Or maybe just “really wants”. Do you have to listen to a certain style of music when writing a certain genre? Do you need a cup of coffee handy at all times?
When I was younger, I had to have black ink pens and college rule notebook paper kept in a three-ring binder. I still prefer writing that way, but if a writing opportunity arises, and I’ve forgotten my binder, I’ll write on anything.
The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Even in this digital age, when writers can access the world from their couch, we still experience a lot of the problems and pleasures that writers did in the past . Whenever I get down about the pursuit of publishing, I turn to P.G. Wodehouse’s semi-autobiographical book, Over Seventy. It’s semi-autobiographical because Mr, Wodehouse was a humor writer and wasn’t about to let the truth interfere with a good story. From what I’ve learned about him, the basic facts in this book are true — where he went to school, how he got his first job writing, and so on. But the details may be highly fictionalized, such as the reason he was fired from a job in a bank.
Mr. Wodehouse was born in 1882, and his only ambition was to be a writer. So when he began to make a living as a writer in 1900, he did what writers do now. He tried to establish a platform. It wasn’t called that back then, but that’s what his efforts amounted to. He got a job writing articles in a newspaper while trying to sell short stories to pulp magazines. He added to this by writing occasionally for a humor column at the newspaper. Then he was selling humorous stories to well-known magazines. After he moved to New York City around 1909, he became a dramatic critic for Vanity Fair and wrote plays and lyrics for songs in musical comedies.
After all these years of work, he finally sold his first novel, in serialized form, to Saturday Evening Post. The Post was a huge step up because it was a “slick” magazine as opposed to a pulp one. I assume the word means it had shiny pages. Slick magazines were also more prestigious and paid better. When he died in 1975, he had published over ninety books and was working on a manuscript in his hospital bed.
Over Seventy has a lot of funny digressions, running from butlers to manners and the state of American TV in the 1950’s. But I especially like the chapter “My Methods, Such as They Are.” I am fascinated by an artistic person’s creative process, regardless of the art. Mr. Wodehouse wrote that the amount of work he got done in a day hung on “whether or not I put my feet up on” his desk. If he did, then he drifted off into the past. If he didn’t, he settled down to work.
Mr. Wodehouse was definitely a plotter. He always worked from a detailed scenario. This makes sense because his madcap plots were so complicated that I can see how he would have to work it all out before he started on the first draft. I love his quote about characters.
“Some writers will tell you that they just sit down and take pen in hand and let their characters carry on as they see fit. Not for me any procedure like that. I wouldn’t trust my characters an inch. If I sat back and let them take charge, heaven knows what the result would be.”
What stories have you read about writers or any artist and his or her creative process?
The current style is more descriptives. When a strong verb can do the work of a verb and an adverb, then eliminating the adverb makes sense. The sentence is both more descriptive and shorter.
He walked home slowly.
He trudged home.
And some words have been so overused that they don’t hold any meaning any more. “Really” and “suddenly” can’t be used, except in dialogue.
But in the case of the example Miss Hall provides, the description grows from 23 words with adjectives and adverbs to 39 without them. The passage is more descriptive, and longer is not necessarily worse. But I think writers can very easily develop the written equivalent of long-windedness if we don’t exercise caution when replacing adjectives and adverbs.
So what’s a writer do do? Here is my advice.
Use as many adjectives and adverbs as you want if they express most clearly what you are describing. If the lettuce is green, fragile, ruffled, and crispy, put it all down. In a first draft, getting the words down is more important than what words you put down.
As you edit your first draft, determine which adjectives and adverbs you should replaces and how succinctly you can replace them. If your replacement description is longer than the adjectives or adverbs, make sure it doesn’t effect your pacing.
Read recently published books and see when and how they use adjectives and adverbs. The current style allows more adjectives than adverbs. I find, especially when describing the physical characteristics of a character, there is just no other good way to go about it except by using adjectives.
My main character describes his eyes as “boring” and “blue”. I don’t know how else to describe the color and by adding “boring”, the reader learns a little about how my main character sees himself.
If you would like to learn about the basics of how to use adjectives and adverbs, these two articles will show you.
If you read the comments below Miss Hall’s article, you will find one that disagrees strongly with the new style. I don’t think it’s better or worse. It’s just what publishers believe people will read. Three thousand years ago, if you wanted to tell a long story, you wrote an epic poem. Now you write a triple-decker novel. One’s not better than the other. Both want to meet the needs of the reading public of that time.
Who knows? If fifty years, writers may be passing death sentences on strong verbs.
How to Write Anything: a Complete Guide by Laura Brown is not really about how to accomplish every kind of writing there is. It’s a guide to what I call technical writing. Ms. Brown covers personal writing, like holiday newsletters, wedding announcements, and complaints, school writing which includes everything from note-taking to lab reports and essays, and business writing. She also discusses writing online.
What does this great book have to do with creative writing? Ms. Brown states in her introduction that all this technical writing can be accomplished by dividing the process into six parts: purpose, reader, brainstorm, organize, draft, and revise. I think those six sections work for creative writing, too.
Purpose — Why are you writing a particular piece? Is it to entertain yourself? Share a message with others?
Reader — What reader is your writing aimed at? Yourself? Friends? If you want to be published, you must know the audience you are writing for. Publishers expect you to know that information and tailor your work to your readers.
Brainstorm — Everybody knows what this means. I will add I sometimes think of great ideas and then believe I will remember them. When it comes time to write them down, I forget what they were. So write down your brainstorming ideas.
Organize — This may take many forms when you are writing creatively. Some people work best with a detailed outline and others may need to jot down just the significant plot points and write to connect those dots.
Draft — Pull your brainstorming and organization together in a first draft.
Revise — Always review and rewrite. Even if it’s just a cute poem for a friend to celebrate her birthday, review and rewrite. Very, very few writers, and I’m definitely not one of them, write something great the first time.
This process will serve any writer well for any kind of writing. If you need examples of technical writing, check out How to Write Anything. I found much of the advice about writing online especially helpful.
Ms. Brown writes in Chapter 2 that a person doesn’t have to use the process in the order listed above but should consider all the parts sometime during writing, if he has the time. I think creative writers should always consider all six parts for every piece of writing.
Does this process sound like it would work for you? Maybe you already have a productive writing process. Let me know what it is. I am always ready to learn!