Daily Archives: July 19, 2009

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What to write VS How to write

July 19, 2009 by in category Archives tagged as ,

Monica Stoner, Member at Large

Years ago I had the great good fortune to attend a weekend workshop with Paul Gillette. In the process of having our work analyzed, he brought up the concept: “I can teach you HOW to write but I can’t teach you WHAT to write.” It sounded quite wise, and as he was saying this in praise of something I had submitted I tucked the concept away to consider later.

Come forward through years of writing and not writing, into a time when of new experiences. I’ve had the great good fortune of judging contests. I am amazed at the quality of work entered. Even though not everything is ready to submit, it’s clear these people have put a lot of thought into their work, and have the principles of formatting, sentence structure and basic usage down pat.

Every now and then, though, I review an entry lacking in all those basic writing skills but so rich in story I’m stunned. Just as rarely I read something perfectly crafted, showing great skill in word choice yet totally lacking in imagination. Finally, I understand what Paul Gillette was telling us. Anyone can learn to write with an acceptable level of skill but not everyone can come up with a story that grabs at the reader and demands we drop everything else to finish the book.

Who would have the easier task for improvement – the person with the excellent skills but ordinary story, or the person with the great story but little idea how to organize her thoughts into words? I’m not really sure, both have a hard road ahead of them. A lot will depend on how badly they want to write, and how much it means to them to finish the book. Then the next book.

Happy writing

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