Once upon a time I had a blog about learning how to write. This is because, as you might guess, I wanted very badly to be a writer. I wanted to write novels that stole hours from people's days and made them feel as if they were in the story.
So when I was cleaning up some old articles from The Iceberg Project's site, I was delighted to find lessons from writing books and analyses that I had written on writing that I can't just let disappear. If anything, they're nostalgic of how much I've grown.
"What the beginning writer needs...is not a set of rules but mastery--...of the art of breaking so-called rules."
John Gardner gets serious here. He wants every writer of fiction that is committed to the art to achieve mastery and breathe the techniques behind great fiction.
He outlines two major steps to achieving mastery:
1. Read widely & deeply
2. Write carefully & continually, thoughtfully assessing and reassessing the writing
Throughout the book, he gets very in depth about the differences in fiction and metafiction, and there is an amazing section where he goes through the common errors in writing while also providing solutions.The latter mentioned section is incredibly valuable and will forever change the way that you write stories.
Here are my top 5 takeaways from the book:
1. Writers are in the business of persuasion: We are constantly persuading the reader that the story that we're telling them is true, that it's credible, and that there are fundamental and relate-able human aspects involved.
2. Write the kind of story you know and like: Life experience isn't always enough to become a great writer.
3. While sentence variety is admirable, avoid infinite verb phrases: Amateur writers do this often. We can only read "Walking, she looked at him and laughed." or "Spinning in circles, she told him the story of the scarecrow and the cat." It only makes sense a limited amount of times. Let it go. You'll know by intuition if it needs to stay or go.
4. When you know a sentence is bad, or that a word doesn't fit, or that a character's qualities aren't right, don't just let it sit in the final draft. FIX THAT SHIT. This is your art.
5. "For the climax to be persuasive, we must be shown dramatically why each character believes what he does and why each cannot sympathize with the values of his antagonist; and we must be shown dramatically why the conflicting characters cannot or do not simply avoid each other...For the climax to be persuasive but interesting, it must come about in a way that seems both inevitable and interesting."
This novel is a beginning writer's bible. It's amazing because there are at least 120 exercises at the back of the book to refine your technique and avoid the common errors mentioned. I've been doing one a day since I finished the book to practice consistency and routine, and it's helping a lot with focus.
Also, there are tons of great literature mentioned in the book that should be studied by the writer in great detail.
All in all, I highly recommend it for any writer who wants to refine skill and take their art to the next level.
Find the book here: The Art of Fiction: Notes on Craft for Young Writers