Learning How to Write: Cut out the Middle Man



As someone who spends a lot of time reading others writing and telling them how to fix it, I’m going to write a brief but rather antithetical blog. While having someone help you with your writing after you’ve written is important, having someone teach you to write is a slippery slope and finding the right person is a challenge.

Let’s compare being a ‘new’ or at least unseasoned writer to being a new parent. When I was pregnant with my son I bought a bunch of books and many of them gave me differing ideas about how to parent – what to do when the baby is sick, how much to hold him, cry it out vs. picking him up, pacifer or no… I was reading so much because I wasn’t sure of myself that I started suffering a lot of anxiety over something I didn’t really have to yet. The best advice I got was to throw all the book except maybe one practical one. It helped with medical things and gave obvious advice on how to soothe. I finally did that. how_not_to_kill_your_baby

I remember sitting in a parking lot of a drugstore at 2am when my son was about 4 months old, crying because I couldn’t get a proper temperature reading from the baby thermometer and I was desperate to know what to do with him. I went and bought all the different thermometers they had. After panicking and spending a crap load of money, it turns out he didn’t have a fever.

In my humble opinion, writing is partially an inherent gift and part learned. Some people obviously just have it, others need to learn it and some can and others just never will. There are women and men who are just born to be parents, others who want to be parents but struggle with it and people who just should never be parents, period.

The best thing for writers to do in order to learn writing and become better writers is to read scripts and books and write. Reading screenwriting books is down on the list. Though cheaper than a course, if given the chance I’d take the course; I’d make sure the instructor was a published or produced writer and I’d listen to their tales. This is where writing is learned. You can learn format and structure in a book, fine, more so from a script, but the help in creating passion and dialogue and story needs to be in a physical form. This is why writers groups and mentors are so important.

screenwriting+shystersTwitter is a bastion of people telling you how to write. I spout out little bits of insight from my experiences relating to the scripts I read and critique but I am not a creative writer. The only people who should be teaching, actually teaching you the ins and outs of writing is someone who is one themselves. Consultants such as myself can give help after the fact; we are fixers but not teachers. I would never go in and change a writer’s words. You must be your own writer and you become that person by emulating someone you respect, by reading the work of someone whose work excites you and then by sticking yourself and your skills and talent in the mix.

There are a lot of bad writers who get produced and a lot of good writers who don’t. Find your person and then become a portion of them and a portion of you. You are what counts in your actual creative writing, no one else. Your experiences, your thoughts, your speaking on the page. You. second-quote

Throw most of the books away, limit your connection to multiple Twitter accounts who teach you how to write because as with the baby books, they all have their own way and some of it is going to work and some of it won’t. Anecdotes are the best kind of help at times, not teaching and that’s why having someone in front of you telling you their stories about their writing is helpful. You need basics and then you need some help, like a new parent and then you need to jump in and get up at 2am on your own and feed that baby. Don’t take anyone else 100% at their word. If it works for you, fine, but don’t doubt what you know is working.

Pile-of-scriptsAbove all else. love what you’re doing. Read and write, over and over. You will learn how to write action scenes by reading action scripts, not by reading a book about writing action scenes. Cut out the middle man as often as possible. But always, whether you pay for it or not, have someone read your script and give you notes. This is different. It’s not teaching, it’s helping you hone what’s already there. I actually think it’s best to have someone you don’t know well read your work as they’ll be more honest with you.

When I critique writer’s work, I cannot tell them how to write; I can give them insight into how to help a story or how and why characters need work and so on but the work is up to them. You wouldn’t write about the love of a dog if you never had one. Don’t stretch too far – research, write what you know and be a part of the writing community but be careful who you make your mentor or your guru – you’re the ones that is writing, not them.


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