliver a written work that is not only aesthetically pleasing to readers but also understandable. I would argue that it can’t be aesthetically pleasing without a high degree of comprehensibility—if they don’t get it, they aren’t going to like it.
There is a whole technology developed on the subject of communication. If you’re interested, let me know and I’ll refer you to an excellent source.
Basics – Tools of the Trade
Whether you use a pencil and paper or a word processer, it almost goes without saying you need a method to get the words out. Learn how to type, hire a typist and learn how to give dictation, or find good software that can translate your dictation into the written word. Keep in mind we don’t speak they way we write and dictating is a learned skill. For now, I’m a word processor kinda guy, even though my typing sucks. I’m working to improve it—anything that will increase my efficiency. Word processors allow us to be so much more productive as writers, it’s hard for me to comprehend how writers managed before the advent of the computer. Can you imagine writing a 100,000 word manuscript longhand? Yikes!!!
Black and White:
- The words themselves, their meaning and usage. Best tools are dictionaries, I use two or three. Also a good thesaurus or two is imperative. Don’t rely on just your word processor’s dictionary and thesaurus. Know your words and their derivations. They are your tools. Fill your toolbox with words that you fully understand. They are the colors on the artist’s pallet. The more colors you know how to use, the more easily and accurately you can express yourself. Build yourself a working vocabulary.
- Then there’s punctuation. There are many good references on punctuation. A couple I recommend are: Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style; and Merriam Webster’s Guide to Punctuation and Style. They are readily available online and at most bookstores and libraries. However these are by no means the only good references.
- Syntax & Grammar. Learn the rules before you attempt to bend or break them. Again, tons of references available. Usage is the key, keep it simple and current for greater clarity. Personally, I find that the simpler the approach, the more usable and more understandable (for you and your readers.)
Ultimately, these tools help provide the foundation for developing a style that is effective and unique—a subject for another blog.