February 8, 2018

Why Crime and Punishment is a Better Novel than War and Peace, and Why Writers Should Care

Posted in Creativity, Fiction Writing, Peak Experiences tagged , , , at 2:52 pm by Rebecca Hein

These days, highly intellectual novels such as Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment and Tolstoy’s War and Peace aren’t likely to attract many readers. “Too long and boring; too full of unpronounceable Russian names;” these are a few of the objections I’ve heard inside my own head, and from others. However, my reading habits seem to be subject to a stronger force than the legitimate desire of a reader to be entertained.

It’s the same phenomenon I encounter when listening to a wonderful piece of music. That beautiful concerto, sonata, or folk song reaches deep inside me and sets up an enduring memory of the experience and a craving for more.

How did the composer do that to me? I always wonder this, and have wondered the same when a writer pulls me so deeply into his or her story that I forget where I am.

This is another form of the perennial question, What is a great work of art, and how do we recognize it? If you want to write, you need the answer. Both Crime and Punishment and War and Peace can help us learn some of what we want to know.

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July 17, 2013

Recognizing the Trade-Off, Part One

Posted in music and writing, Revising tagged , , at 3:12 pm by Rebecca Hein

Often writers fiddle too long with their sentences, trying to purge them of mistakes or no-nos such as misused commas or too many adverbs. But this doesn’t always work.

Sooner or later, you notice that in improving one part of a sentence or paragraph, you create a problem somewhere else. Thus you trade one difficulty for another, and sometimes just have to decide between the two. If you don’t accept this reality, you end up with the feeling that you’re trying too hold too many ping-pong balls underwater.

One is always popping up, no matter what you do. The answer is not to grab at that one pesky ball and try to push it under again, but to work with the reality of the process.

June 25, 2013

Why Practice? Part Three

Posted in freewriting, Practice Writing, writing techniques tagged , , , at 1:27 pm by Rebecca Hein

Ease of execution; smooth flow; producing a great first draft—these skills are possible with practice. Not the “practice” of polishing a piece for publication or of working through a series of early drafts, but practice writing.

Put words on paper, or type them. The content is irrelevant because your state of mind is the key. You have to know the intrinsic value of basic writing, without regard to quality, form, or content.

No musician would ever deny the need for practice, and writers shouldn’t either. What seems to be throwaway time—so tempting to skip so we can get on to our real work—is the foundation of our craft.

June 14, 2013

Why Practice? Part Two

Posted in freewriting, Practice Writing, writing techniques tagged , , , , at 4:26 pm by Rebecca Hein

In all my years of playing concerts, recitals, and even wedding receptions, my most memorable encounters with the audience have occurred after the performance.

“I wish I had your talent,” someone always sighs while shaking my hand. “I don’t know how you make it look so easy.”

I do. Years and years of persistent work. Yet in the minds of these wistful people, there was no mechanism. There was no daily battle to play better in tune, to feel the sway of the beat, or to achieve beautiful tone. Instead, there was a vague idea: “talent.”

The mechanics of practice are the most important component of your writing. That means daily writing, for practice only. Not for brilliance, not to polish a draft, just to put words on paper.

You want to dazzle readers, and especially editors and agents, with the mastery of your craft. So don’t handicap yourself by neglecting practice. If you do, it’ll take you just that much longer to reach your goals.

May 18, 2013

Why Practice? Part One

Posted in freewriting, Practice Writing, writing techniques tagged , , , , at 2:06 pm by Rebecca Hein

Is there a difference between freewriting and writing purely for practice? The former is something writers are exhorted to do, and the latter less frequently mentioned.

In freewriting you’re supposed to write whatever enters your head without editing or criticizing. Usually it’s for a set time. But why do it?

This question takes on meaning when we transfer the spirit of freewriting into the realm of practice writing. Why practice?

A simple question, with what should be an obvious answer, yet in several decades of cello playing, I’ve discovered that practicing is a vague concept in the minds of many people; without significance or value. If you’re a writer, and have this concept, it can be detrimental to your work.

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