November 23, 2009
What is all this weekend wanderings about listening to your prose and let it take you where it will. Aren’t you in the driver’s seat?
Yes and no.
I do believe that a work will take on a life of its own and that the characters you create, whether they be a hard-boiled detective with emotional baggage or code that is begging to be refactored using a sequence of well established design patterns, will steer you one way or another.
But in the end, it is you that is on every page. People will know things about you that you never knew you were revealing.
Dave Thomas recently did a podcast on software archaeology in which he talks about getting into the heads of the people writing a code base so that when he gets stuck he can figure out what they meant to say because he has a feel for who they are and how they work. In fact, he gets stuck less often because he has this sense of the team.
People will do this with your work as well. They will, consciously or not, get to know you. They will then be able to make conclusions based on what they know about you. It allows you to put less and less on the page. It helps you and the reader make the transition from author and novice to peers.
But the only way to do this is to make sure you put yourself on every page of the book. In "Zen in the Art of Writing", Ray Bradbury reminds you that "if you are writing without zest, without gusto, without love, without fun, you are only half a writer." He cautions you against trying to out guess what people want to buy and write with excitement.
Tape this advice from Bradbury somewhere over your desk: "How long has it been since you wrote a story where your real love or real hatred somehow got onto the paper? When was the last time you dared release a cherished prejudice so it slammed the page like a lightening bolt?"
It all comes back to you and your passion.
This post originally appeared in the Pragmatic Life blog.