The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Year-Long Writing Program July 2, 2005

The difference between people who succeed and those who fail is rarely talent.  Persistence means more than almost anything.  That, and the ability to find appropriate models of behaviro and imitate them, so that you aren't trying to re-invent the wheel.  A simple approach to developing professional writing skills, one that has worked for hundreds of writers is:

1) Write a story a week, or a story every other week
2) Finish them
3) Put them in the mail, keep them in the mail until they sell.
4) Don't re-write except to editorial request.
What if you want to write novels?  Still write stories.  The reason is the same reason that, if trainign for a marathon, you start with shorter distances.  No one suggests you train for a marathon (if you've never run before) "by running 26.2 miles."  that would be absurd.  No, there are literally countless sub-skills of breath control, relaxation, rhythm, let alone just fitness stuff of accustoming joints to the stress load.
There are so many sub-skills to writing that MUST be placed at the level of unconscious competance.  gigantic numbers.  I'm going to spend some time over the next few days trying to lay out the basic ones.  And all of them are contained within the short story.
What about poetry?  Easy.  A poem a week.  Maybe a Haiku every day!
What about screenplays?  Easy.  A short script every week, or every other week.  Say 10-20 pages.  The second iteration of the "Twilight Zone" bought stories that short.  that will allow you to refine your skills in a similar way.  True, there's no place to sell such work right now (that I know of), so the effectiveness decreases--part of the point of the short story route is the ability to interact with professional editors.
There are innumerable reasons not to go directly for the novel.  One of the best is that every successful novelist I know CAN write short stories.  The majority of people who go directly for the novel never publish.  I know of NO ONE who has gone the short story route, stuck it out past, say, fifty stories, and not been published.  Personally, I set myself a goal of 100.  What does this mean?
What it means is that most people who say they want to do something, anything, don't have the stick-to-it-iveness.  That means that if someone is more talented than you, but you've got more guts, and stay with it, you will outperform them in the long run.  That's the way life actually is.  the hares tend to burn out fast. The tortoises stay in there.  Going to your 10th or 20th High School reunion is an eye-opener, if you never, ever quit.
50-100 stories from now, you can be publishing regularly.  If you're willing to pay that price, you can have your dream.  If you're not, PLEASE don't lie to yourself and say you didn't have the "talent."  No.  You didn't have the endurance. 


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