Your Perfect Writer

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“What everyone at the Christian Writers Guild had in common is that they all were, or wanted to be, writers. But what everyone has in common at the Calvin Festival is that they are all readers.”

I have to say, I love that I wasn’t the one to say this. It just happens to be from Andy Crouch in the sidebar on the left, “Omit Needless Words.”

Writers are readers. Great writers only become great writers through practice and reading. There is no alternative, no exception. It’s a harsh, unbending, unfair standard. Plain and simple. No leeway. It’s not a superiority thing. It’s a simple requirement for good writing.

The reader doesn’t want to hear cliches, assumptions, and pet opinions. And we all have plenty of them. Ray Bradbury says every writer has to get out their “million crappy words.” There’s no way to do that without writing. And there’s no way to do it without reading. Readers want the culmination of your learning in both. They want you performing at the top of your game. They want to learn and if you’re to teach them, you need to know what you’re talking about. Don’t worry about the dearth of good Christian fiction. Unless you’re reading it all—or at least a good portion—just forget it. So you don’t prefer a particular type. Don’t read it. Leave your fellow readers alone. There’s difference, and that’s a good thing. Let’s try to respect that. If we’re demanding everyone be the same, there’s something wrong.

Is there a “best” kind of fiction? Or how about this: Is there an objective standard of quality? And if a particular type of fiction is intending to be popular rather than high literary quality, do you hold it to a different standard? Maybe we should consult Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance for that: The metaphysics of quality? Or how about just Webster’s? “2 a : degree of excellence b : superiority in kind.” Not bad, but that still doesn’t give us the essential part: what’s the degree? What is superior? Ultimately, it’s an opinion. A perception. There may be an objective standard and maybe it can apply to all types of fiction across all genres. But there can also be multiple standards because there are multiple goals. Of course, that’s just my opinion.

Be sure to check out Mark’s blog about this. Thanks, Mark, for your words. Great, responsible guidance here. Pay attention, folks.

I suppose in the end what I’m getting at is balance. And where do we find the perfect balance? Only in our quest for our perfect writers. I’m not promoting perfectionism, but I like the thought of writing the summation of our work.

Will we need to follow the market or seek greater craft? Or both? Equally, or one more than the other? Again, I’ve got my opinions, but they’re not objective. I think you need to forget the market and write for a while. Just jump in. The market will continue to move.

Find your favorites. Copy them. Learn from them. Then move on and discover your superior quality. Don’t judge your counerparts and don’t assume. Just write and make it your goal, your job, your hobby. That’s it.

Isn’t that enough? At least start there.

Oh. And don’t write until you’ve read.

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9 thoughts on “Your Perfect Writer”

  1. “Omit Unnecessary Words” is a classic. There’s a sense in which the whole ‘revolution’ could be summed up, using Crouch’s framework, as a movement away from things like the Christian Writers Guild in favor of things like Festival of Faith and Writing. (I’m going to the next one — how about you? It would be cool to meet up.) My “perfect author” would have to be Graham Greene since he was the first writer I could see far enough through to imitate (though not surpass). Thanks for the link and the kind words….

  2. I’ve been thinking many of these same thoughts and today when I read your blog, it just confirms everything. Thanks for this. You are spot on.
    Suzan

  3. Does this mean great minds think alike? :) Because you and Mark’s recent posts got me thinking along similar lines — that we need to keep striving to do our best and keep improving.
    (I blogged about it yesterday, if you’re interested) But you say it so much better. :)
    Keep saying it.
    Linda

  4. Great post, Mr. Mick. I’ve been doing just what you’ve said–that’s why I haven’t posted comments lately. i’ve been spending a lot of time writing a lot of words. And you know what? My writing is improving. The story is stuck in my head. And the words are flowing. Interestingly, I’ve had to take a tiny break and I can already feel my wee brain atrophy.
    Yes, as you say, writers are readers. They have to be. Not so much to study markets, although that certainly is an aspect to it, but to learn the craft, to see new phraseology, to admire other writers’ scenes, to realize that none of us are Steinbeck.

  5. I’d like for us to strive for finding some transcendent standards for what is good, beautiful and true in art and literature because too often the “it’s just an opinion” point of view becomes an escape hatch into relativism–though I use it when someone doesn’t like my work, heh heh heh.
    I remember reading something author Linda Hall wrote once about how she reads voraciously, but tries to read authors who are better than she is, so she can learn from them. Linda ranks up there with the best CBA authors I’ve read, and her “reading up” shows in the quality of her work.
    So often those of us who’ve tried to pitch to CBA markets are told to read as much of the genre as possible so as to target our work to get in.
    Like Mark Bertrand, I’ve often found stuff unreadable, or if readable, not worth the investment in time. Yes, there are many exceptions, but like Mark I’d like to see some excellent reviewers raised up, too.
    Back in the days when CBA fiction was much worse than it is now, and it has improved immensely, reading too much of it is likely to give a writer delusions that “getting published” must be pretty easy if this kind of stuff sells.

  6. Great post, Mick. (How’s that for original!) One of the reasons I love blogging – counts toward my million crappy words.
    At last year’s conference in Denver reading more was my take away. I realized in my quest to write more, I stopped reading.
    I put reading back in as a top priority and have noticed a change in my writing. Still learning, still striving, but already seeing the difference.
    Sorta like dieting. I can see the effects of exercise and eating less, but still have a ways to go.
    I know a lot of people who want to write. “Do you read?” is my first question. Most of the time, people say, “No.”
    I’ll point them to your site from now on.
    Blessings, Rachel

  7. hey mick,
    julia cameron would say artists gorge themselves on the ideas of others (of course she says it more eloquently), and recommends times of fasting from the works of others: deprivations, she calls them. horrifying things they are. but the lessons they teach are astounding.
    we gorge on the sounds, images, ideas, thoughts, and words of others. there is also much need for silence, not writing. not reading (as i’m stuggling to learn). and sitting in utter silence of heart and mind before the Lord.
    but at all other times, read, read, read. write, write, write!
    suz

  8. I was privileged to attend the Calvin Festival with my grown son three years ago. I LOVED sitting in on sessions where the readers in the audience questioned the writer of the novel. The Calvin Festival gathers the most intelligent, perceptive readers imaginable, as far as I could tell. Their enthusiasm for the written word inspired me to be the best writer I can be–for them. They expect it and deserve it! Thanks, Mick, for another great post.

  9. YES, that’s enough, Mick! Thank you for writing this.
    Why are we trying to codify a standard of quality? So we can get there and then quit growing? My favorite writing teacher in college said, “There are no rules; there’s only what works.” Because sure as you make a rule that good writers can never do such and so, by gum, some wise pants will do it and make it work. And he will make the trends everyone’s so caught up in following.
    Much better to fall in love with a really good book, to watch the author dance, and try to hobble along behind till you’ve got your own rhythm.
    And that brings up reading: WHY is it harsh, unbending, unfair that writers have to read? You write because you love books, right?
    Right??

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