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Blue Square


Life lessons

on the craft 

Choosing Equipment

Wider skis float on deep powder. Twin-tips allow backwards skiing and more response. Racing skis remain stiff at high speeds. Each different ski has a different design for a different purpose. Some All-Mountain skis try to give a little bit of everything, but just end up being all-round deficient. The expert skier knows which ski to choose for which purpose.

Writing is no different. But now that you’ve moved beyond Green Circles, it’s time to choose a pair of skis. In other words, it’s time to ask yourself, “What is my purpose in writing?”

Motivations for writing can differ far more than types of skis. But no matter what the goal, every writer needs to use the right equipment.

Some writers want to pen their memoirs. Some want to create a new style, push the envelope, and be avant gard. Some write about a traumatic experience for therapeutic reasons or information sharing. Some want to win the Pulitzer. Some want to be a Grisham-style, best-selling, prolific author. Others may just want to publish a collection of short stories or poems. I could go on, but you get the point.

Once you’ve determined your goal, find other people with that same goal. This is difficult, sometimes impossible. Finding a community of writers with different goals is definitely better than having no community at all. But beware. Not all writing communities are for you. If your goal is to write fantasy novels, workshopping with poets might not be a good idea.

Here’s a fictional scenario: Literary Writer and Thriller Writer are in a workshop. They are friends, and so they read each other’s work and provide thorough and honest critiques. Thriller has written the first chapter to his murder mystery. Literary has written a short story about the internal conflict of a young girl. To Thriller, Literary’s story is going to be boring. Thriller will be looking for suspense and intrigue, action and tension. It is not a bad story, but it’s just not what Thriller likes and it’s not what he knows. Thriller will make comments about how the conflict does not develop into a climax and this-and-that part seem slow. On the other side of the same coin, Literary will be looking for beautiful language and a personal connection to the characters. Literary is going to read Thriller’s story and say that the intrigue comes at the cost of character development, and that the writing is too dialogue-driven.

Both writers have, in good faith, tried to help each other. So, what’s the problem?

Answer: The differing writing goals.

If both writers use all the critiques, they’ll be trying to overcome obstacles that aren’t really in their way. Literary will start overdoing conflict (or worse, create inauthentic conflict) and destroy his story. Thriller will include personal details and emotions, and his fast pace slows to a crawl. What started out as help has now become a hindrance.

I’m not saying one genre is better than another, but I am saying that the same approach to different goals will not be beneficial. It’s like skiing icy moguls with powder skis. Sure, you can do it, but it’s much harder than it needs to be.

The same concept is true in publishing. Many people claim you have to listen to “the market” and write what you know will sell. This is true for Thriller, who’s looking to create a page-turner. “What’s Hot” can help guide him. He needs to shape his story so it’s appealing to agents and the general reading public. However, Literary is likely seeking publication in a magazine like The Paris Review. His writing needs to stand out to an over-worked and under-paid magazine editor with a pile of manuscripts on his desk. Different goals require different approaches. No writer should try to please everyone.

Misunderstanding or not acknowledging goals often times ignites a conflict (usually silent – thought but never said – for the sake of propriety). Thriller will think Literary is stubborn for not fitting the market, and Literary will think Thriller is a sell-out for sacrificing originality for sales. Neither is right. Yet, neither is wrong. It’s a matter of different goals.

It is important to know the snow conditions and which pair of skis you have on your feet. Ask yourself what your writing is trying to accomplish. Then go accomplish it. It’s important to listen to all your feedback, but follow everything you hear. The important part is keeping your eye on the goal.

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