Slowly the world shrugs awake outside my study window as people respond to the lifting of the Covid19 lockdown while I am at my desk staring at my computer wondering what to post this week. The daily sketching exercises have ended, I haven’t been anywhere for weeks, so there were no new places to write about, and hadn’t I written about about a long-ago trip last week? Something would come to me; it usually does. And it has. I have begun writing a new novel length piece of non-fiction.
As I begin the first draft of a new work I try not to think about the mechanics of writing and aim to ‘just write’. I write until I feel I’ve done enough for the day and leave it be. The following morning I like to read through the work before writing more. I usually shuffle a few words around and often throw out the now glaringly obvious ‘hiccups’. For no matter how long you have been writing, the ability to have your words to land on the page in perfect order, or be the best words you can muster, is not something to be taken for granted. But, generally speaking, a writer knows when their work isn’t ‘quite right’.
I am sometimes asked to critique others’ work; a task I like a good deal. I find it much easier to see the ‘errors’ in others’ words than I do my own and will write about sentence structure, the over-use of adjectives and adverbs or lengthy exposition with ease. But how did I come to know these things which come so naturally to me now? It wasn’t just reading copious amounts of books by good authors, or attending class. It was more than that. I wanted to know how I could recognise the things that weren’t working with my writing.
As a novice writer I began to read a few books on the mechanics of writing. Some I liked, some not. But one which helped me was The First Five Pages by Noah Lukeman. It was not written as a ‘how something must be done’ manual but more an expression of what you might look for in your own work and ways you might address those issues. He encompasses most of the traps the amateur gets caught in. For example: repetition, overuse of simile, complex sentences, sound, pace, passive writing etc., After each chapter on one of these components he gives examples of usage for comparison. He also suggests exercises the reader could do after each discussion. He is succinct with his language, and the exercises sensible and easy to follow, a plus for anyone wishing to improve their work.
And now, I continue to plug on with my novel, having gained from the insight I acquired about writing over the years. If that sounds smug, it’s not meant to be, as every thing I write is a learning experience. And that is a part of the writing challenge I love.