Learning How To Write


As a student of Spanish, my goal was to think in Spanish. Skipthe word-by-word translation so I'd have the necessary speed tospeak and listen. I know words in Spanish that I'd be hardpressed to translate. Usually profanity, I confess. Chingow!

For years my students here in China have studied grammar, andknow it better than you or I. They read. They write. Butspeaking involves moving faster than that. In conversation, wedon't have time to write it first and make sure it's allgrammatically flawless, then read it aloud, perhaps after a bitof rehearsal.

So, I try to give them a chance to practice putting wordstogether on the fly, rules be damned. The rules they'veinternalized will kick in and keep them comprehensible, whichwill build their confidence in their ability to keep creatingconversation that way.

This is not unlike what we go through as authors. First we studyrulebooks, perhaps take some classes, and conclude just abouteverything we're is doing is wrong. So many rules to memorize.We might dread sitting down to write with all those constraints.

But really, it's not about memorizing rules at all. It's aboutinternalizing the rules, following them (or not if you prefer)without being consciously aware of what they are. They're there,but in the background.

The story's what matters. You're supposed to be having fun, not"working." At least not during the creation phase.

We don't always take the time to say, "I've written ten activesentences in a row so maybe I'll whip in a passive one now" or"I need a beat for every X lines of dialogue." I published fournovels and edited dozens more before I learned what a beat was.(It's a pause so the reader can catch his/her breath.)

And, of course, since it is writing and not speaking, we canalways go back and revise later. Then rely on editors tocatch what we missed, or at least make us wonder why we wroteit this way instead of that way.

Some authors aren't even consciously aware of "the rules."They've never taken a class, never read a book about writing.They're simply avid readers who one day decided to write. Butthey've internalized the rules as well. It comes from reading.

I've said it before and I'll say it again. If you want to write,you must read. If you don't like reading, maybe writing isn'tfor you. It's not about writing because you want to say, "I am awriter." It's about writing because you enjoy writing.

And, it's really nice when you've been writing for a long timeto go back and read a book about how to write. You might findone or two things to tweak in your technique, as opposed to adaunting laundry list of flaws. It's much easier to internalizeone or two new rules than 50 or 100!

Copyright 2004, Michael LaRocca

Michael LaRocca's website at http://www.chinarice.org waschosen by WRITER'S DIGEST as one of The 101 Best WebsitesFor Writers in 2001 and 2002. His response was to throw itout and start over again because he's insane. He teachesEnglish at a university in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province,China, and publishes the free weekly newsletter WHO MOVEDMY RICE?


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