“Let yourself fail. The idea that you have to be perfect on the first go is ridiculous. You never ask a musician to play a concerto the first time out — they have to rehearse and rehearse. It’s the same with writers. You have hit a lot of bad notes before you hit the good ones.”
Bravo, David! There’s nothing like hearing a fellow writer talk about the nuts and bolts of the craft game to make you realize that we’re all using pretty much the same set of tools. David is an accomplished novelist who writes on weekends while holding a demanding full-time position as a major editor at Scholastic Books. He must be eating energy pills! However he does it, his strategy is working. Teens adore his YA books, he’s in demand as a speaker, and he loves editing at least as much as he loves writing, if not more. Altogether, David seems like a happy, non-angsty author — always a pleasure to see!
Thinking about the comparison David made between being a writer and a musician seems like a fruitful exercise. What’s our equivalent of the rehearsing a musician does? For us, I think that “rehearsing” takes several forms:
Reading: We need to read and analyze writing that we think works and writing that doesn’t seem to work. As we read steadily and analytically, we begin to deepen our sense of what a good story is — and how plot, pacing, and character development unfold.
Writing: The more we write, the better we’re likely to become. It’s that simple. To be a runner, you have to run. To be a dancer, you have to dance. To be a writer, you have to write. But somehow we often spend more time getting ready to write than actually doing it. Believe me, I know all about this!
Revising: the whole world of rewriting is really pretty new to me. As a nonfiction writer, I was highly organized and seemed to perk along from chapter to chapter without a lot of backtracking. Writing my YA novel is proving to be another kettle of fish altogether. And actually, I’ve come to really enjoy revising. As one seasoned editor said in a Webinar I heard recently, the revision process gives you a chance to go deeper into your story and to get to know your characters more fully. I love this upbeat view of revising and I’m starting to really embrace it and have fun with the process.
Playing around: One way to stay in writing mode might be to borrow a leaf from David’s book and mix things up. He writes short stories, verse, YA novels, adult fiction, and has even teamed up with other writers he admires to co-write several books. It strikes me that ‘rehearsing” in this way — by dipping in and out of different kinds of writing — can open up the door to new ways of thinking and pushing the boundaries of style and approach. Write on!