The Waltz of Writing
The more I write these blog posts, the more I find myself becoming a blogger. That is to say, I am seeing blog posts everywhere I look it seems, and with all of the English classes I take at college, there is plenty of commentary on writing to twist into posts like these.
With an opening like that, you shouldn’t be surprised that I’ll be expounding on a quote I read at school. If you are, don’t worry about it–I’m not awarding points this week anyway.
Writing with Practiced Ease
In An Essay on Criticism, Alexander Pope said that “True ease in writing comes from art, not chance, // As those move easiest who have learned to dance.”
This is definitely not an argument for the idea that great writers are born, not made. Masterpieces don’t happen by accident. Luck or providence, as you will, may play a role in catching an editor’s eye, getting that glowing review from a crucial critic, or something similar, but the production of brilliant prose is anything but the result of coincidence.
Hard work is necessary to become a great writer. You have to practice for hours on end, when you feel like it and when you don’t.
Learning Like Pro
You have to be willing to learn from anyone. Think about it for a second: if you can always get better at writing, how can the best writer in the world get better unless he or she learns from someone who isn’t as skilled?
A twelve year-old recently out-drove Tiger Woods on a golf course. Tiger Woods is indisputably the best golfer currently playing the game, but don’t you think he probably took away a lesson from this? I can’t claim to know what Tiger is thinking, but I imagine he might have reminded himself to relax a little more, or to be smoother in his backswing.
In writing, be open to learning, even from writers who might not know as much as you do. Even the best have blind spots and weaknesses, and sometimes a simple comment from outside can help us see.
Think. See. Do.
You don’t just learn in one way. A dance instructor is going to tell you what to do, where to put your foot, how to remain balanced as you spin. This corresponds to the books, articles, and classes out there that teach the art of writing.
But the instructor will also demonstrate these moves for you. You have to observe as the master shows the student how excellence is achieved. This is the part where you read the writing of others. Focus on writers in your genre or field, but do some sampling as well. Read something very different from what you typically do. You might find that watching a Tango can help you with your Samba.
Finally, you have to get out on the floor and go for it yourself. You have to feel the floor under your feet, the weight of your body as you move. Sure, you’ll make mistakes, but actually feeling those mistakes will give you a more intimate understanding of them and help you to avoid them in the future.
The fabled muse is supposed to make writing easy. When the muse is hanging around, that works great. If you find, as I do, that your muse is a little fickle and prone to hide when most needed, you may want to try the ease that Pope writes about by learning to dance.
Ben Whiting is a full-time English student at the University of Texas at Arlington and co-general editor of the award-winning collegiate publication Marine Creek Reflections. He recently completed the rough draft of his suspense novel, Penumbra.