The Writer’s Disadvantage

Native American StorytellerI have been a writer of one stripe or another for a long time, but I’ve been a performer for even longer. I became a theater kid when I was 10 and didn’t let up until I was out of college. Not long after college, I was the lead singer in a little soft-rock band in Memphis. That didn’t last long, but it was great fun. I got involved in working my way out of poverty after that and so didn’t perform for a long time, until I was comfortably ensconced in the cubical of a technical writer. It was then I discovered oral storytelling, a craft that allows for loose story composition and offers a lovely lack of long rehearsals. I’m still doing that when I have the chance.

The thing all these performing activities have in common is that they put you right in front of your audience. This gives you some great advantages when you’re trying to entertain people.

For one thing, you get instant feedback. If people laugh, or gasp, or lean forward, or even stop talking for a couple of minutes to listen or watch, you know you’re on the right track. If you’re in the groove, there’s a weird ethereal connection between you and the audience. You can feel each other.

For another thing, you have many tools of communication at your disposal. You have body movement, facial expression, tone and volume of voice and personal appearance to name just a few off the top of my head. You might have music, too.

When we create fiction, the goal is to get the same audience reactions the performer does—laughter, tears, attention, dollars in the tip jar (sales, that is). Alas for us, we have precious little to work with—just words on a page. I am conscious of this, at some level, whenever I write to entertain and I am forever astounded at the facility with which some practitioners to weave a spellbinding tale using only this system of symbols, devoid of any other ornament.

How can I make a prosperous journey to that lofty height of writer-dom? Here’s what I tell myself:

  • Don’t worry about it. If you worry about it you’ll just get wrapped around the axle.
  • Practice. Write as much as you can and have some discipline about it.
  • Read. Check out the acknowledged greats and the obscure folks, too. Include poetry.
  • Write poetry. Poetry demands the most of your vocabulary and your ear for language. Make it something that demands careful word choice, something with structure. Haiku is good for this.
  • Get support. Join a writing group or groups, with real people or online, preferably both.
  • Read it out loud. Does the piece work as an oral story? If not, maybe the language needs fixing, or the story itself. This is a great way to ferret out typos, too.
  • Imagine telling it live. When you’re writing, it’s sometimes fun to imagine you’re telling the tale to an audience. Try it, maybe you’ll like it.

This is all stuff that works for me. I hope you’ll find something here to help you overcome the writer’s lack of resources. I mean, overcoming that lack is half the fun, right?

2 Replies to “The Writer’s Disadvantage”

  1. It has been wonderful reading your blog, fellow fiction writer, and this one totally resonates for me. When I express my creativity through jewelry-making, for example, I quickly get feedback about what makes people happy and what gets passed over. But at what point is trying to please others a loss of my self-expression? The same is true with writing. I don’t want to create in a complete vaccuum, but I also don’t want to lose myself trying to please others. (Been there, done that.) Your advice to read it out loud or imagine telling it to an audience is terrific. When I get gummed up I start reading it out loud and I instantly get internal feedback about how to smooth out the rough spots. I also like what you said about not getting tangled up in worry. We write because we have something to express and as long as there is flow — there’s success.

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