How To Cultivate Greatness In Your Writing

How To Cultivate Greatness In Your Writing

There's a​ television commercial,​ I believe it's for E-trade,​ that talks about how nobody wants to​ be an​ ordinary...fill in​ the​ blank. Supposedly we​ aspire to​ be better. Nobody wants to​ be an​ ordinary athlete,​ nobody wants to​ be an​ ordinary investor. a​ photo of​ Hemingway flashes across the​ screen and it​ says "nobody wants to​ be an​ ordinary writer". That made me pause. I wasn't so sure about that.

You see,​ I am struck by how often I hear from writers who want to​ know if​ their current project is​ worth the​ effort. Basically they want to​ know if​ they can sell it. There's no passion behind their idea. No writing for the​ love of​ writing. They're willing to​ abandon an​ idea based on​ my say so or​ someone else's. Somehow I don't think John Steinbeck,​ when he was writing East of​ Eden went around asking anyone if​ it​ was worth the​ effort. in​ fact,​ I am inspired by what a​ reviewer said of​ that novel when it​ was published. "A novel planned on​ the​ grandest possible scale...One of​ those occasions when a​ writer has aimed high and then summoned every ounce of​ energy,​ talent,​ seriousness,​ and passion of​ which he was capable..."

I keep that quote in​ front of​ me as​ I write my next novel. I hope I'm aiming high. I'd rather aim high and miss than aim low and be ordinary. I'd like to​ challenge you to​ aim for greatness in​ your next project. if​ you're not sure how to​ do so,​ here are a​ few tips that may help.

Seek Out Good Teachers

Shooting for greatness can be a​ lot harder when you don't have the​ guidance and support of​ a​ strong teacher or​ writing coach. a​ good teacher will see you as​ a​ person as​ well as​ a​ writer which helps them to​ know what you are truly capable of. a​ good teacher will know when to​ push you and when to​ hold back. Many years ago I had a​ teacher who discouraged me from starting a​ novel. I was new to​ understanding my powers as​ a​ writer and he feared that I wouldn't be able to​ finish what I started and give up writing altogether. He was right. I probably wouldn't have finished back then. I was too immature.

I picked that teacher because after hearing him speak I instinctively knew he had the​ pieces I was looking for then to​ establish myself as​ a​ writer. Likewise it​ may help you to​ assess where your writing stands and what you need to​ learn to​ get your work to​ the​ next level. Don't be afraid to​ interview an​ instructor before you take a​ class to​ see if​ you can get what you're looking for.

Complete One Project
You may have a​ zillion ideas in​ your head right now. Choose one and complete it. Why? Because you will learn so much from sticking with one project and bringing it​ to​ fruition,​ even if​ it​ doesn't get published. You'll learn how to​ work with ideas,​ you'll learn what to​ do when you get stuck,​ you'll learn more about your own writing habits and your strengths and weaknesses. Have you ever gone to​ a​ museum and seen the​ drawings that an​ artist makes as​ "studies" in​ preparation for a​ larger painting? This is​ kind of​ the​ same idea. Once you get to​ your larger canvas,​ you'll be better prepared to​ write your masterpiece!

Set Big Goals for Your Next Project

Okay,​ next you have to​ think BIG. What kind of​ book would be challenging and exciting for you to​ write? a​ massive 4-volume biography of​ a​ historical figure? a​ 500-page Civil War epic that spans 3 generations? (And don't say the​ Civil War has been done before! Check out E.L. Doctorow's the​ March and see how new creativity can enliven an​ old idea.) How about a​ romance novel good enough to​ win a​ National Book Award? Whatever your shot at​ greatness will be,​ the​ only requirement is​ that it's something that you will absolutely love writing. Otherwise you won't want to​ keep going when the​ going gets tough.

Remember to​ bring originality to​ your ideas. I recently read a​ piece that was adequately written,​ but every single sentence and expression had already been said in​ songs and other works. That's not always a​ bad thing,​ but this author had done nothing to​ make the​ work her own. This is​ the​ kind of​ thing that can cause a​ manuscript to​ be rejected and the​ writer would be totally baffled because she thought she had written well. it​ takes more than a​ pretty sentence for a​ work to​ be great.

Read Other Great Work

You will hear this a​ LOT from me as​ well as​ many editors and literary agents: if​ you're going to​ be a​ great writer,​ you must read. Always read great writing so you will be reminded of​ what's possible with the​ language. Good writing can become almost like a​ tune in​ your head and you're programming yourself to​ play that tune when you get in​ front of​ your computer screen. Now that doesn't mean you've got someone else's voice in​ your head and you're writing in​ a​ Stephen King or​ E.L. Doctorow persona! it​ does mean that you can read your work back to​ yourself and recognize when you've hit a​ wrong note. in​ reading you'll also learn how authors work with big picture ideas and themes--the kind of​ stuff that adds layers of​ depth and interest to​ a​ book.

Disconnect from Thoughts of​ Money

I know making money is​ important,​ but it​ can also be a​ huge distraction. For now,​ unplug from that impulse that makes you want to​ think about how much you can sell this project for or​ whether you can sell the​ movie rights to​ it. There will be time enough for all that when you have finished your great work. of​ course,​ sometimes thinking about the​ finish line can be what motivates you. Maybe having a​ copy of​ a​ big fat royalty check on​ your bulletin board keeps you going. That's okay. But if​ you find yourself trying to​ sell the​ book before you've made any headway into the​ project,​ beware. What if​ you did sell it​ at​ that point? Then you'd be caught up in​ meeting a​ deadline and meeting expectations. Those aren't exactly ideal conditions under which to​ deliver a​ pacesetting work.

One last note: Even if​ your book project is​ not meant for the​ general public--maybe you're writing a​ book for your children,​ for instance--that doesn't mean that you shouldn't have similarly high standards. After all,​ whatever you create is​ going to​ go out there with your name on​ it. That fact alone can inspire you to​ make your book the​ best that it​ can be.

© 2006 Sophfronia Scott

See Sophfronia's the​ Book Sistah Blog,​ category "Articles".

How To Cultivate Greatness In Your Writing

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