I am a member of several groups on facebook dedicated to writing, authors, their woes, sorrows, joys, and … questions. I rarely post myself but facebook kindly reminds me every time a new post or comment is added. Many of those are questions beginning writers have. Even people who are just beginning to think about becoming beginning writers.
They come in categories and are asked over, and over, and over again. So I felt motivated to drape a stethoscope around my neck and look respectable: Dr Kurz is at your beck and call.
Here is the first question:
Do you think you have to be good at grammar and writing to write a novel?
Let me rephrase the question:
“Do you think you have to be able to locate the human skull
to become a brain surgeon?”
This post drew 308 comments on Facebook, at latest counting. What’s even more surprising is the number of people who answered No to this question. As in: no, you don’t need to be good at grammar and writing to write a novel.
Sure you do!
Writers are masters of the written word. They are so powerful that their craft enchants readers and is capable to alter the passage of time. This kind of magic does not emanate from poorly worded, misspelled prose. It requires knife-edge command of the language, a well developed vocabulary and a sense of style.
Many who argue that grammar and writing skills are expendable for aspiring writers say that the creative spark is enough. Just scribble it down, however wrongly or poorly worded. And then they invoke a magical person called “Editor” who will wave a wand and turn the scribbles into a successful, shining novel.
Sorry for bursting anyone’s personal bubble: this ain’t going to happen. An idea doth not a novel make. An idea can be at the heart of a novel, but you need language — skillful, engaging language — to craft this into something other people want to read.
I realize that there are people out there who have a great story to tell. It grows in them until the point arrives when it needs to come out and be told to a large audience. Some of those people may never have put pen to paper before, except when writing a composition for an assignment in school. What advice does Dr. Kurz have for those?
Here is the doctor’s order:
- Read, read, read, and then read again.
Read books, short stories, trash novels — it almost doesn’t matter. But read with the intent to learn. See how other authors have spun their yarn into stories. It is never too late to start reading. So go already, pick up a book!
- Get yourself this booklet and learn it by heart: W. Strunk & E.B. White, “The Elements of Style”. This is the foundation of your craft. Study it well.
These are the rules that, once you are accomplished, you can consider breaking in order to achieve a specific effect. But breaking rules without knowing them is called ignorance, not “having a voice”.
- Write, write, write, and then write again.
Write short pieces first. Something you can finish over a couple of days. Then give it to someone to critique. There is a group called Critique Circle on Facebook. Join it and have your work critiqued. Like everything, writing is learned by writing. So do lots of it. Not with the intent to publish right away but with the intent to learn.
Keep everything you write and come back to it from time to time. Compare your early stuff to your more recent work, and you will see the progress.
What do you think? Have more questions to ask? Feel free to post a comment.