Saturday, July 28, 2012

Rule #10: WINNING

A writer offering rules on writing is always a fun exercise to - if nothing else - argue about the rules of writing. Colson Whitehead provided his own the other day in the NY Times that you should definitely read if you write or have any interest in writing.

All of the rules resonate, but for me, #1 and #10 do the most:

Rule No. 1: Show and Tell. Most people say, “Show, don’t tell,” but I stand by Show and Tell, because when writers put their work out into the world, they’re like kids bringing their broken unicorns and chewed-up teddy bears into class in the sad hope that someone else will love them as much as they do. “And what do you have for us today, Marcy?” “A penetrating psychological study of a young med student who receives disturbing news from a former lover.” “How marvelous! Timmy, what are you holding there?” “It’s a Calvinoesque romp through an unnamed metropolis much like New York, narrated by an armadillo.” “Such imagination!” Show and Tell, followed by a good nap.       
Show, Don't Tell is extremely pervasive in fiction workshops, and can be stifling, depending on the type of story you are wanting to - key word - tell. What Whitehead says makes a lot of sense to me. Showing gets you a lot of places. Telling it is what you went there for.

Rule No. 10: Revise, revise, revise. I cannot stress this enough. Revision is when you do what you should have done the first time, but didn’t. It’s like washing the dishes two days later instead of right after you finish eating. Get that draft counter going. Remove a comma and then print out another copy — that’s another draft right there. Do this enough times and you can really get those numbers up, which will come in handy if someone challenges you to a draft-off. When the ref blows the whistle and your opponent goes, “26 drafts!,” you’ll bust out with “216!” and send ’em to the mat.        
Now, whenever friends ask me how the work in progress is going, I no longer need to hang my head and mumble, "I'm revising." Now, I can hold my head high, and answer with gusto:"I'm WINNING."

What do you think of Whitehead's rules?