It can be immensely useful to watch writers think.
This morning I came across two posts that offer intriguing insights into the writing process. I especially liked the off-the-beaten-path quality I found in both of them.
The first is a LinkedIn article suggesting that writing mistakes can help (rather than hurt) ambitious young whippersnappers who want to get a leg up on their careers.
Mind you, I’m not sure it’s sound writing advice. True story from a college professor: One of her students sent out an application for a required teaching internship. The procedure was for the application to be passed along, from institution to institution, until someone in the chain accepted her for the post.
Problem: She misspelled the name of her major. The first reader circled it in read and added a critical little note in red pen. And so it went, from school to school, collecting an impressive chain of rejections. She never did get to do an internship.
So why did I like the article so much? Because it breaks through the standard (and boring) advice about writing (proofread! be careful with usage! write to impress!) to suggest that foregrounding your personality (I’m into so much stuff that I’m not going to waste time writing a picture-perfect letter) can be a useful writing strategy.
The second article is a short New Yorker interview with two expert writers who talk about choices they’ve made that help get their point across. One is using a child as a narrator. Children, they say, sometimes work better than “jaded, calculating adults.”
They also discuss fantasy (“nobody enjoys examining the worst parts of the world they occupy, but might be more willing to do so when elves or werewolves are involved”). And they also explain why imaginary realms are so often horrifying. Writing about a perfect world just isn’t very interesting: “What conflicts are there in Eden?”
Writers – especially beginners – can have a hard time crossing the bridge from writing-what’s-in-their-heads to writing from the larger perspective of how-do-I-best-convey-my-ideas. This New Yorker interview is a wonderful glimpse into the brains of successful writers who have learned that useful skill.