Once I was rewriting a scene, listening closely to the sound and rhythm of the words in a passage, looking for ways to strengthen it, and it made me wonder: how many new writers take the proper care with their words? How many truly listen?
There are a number of ways to show that you’re a genius at writing. You might have break-neck pacing or characters who become more and more alive as the reader learns about them. Your plots might be brilliant, or your argument scenes might impress and inspire.
But guess what? If your story doesn’t stand out based upon the beauty of your words—your sensitive use of language and your tone and style—it really won’t matter.
You see, lackluster prose is perhaps the biggest bar to publication.
When I open a story for Writers of the Future, I pay attention to the author’s use of language. If, after a couple of pages, I don’t see something that convinces me that the author has got some unique talent, I’ll pass.
That’s the way that other editors handle the submission process, too. We look for authors who convince us through their use of words alone that their work will stand out. That’s why so many editors say that the first thing that they look for is a powerful and convincing voice—either the author’s narrative voice or the character’s voice.
That may not sound fair to you. You might respond, “Ah, but my story doesn’t really get going until page ten.” Too bad. As an editor, I’ve looked at “pretty good” stories long enough to know that in most cases, if the language doesn’t entertain, then in all probability the story will have lots of other problems too.
Many writers come to the craft late in life. They may have been computer programmers or healthcare workers or policemen, but they’ve always had that nagging desire to write. They’ve read great stories and may even have some wonderful talents—a gift for setting or a deep understanding of businessmen and thugs—that can help them find huge audiences. But such writers often feel that they don’t have time to learn the writing craft, explore it. They don’t have time to take poetry writing classes, for example, and they think that it’s optional.
Guess what. It isn’t optional.
A few years back, I did a study of Writers of the Future Contest winners. I found that most of them had spent years studying the craft—taking writing classes, workshopping, and studying long into the night.
It’s not just the agents and editors that will judge your storytelling skills by looking primarily at your style. You may be able to get published, but then find that you’re hobbled because critics won’t review you, booksellers may not want to buy your work in large quantities, or librarians don’t feel that your work has enough merit that they want to carry you at all. Then, of course, there are the avid readers out there, organizing book clubs and talking to friends about the works that move them most. Many of these readers are exceptionally well-read. They know good work when they see it.
There are some great writers to learn from when studying the use of language. There was a time, back in the 1800s and 1900s, when poets were rock stars. When Edgar Allen Poe gave readings in Boston, women would throw off their clothing and swoon. So people spent huge amounts of time perfecting their craft. It wasn’t until the early 1900s, when radio allowed music to be played across the country, that poetry began to fall out of use.
The truth is, you can’t make a living as a poet today. You can take your poems and turn them into song lyrics and do much better, but very few people can pay their bills by selling their poems alone. The poets that I know all rely upon grants, teaching salaries, and little secret writing gigs to get by.
I’m not going to teach you lessons on poetry. That goes far beyond the scope of this tip. But I am going to recommend that if you want to become a professional writer, take the time to learn to write with beauty, grace, power, and distinction.
John Mabry, a member of the Apex Writer’s group, is having a limited time offer on his novel: Oblivion Threshold.
Oblivion Threshold is the first book in the thrilling Oblivion Saga and right now you can get it on Amazon for free! If you love Star Trek and Starship Troopers, you simply cannot pass up this adventure. In fact, Oblivion Threshold is now the number one free science fiction book on Amazon.
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Over the past few years, I’ve organized a few fundraisers that other writers have helped out in. When my son, Ben, fell and got a traumatic brain injury, folks chipped in. When a writer friend needed to fight a plagiarist, you kicked in for legal fees. When we needed a plane-load of supplies to help people who had been hit by the tsunami in Samoa, you kicked in.
Now, we are faced with the Covid19 pandemic, and one of our writers has located a huge store of respirators and face masks in China that we would like to airlift to hard-hit Seattle, Washington and surrounding areas. The need is urgent, and I’d like to ask you to donate if you can. At least share the gofundme link if you can’t donate.