How to make writing second nature

It’s National Novel Writing Month in November – when writers from all around the world push to write 50,000 words in 30 days. That’s a push even for experienced authors. And it’s hard to begin with. But it gets easier – as I explained a while back:

When the writing rules fade away

One of the curious things about writing is the way ‘the rules’ fade away with experience. After a while, writers ‘just know’ how to do things. And good editors know they know.

Wright_Typewriter2That also means that an experienced editor doesn’t tick off an experienced author for what, on the face of it, seems to be a noob mistake. Chances are that the sentence beginning with a conjunction is intentional, or a dialogue tag-as-action has been deliberately added. ‘Fixing’ these things usually destroys the deliberate intent of the author (‘Mr Kerouac, I’ve fixed On The Road for you – you obviously don’t know about paragraph breaks.’)

The ‘rules’ are there for one purpose: to ensure clarity of meaning and quality of result. But they are not the sole arbiter of quality.

Of course that doesn’t mean that beginning authors can just blaze away and make all the mistakes under the sun and think they are emulating Steinbeck or Wodehouse. The reason long-standing authors occasionally write in ‘rule breaking’ is because they have made writing part of their soul – they have total control over their expression in ways that beginning writers do not.

A lot of this reflects the learning curve – and the challenge for any author is getting from ‘noob’ to ‘experienced’. Like any skill, it takes about 10,000 hours or a million words. There are four steps:

  1. Unconscious incompetence –you don’t know what you don’t know. Often, people at this stage (in any field) have an illusory sense of competence – the Dunning-Kruger effect – because they don’t have any idea how poor what they’re doing actually is. I have a funny  feeling that this is where a lot of the stuff self-pubbed on Amazon comes from.
  2. Conscious incompetence – suddenly you realise how much there is to learn. Some people get dissuaded at this point. Others forge ahead.
  3. Conscious competence – you ‘get’ what it’s about, but it takes time and conscious effort to make it all happen. Often, in writing, the result has all the right elements, but feels ‘contrived’.
  4. Unconscious competence – the field has become part of your soul. For writers, this is the end-point of a long journey. And the work, again, flows joyfully – but this time, it’s top notch.

Getting from (1) to (4) is a long road. That’s where NaNoWriMo comes in. It’s a great learning tool for authors at the beginning of that learning curve. And fun. If done right, it can also produce something that’s a good foundation for development into a full-fledged novel.

Click to buy
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If you want some more writing tips and hints, and a method for pushing your book through, check out my short quick-start manual How to get writing… fast. Available on Kindle.

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2015 and 2017


3 thoughts on “How to make writing second nature

    1. HI Dennis – great to hear from you. I hope all’s well. You’ll get there on the writing! On my experience the moment of insights into the various stages just kind of happens – suddenly stuff comes together and explodes into life, often unpredicted… but never unwelcome!

      The Kaikoura quake was a worry. It was one of NZ’s largest in a century, and the energy was pushed north, so it hit my city of Wellington very hard. I was out of town, perhaps luckily, but felt it anyway where I was (200 miles north!). There was a lot of minor damage, mercifully no deaths or injuries. The curious part has been that although no buildings collapsed, there were worrisome structural failures within some – and a good number of city buildings are being demolished as an ongoing programme on the back of it. All of them are less than 15-20 years old. The reason is just crazy. Up until recently we had an excellent quake-proofing standard, but this was changed to a more ‘market oriented’ idea which enabled cost-cutting. The result was a crop of new structures that were, indeed, unlikely to collapse in a quake – once, but they’d be unsafe after that. Whereas earlier structures were ductile enough to withstand multiple quakes, but of course they cost more to build. Ouch.

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      1. I’m doing well, thank you. It’s good to hear that there were no injuries. It would be interesting to see the cost benefit analysis of building a structure to withstand several quakes vs. having to rebuild each time. It must drive the city planners crazy.

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