Mark Terry

Monday, November 10, 2008

Earning Your R

November 10, 2008
In my oldest son's band, there's a joke that goes around concerning the drummers (the prima donnas of the band). Partly this comes from the fact that one of the band directors is a drummer.

He tells them they have to earn their R. 

In other words, in case you haven't figured it out, they're "dummers" until they earn their R and become "drummers." Their Rs can apparently be taken away until they re-earn them.

I'm going to stretch and belabor the analogy a bit to apply to writers, so bare (bear?) with me.

Writing does not necessary make you a writer.

I know, I know, I've actually come into conflict with that from time to time myself, saying "writers write."

What I'm getting at here is that writing your thoughts down (and in many cases pushing PUBLISH on Blogger) does not necessarily make you a writer, at least not in the sense that you've got the skills to become a professional writer. To go from write to writer, I would argue, you have to earn your R.

You have to become aware of your audience and their needs.

You have to pay attention to your word choice and be aware that "sees" and "observes" and "studies" and "focuses on" all mean different things to the reader.

You have to learn that "she got the mail" isn't as effective as "she retrieved the mail" or "she plucked the mail from the box."

You have to learn that "the sun rose like a big red ball" isn't so great, but "the sun rose like a newborn baby's head" under specific circumstances, can be a lot better. And you need to figure out what those circumstances are, because sometimes the best thing to write is "the sun rose" or "the sun came up."

You need to learn that: "Get down!" he shouted excitedly, is not as good as "Get down!" he shouted, or even "Get down!"

You need to learn when to use commas, not because the Grammar Gods tell you to, but because commas affect the rhythm of your writing, which affects how your readers perceive your writing: "She ran around the corner, hit the door, dived through, gunfire exploding overhead" has more urgency than "She ran around the corner to the door and dived through as gunfire exploded overhead." If you don't perceive it as having more urgency, you need to at least perceive it as being different and having a different effect.

There are many, many more things, but those are important ones. So, go earn your R.

Mark Terry


Blogger spyscribbler said...

I think every word, sentence, and story decision must be a choice made with a reason. And one should always be aware of the effect one is having on the reader.

7:18 AM  
Blogger Erica Orloff said...

You know, Mark . . . this really put a lot of things into focus for me. Reason being, I spend a lot of time being a cheerleader for other writers, wanting to see everyone succeed and validate everyone. By the same token, there IS a difference when you earn your R. Continuing to earn your R is an ongoing thing, too.

8:55 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

Yes. A more succinct way of putting it might be to say: there's a difference between writing and typing.

And I agree: there's no THERE there.

10:06 AM  
Anonymous Eric Mayer said...

All very true. Writing and professional writing are quite different and just because you do the former doesn't mean you can manage the latter. You might be a fantastic cook at home, for family gatherings, but that doesn't mean you could work as a restaurant chef. Doing anything at a professional level requires a much more advanced skill set than doing it on an amateur basis. But some of the differences can be subtle and people don't necessarily see them. Writers will write for years for friends, or the drawer (is that now the hard drive?) and never improve because they are simply making the same mistakes over and over again.

10:29 AM  
Blogger Jude Hardin said...

I prefer she got the mail and the sun rose like a big red ball and she ran around the corner to the door and dived through as gunfire exploded overhead.

We want to avoid being too writerly, I think. We want to avoid language and punctuation calling attention to itself. We want to avoid performing for the camera, so to speak. Sometimes less is more.

4:52 PM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

I don't know, Jude. I often feel that "got" should be eliminated from the English language.

5:58 PM  
Blogger Zoe Winters said...

I think writing DOES make you a writer. Just like telling stories makes you a storyteller, painting makes you a painter, and singing makes you a singer.

Not everybody who does something does it with the goal of becoming a professional at it.

One would think that the highest expression of any art or skill would be to become a professional at it. But if that were true, why isn't whoring a respectable business? Don't we all like sex?

I think focusing on "professional writers" as the only "real writers" causes some writers, in the quest for validation, to go down a path not right for them. Just so someone else will accept them as a writer.

I think if we focused less on every "real writer" having to be a "professional writer" there would be far less manuscripts in everybody's slush piles.

And that's good for the professional writers.

6:12 AM  
Blogger Richmond Writer said...

Oh Zoe I love that bit about sex!

Until I read that I was feeling ashamed for blogging since I don't do these professional essays like you guys do. I just blog for me and the numbers reflect my cousin, aunt, and mother who stop by to enjoy the photos and learn that I haven't given up yet.

10:11 AM  
Blogger Zoe Winters said...

Thanks Richmond Writer!

11:03 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

I suspect agents and editors wish that everyone with a computer who completed a manuscript didn't think they were publishable as well.

I'm not denigrating bloggers, you know. I'm just saying that there's a difference between typing up your thoughts and publishing them on a blog and writing professionally. But a lot of people don't realize there's a difference.

11:38 AM  
Blogger Zoe Winters said...

Oh absolutely agreed! :D

but you know some things just get me off on mini-rants, hehe.

7:52 PM  
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