Saturday, October 10, 2009

Best Teaching Books -- The Ones You Throw Across the Room

I have a whole library of books that say "How to..." in the title.

"How to Write Dialogue," or "How to Finish that First Novel," or "How to Write Like a Master!"

But the best books I have ever learned from were those I literaly threw across the room. The ones that frustrated and dithered and preached and used poor grammar and mechanics and badly BADLY needed a good and dedicated editor. These books I learn "How NOT to Write."

This lesson is just as important as all of the others.

Cyclically on a writing group of which I've been a member forever, someone brings up the old argument about rules and breaking them and 'Who says you can't use passive voice?" Are and is, be and was and have been -- all of those less than enthusiastic words seem to be forbidden in today's writings.

I worked for a fantastic editor who forbid them in our book reviews. No way. We wrote with the most appropriate verbs and every is/was/were or has been was thrown out of the window. This helped me write tighter, be more aware of verbs and understand that the proper word in the proper place works!

What our editor finally realized when she read some stellar reviews by a master was -- sometimes passive works. And I learned the true answer to that question about rules: WHEN IT WORKS!

As readers we immediately know when whatever the author is doing -- works. Or doesn't. And automatically we begin to dissect what errors were made, what they should have or could have done and why. It is harder to catch in our own work.

For ourselves, nothing helps bring the mistakes, weaknesses, errors and faults to the service than a little fermenting. This is why we're encouraged to write and then set it aside for a day, week, month, until we can see it more objectively. I tell you -- that REALLY works.

Perhaps the most inspiring aspect of those horribly written books that get published is -- they got published. Which means, as bad as we think we are, there's still hope. Just look at that drivel -- it got published -- so can I. That's a bit of lowest rung thinking, but whatever works. These books also make us shout, "I could do better than that!" And often is the kick we need to get up producing our own writings.

So my advice today -- Go out and read a bad.... No, read a HORRIBLE book today. It will inspire you to write BETTER!

Exercise: Read an opening passage (those are usually the weakest) and evaluate it. Decide what you'd do differently. Then write it!


Jean Marie Ward said...

"Fantastic editor"? No way! Just a pill.
Fortunately, an apt student can learn from anyone. Go you!
Cheers and smiles,
Jean Marie

Dawn said...

Hey! Good to hear from you! Pill, yes, dear spider lady. :) But also the best editor! I tell everyone that! Best, best, best!