Re: Creativity: TW vs fiction writing skills

Subject: Re: Creativity: TW vs fiction writing skills
From: Sella Rush <SellaR -at- APPTECHSYS -dot- COM>
Date: Sun, 30 Mar 1997 15:42:22 -0800

Jane Bergen responds to Chris Hargens questions about the difficulties
of writing fiction after a full day of TW:
>
>If I may jump in here... if someone is really a fiction writer, he or
she is seldom too tired to write. It's like being too tired to breathe.

After some thought, I guess I agree with what Jane is saying. But I'd
like to first comment on the phrase "really a fiction writer" and then
discuss on a more practical level the difficulties of writing as both
work and play (note: if your sole reason for writing fiction is
remuneration, rethink your motives!).

The True Writer

In the long run, a "true" fiction writer will produce fiction. How do
we define a "true" writer? By pointing to people who actually expend
time and energy writing (as opposed to people who--perfectly
legitimately--think about doing it, think about an idea that would make
a good story, but never follow through). In the abstract, "writers must
write" holds true--mainly because it's a case of defining a word using a
form of the word itself! There's nothing special about being a
writer--everyone gets tired of doing even the thing they love
best--temporarily. Essentially, if you care about writing fiction,
you'll find a way to do it. If you don't find a way, you probably don't
want it that bad--don't beat yourself up about it.

Practicalities

OK--that's the long run. In the short run, writing for eight or more
hours a day does make it more difficult to write fiction in your spare
time. And there are lots of reasons why, not all of them related to
playing with words and ideas. I get tired of sitting. My eyes get
tired of looking at a computer screen. And yes, I also get tired of the
actual writing process--stringing words together. Day to day, sometimes
I can get over the lassitude, sometimes I can't. In the long run,
however, I do produce fiction.

It helps me is to think about the type of writing I'm doing and what I'm
trying to accomplish. To give myself breaks by varying the type of
writing I'm doing. For example:

* When I've spent an entire day fine-tuning a 2-page brochure,
analyzing every word and trying to maximize its impact, it's a relief to
go home and just let words flow, getting them down and not worrying
whether the prose is perfect. (In fact, for me this activity is
therapeutic--I tend to get depressed after spending *too* much time on
minutiae.)

* When I've been working on technical instructions or descriptions,
where my primary concern is conveying information as succinctly and
clearly as possible, it's fun to take my fiction and play with words,
try for a little unconventionality, write a scene that is 100% pure
"showing" (rather than "telling") and load it up with subtle hints and
clues for alert readers.

* After a day of organizational work or first draft writing, that's the
day to pull out a previous chapter and do a punching-up type of edit.

Tech Writing Effects on Fiction Writing

Chris also wonders if the act of producing good technical writing has an
adverse affect on fiction writing. Jane comments that learning TW
techniques have actually improved her writing overall. This was true
for me, too, but I think it has a lot to do with the kind of writer you
are--what types of skills you have. Does your writing come out of what
"sounds good" (instinct) or out of your knowledge about language and
effective communication? If you write by instinct, you've got a lot
further to go than those who have objectively studied language
effectiveness.

I don't find tech writing inhibiting to my fiction writing because to me
they're both the same thing--using language to accomplish my goals. A
few years ago I thought I was pretty hot stuff (as a writer) and decided
I might as well get paid for my talent, so I enrolled in a tech writing
course. The first quarter included a grammar class. I went into that
class thinking I knew it all, and came out amazed--for the first time I
knew why something wasn't working, and could fix it without having to
play with it untill I accidently hit on the right combination! Today I
know ten times as much as when I took that class. It all goes into the
same data bank--what works, what doesn't, and why--and contributes to
the quality of my writing--fiction or not.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
Sella Rush
Applied Technical Systems, Inc. (ATS)
Bremerton, Washington USA
Developers of the CCM Database

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