Tag Archives: quotes

Writing a First Draft

Writing is easy. You only need to stare at a piece of blank paper until your forehead bleeds.

– Douglas Adams

There’s only one way to write a first draft. Step 1: Sit down. Step 2: Write.

I can already hear you screaming, “But it’s not that easy!” Oh, wait. That’s me.

When Emerald Barnes approached me earlier this week and asked if I would write a guest post for her blog, Dreaming Awake, I was incredibly honoured and excited. But what to write? Since Laura Stanfill recently wrote a guest post about revisions, it made sense (in a backwards kind of way) that I should put together a post about writing a first draft.

It went something like this:

There’s only one way to write a first draft. Step 1: Sit down. Step 2: Write.

Hmmm… I thought. Emerald may have been wanting something a little more… wordy.

So I thought about it a little more, and remembered something a non-writer friend asked me a few years ago. I’d been explaining how important it is to just write, without editing, second-guessing, or correcting anything during a first draft. She looked at me seriously and asked, “Why would you bother spending so much time on it if you’re just going to write it badly?”

So please, pop on over to Dreaming Awake today, where I answer that question in my guest post, The First Draft: Five Good Reasons to Write it Badly.

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Writer vs Author

Last week, I made a solemn vow not to talk about characters again today. And so, despite the fact that Tamara Paulin made a fantastic comment on Anthony Lee Collins’ blog about making sure every character is one that an actor would want to play, I’m not going to talk about characters at all.

Instead, I’m going to revisit the old Writer vs Author question.

This was originally prompted by a post from Emerald Barnes about what you expect from your writing. I said in my comment that I wanted publication, and I wanted to be able to call myself an author. That got me to thinking: What’s the difference between a writer and an author, anyway?

The most obvious definition of a writer is: someone who writes. So it stands to reason that an author is: someone who auths.

Hmmm. Time to consult a dictionary.*

Writer: 1. One who expresses ideas in writing. 2. One whose occupation is writing (such as a journalist of an author).

Author: 1. Someone who writes a novel, poem, essay etc; the composer of a literary work. 2. The originator, beginner or creator of anything.

Conventional wisdom seems to suggest that anyone can claim to be a writer, but an author has super-powers, writes at lightning speed, kills bad plot bunnies with nothing but a red pen, and rescues kittens before breakfast. But the dictionary definitions seem to actually reverse those roles: An author is someone who writes, whereas a writer is someone who does so for money.

That’s interesting. But then you have this quote from Friedrich Nietzsche:

The best author will be the one who is ashamed to be a writer.

What does that even mean? No, seriously. If you can unravel the mysteries of that sentence, I’d be most grateful.

According to the dictionary, the fact that I’ve written about a zillion short stories, many bad poems, and the first draft of one novel and part of a second, qualifies me as an author. But somehow… well, it just feels wrong. So how about I examine my own ideas of what turns a writer into an author.

1. An author has written a completed, saleable novel.

Really? Does that mean that short story writers and poets aren’t authors? No, thought not.

2. An author has been published.

Great. I’ve had short stories published. Does that make me an author? No, I’d still feel weird writing ‘author’ as my occupation on an official document.

3. An author has had their novel published.

See number 1. Also, with vanity published being the industry that it is, I could take my first-draft novel and have it published for only a small fee. Does that make me an author?

4. An author has had their novel published through the mysterious process of traditional publishing.

Still go back to number 1. And what about those self-published writers with brilliant books, who created a fabulous product and decided to go the self-pub route for various good reasons? Surely they deserve to be given the title of author. Yes, I thought so.

5. You’re an author when you feel like you’re an author, and not one moment before.

Yep, that seems about right.

 

This hasn’t really cleared up my confusion at all, so I’m calling on the expertise of everyone reading this post. What are your thoughts? When do you qualify as an author? What are some of the super-powers an author has that a writer doesn’t? Which would you prefer to be? And what did Nietzsche mean, anyway?

* Definitions are from the Macquarie Concise Dictionary 3rd Edition

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Quote of the Week

Whether you’re writing, composing, painting, or working at a law firm, I think this applies. What do you think?

Work is love made visible. And if you cannot work with love but only with distaste, it is better that you should leave your work and sit at the gate of the temple and take alms of those who work with joy.

– Kahlil Gibran                

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A Sense of Character

One of my favourite writers of all time is Raymond Chandler. He was writing first-person hard-boiled detective fiction back in the 1940s and 50s, and led the way for any number of writers to follow in his footsteps. He also wrote a fabulous essay on detective stories in 1950, titled The SImple Art of Murder. (You can read the whole text here if you’re interested.)

I love this essay, not only for some of the individual lines, such as: Hammett gave murder back to the kind of people that commit it for reasons, not just to provide a corpse. But also because Chandler dealt with the precept that a detective story must be realistic, or it means nothing, but can’t be too realistic, or no one but a psychopath would want to read or write it.

One of my favourite parts of the essay is Chandler’s description of what the hero, the detective, in such fiction should be. Although I don’t write detective fiction, hard-boiled or otherwise, every book has some element of mystery wrapped up in the pages. If it didn’t, what would be the point in reading it? What would there be to discover?

My own hero is very much a modern model of Chandler’s detective, and I have the following quote stuck on the wall behind my computer so that I can refer back to it whenever I find myself wondering: what would <character> do in this situation? I hope you enjoy.

But down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid. He is the hero, he is everything. He must be a complete man and a common man and yet an unusual man. He must be, to use a rather weathered phrase, a man of honor, by instinct, by inevitability, without thought of it, and certainly without saying it. He must be the best man in his world and a good enough man for any world. I do not care much about his private life; he is neither a eunuch nor a satyr; I think he might seduce a duchess and I am quite sure he would not spoil a virgin; if he is a man of honor in one thing, he is that in all things. He is a relatively poor man. He is a common man or he could not go among common people. He has a sense of character, or he would not know his job. He will take no man’s money dishonestly and no man’s insolence without a due and dispassionate revenge. He is a lonely man and his pride is that you will treat him as a proud man or be very sorry you ever saw him. He talks as the man of his age talks, that is, with rude wit, a lively sense of the grotesque, a disgust for sham, and a contempt for pettiness.

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