"Write the truest sentence that you know." - Ernest Hemingway
You fell for them long ago. Words. With time, the relationship has only gotten better. You discovered ideas and entire worlds, great minds and experiences, triumph and tragedy and above all wisdom, in books. You perceive words as ideas clothed in ink and paper. Words give you a high. A beautifully composed sentence or verse is all it takes to make your day. There have been times so moving and overwhelming, that the ideas brewing within your mind, only let you rest in peace, when you have put them on paper. If this is your story, you perhaps have it in you, what it takes to be a wordsmith, a writer.
No art can be taught, what's inborn can only be encouraged at best. The way Hemingway puts it, learning to write the truest sentence, demands that you truly experience life, in all its manifestations. The end result is not the thing to focus upon, it's the internal process that happens within you. Herein, I share some acquired insight from my own modest writing experience, which might help you improve the process. For me, writing is all about capturing the quintessence of truth, as I see it deep within. Here is something from a fellow wordsmith to the other.
Writing anything of value is a chaotic process, which varies with every great writer you come across. There is a method to every artistic madness though. One common thing is the hard work they put in behind every line that's put on paper. For some, the piece of writing just keeps simmering inside for years, taking shape, unknowingly, till it finds expression one day, triggered by a life experience or a powerful thought. One day, the idea, the story, the concept, seizes them by the scruff of their necks and demands to be put down right away. Then they just sit on their typewriter or any other tool of trade like a PC these days and let the words just flow, uncorked and free onto paper, finishing the thing in a few weeks or months.
Some plow slowly, one line at a time, one day at a time, working on every word, taking years to complete a piece of work to their satisfaction. There is no substitute to hard work and know that many hours, weeks and months of work goes into writing that one perfect sentence. As you write and keep writing, you will develop your unique process too. Here are some tips on making the process more interesting, garnered from master writers and storytellers.
Find Your Core Idea
Be it writing a novel, an essay, a thesis or a letter, the place we all stumble is in the beginning. Here what helps you is being clear about the crux of what you want to convey. What is the central thought or story that you wish to convey through your essay or story? What is the central pivot, the core principle, the real issue that you are presenting here? If you know where you are going, knowing where to begin is easier to decide. It is not necessary that you see the central idea in the most clear form right now.
A rough idea about the general direction you are heading is enough for now. What we are looking for now, is substance and not form. For the form to hold and take shape, it must have substance, a solid foundation to build upon. This idea germ, from which your work will emerge in the future, is the one thing, that you need to work upon at this first, but crucial stage. Find your core idea. Choose one which is close to your heart. When you feel passionately about it, writing is a labor of love.
Once the idea that you intend to develop into a novel or the story you want to tell has struck you, the next part is research. Be it fiction or non-fiction, your work needs to be backed by solid research. While getting the facts right is absolutely essential in any work of non-fiction, even in fiction, getting all the little details right adds credibility to your narrative. Through the lens of your writing, the reader is going to piece together a world.
It's your job to add as many details as possible to render each passing frame, to the best of your ability. In works of non-fiction, research helps you gain a balanced perspective and provides credibility to your own thought extrapolations that make the coherent structure of the book. For many writers, especially dabbling in fiction and writing scripts or plays in particular, writing starts right away, in a spontaneous burst of creative flow. There is no one perfect process that works. However, research is an essential step in the writing process.
Fleshing Out an Outline
With the idea clear, thorough research notes at hand, you may begin to create a rough outline of how your book, essay, script or any other work will develop. Mapping such a development curve for your work will provide coherence and help plan your writing at each stage. As I keep repeating, writing styles differ and some writers may just prefer to write in fits and bursts, letting the story develop with time, without pre-determining its form. All depends on the nature of work and your own approach to writing. Still, for some who prefer a systematic approach, an outline does help.
Now Begins the Grind
With your core idea defined, a road map in the form of an outline ready, the real work begins. Now you develop your story, line by line, page by page, chapter by chapter. Like a devout pilgrim, the writer must stay committed to the process and make little progress every day in his literary journey. The creative output will ebb and flow. Sometimes, you may finish dozens of pages in a day, some day, even writing a single page might seem a tough job. The creative process works in mysterious ways and there is no telling when it will appear in full force or when it may completely elude you.
Your job is to show up for work and do the best you can. Without persistence and belief, nothing worthwhile can be achieved. Writing, reading what you have written back again, improving on it, writing it again, till you think, the lines say exactly what you want, may seem like a never ending process. However, the first draft is rarely great and almost always needs reworking. First you get in the raw details, then you polish and sculpt the writing, till you think you could not do any better.
As you write, a flow will naturally develop. If it's a novel, short story, play or script, it will be truer when you see it happening in your mind's eye, as clearly as possible. My rule is if you can feel it from within, you can write it best. When you can feel the agony, ecstasy and every emotion of your characters, putting it in words is a spontaneous act. Not a forced one. The best writing is done when words flow effortlessly, from the depth of heart. Be honest and sincere in your expression. Nothing else matters.
Reading, Self-Editing, Rewriting
The process of writing may stretch for long and if you hang in there, adhering to the process dutifully, you will eventually have a finished work in your hands. Every book takes a lot out of you and I make no qualms about the fact that creating an original piece of work is the toughest thing to do. Once your first draft is finished and you have tied all the loose ends together, take a bit of a breather.
Go on a holiday or something. With a fresh mind, when you come back, let the self-editing process begin. Proofread every page well. Read as impartially as possible and note down shortcomings that you find. Think about the flow and substance of the draft as a whole. Make additions and trim superfluous prose. If you enjoy reading it, I'm sure, a reader would. There are a million more things to look into, which you will realize, as you keep progressing further.
Handing it Over to an Editor
You would think, at this point, the job is done. Far from it, once you are satisfied with the draft, the actual editing process starts when you hand it over to a close confidante for an honest opinion. Just like all children are dear to a mother, to you, every piece of your writing is going to be the best. You need an outsider's opinion to provide an impartial judgment. Hand the draft over to people with significantly different backgrounds compared to yours. Gauge their opinion. Listen to their honest opinions and judgments. Make changes and corrections if necessary.
Then you must scout for a good publishing house, with editors who are thorough professionals. Be ready for criticism, as it may be dished out quite generously. If a professional editor finds your draft worthy of being a published book, he will make suggestions about improvements. Your job only ends when you see the first published copy of your book in hand.
It rarely happens that the first editor you approach may think your book worthy of publication. You may have to knock the doors of many publications, before you are entertained. Here again, persistence is the key. Believe in your work and if it has substance, it will find takers for sure. There will be a lot more work, before your work will see the light of the day. The process never ends really, for there is nothing that cannot be done better.
Experiment with as many styles and forms of writing as you can. You never know where you may find your true calling. Some focus on short stories, some on writing scripts and some prefer the lengthy prose style of a novella or novel. The greatest writers have tried their hand at a range of these mediums. What sets any great piece apart is substance. Every last detail matters from the choice of words to the overall flow of the work. I've studied the writing process of great writers and found one thing in common.
They were never satisfied with their work and there was always a yearning to do better, to excel. For every great sentence written, there were hundreds of lines that were rejected. Persistence and sincerity, combined with a passion for the core idea, with an insistence on high standards of excellence will propel you to be a better writer. It is a life long process. Have faith, keep producing and put in your best. That's all one can do.