Saturday, September 5, 2009

The Many Styles of Writers

No, I'm not talking about their many genres and voices. I'm talking about the many styles of the writers themselves - the wonderfully varied ways that writers learn their craft and complete their manuscripts. If a young writer studies or mentors under only one or a small number of seasoned writers, she might assume that all writers should approach their craft in the same way. Yet, the more I read about great writers, the more variety I see in the way they approach their craft.

Today, I attended seminars by some very successful authors at the Decatur Book Festival - billed as America's largest independent book festival - and was struck by their differences. One spoke of the necessity of great research for his novels. Another said that, in his opinion, it was all about the story rather than the research - that an author, with his slight of hand or wizardry, uses his words to make people believe the story is true. If a person objected that he gave an Atlanta street the wrong name in his novel, he'd reply, "what do I care? It's fiction!"

I've heard some authors say, "Become a writer only if it's the only thing you can do." One author said that this was the case for her. Everything else she failed in. Yet, she had this great urge to write. Conversely, one successful author on a panel was a lawyer by trade. Another was a physician who taught in medical school. Obviously, they had talents besides writing.

Some authors are solitary folk; others love real-life relationships. Some authors write religiously from 6:00 AM till evening with few breaks. Others write at night, like Tolkien, after the kids are in bed. Some writers studied writing in under grad and Masters programs; others never studied writing, but simply one day thought, "I could write a better book than this crappy novel." They basically learned as they went, took criticism gracefully, and learned the craft. Some are in love with the words and the process. Others, like Mark Twain, said he wrote because there was money in it. Some write the novel start to finish on their own. Others, like James Patterson, collaborate.

I think that's a good reminder for all of us. Whenever an instructor or influential writer makes dogmatic pronouncements about "the way all serious writers write," consider that he might not know the wonderfully varied ways that writers approach their craft. Learn from the masters of your genre. Consider what they say. But in the end, do what works for you.

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