Google+ The Art that Inspires Writers and Readers: Encouragement for writers by Diana Gabaldon

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Encouragement for writers by Diana Gabaldon

Dear Ladies and Gentlemen,

I just had to share this amazing work in progress by Diana Gabaldon (She posted it on her Facebook page today). Even for just the pleasure of reading something written by her, and specially if you are  a writer or want to become one. 

 you can make any fifth-grader cough up a reasonably coherent essay using the linear model—and no one ever mentions that this isn’t the only way to do it."


[Excerpt from THE CANNIBAL’S ART (not published; in progress). Copyright 2014 Diana Gabaldon]

The greatest thing about writing is that it’s just you and the page. The most horrifying thing about writing is that it’s just you and the page. Contemplation of that dichotomy is enough to stop most people dead in their tracks.

Success in writing—and by that, I mean getting the contents of your head out onto the page in a form that other people can relate to—is largely a matter of playing mind games with yourself. In order to get anywhere, you need to figure out how your own mind works—and believe me, people are not all wired up the same way.*

Casual observation (i.e., talking to writers for thirty years or so) suggests that about half of us are linear thinkers. These people really _profit_ from outlines and wall-charts and index cards filled out neatly in blue pen with each character’s shoe size and sexual history (footnoted if these are directly correlated). The rest of us couldn’t write that way if you paid us to.

The non-linear thinkers are described in all kinds of ways, most of them not euphonious: chunk writers, pantsters (_really_ dislike that one, as it suggests one’s literary output is not from the upper end of the torso), piecers, etc. ** All these terms carry a whiff of dismissal, if not outright disdain or illegitimacy, and there’s a reason for that.

Anyone educated in the art of composition in the Western Hemisphere any time in the last hundred years was firmly taught that there is One Correct Way to write, and it involves strictly linear planning, thought, and execution. You Must Have a Topic Sentence. You Must Have a Topic Paragraph. YOU MUST HAVE AN OUTLINE. And so forth and so tediously on…

Got news for you: You don’t have to do it that way. _Anything_ that gets words on the page is the Right Thing to Do.

Now, as a non-linear thinker myself, I prefer less pejorative terms. I like “network thinker.” Consider thinking and writing as a process that lights up your synapses (which it does): a linear thinker is like a string of holiday lights. Red-blue-green-yellow-blue-red-orange-yellow-green-red! And it lights up and then you can wind it around your Christmas tree or your Kwanzaa flag and it’s all pretty.

Well. You know those nets of lights that you throw over your front wall or your cactus or anything else that it would be inconvenient to staple strings of lights to? Those look like this:

Red - Yellow - Blue - Green - Red – Orange
l l l l l l
Blue - Orange - Red - Yellow – Green – Red
l l l l l l
Yellow – Green - Blue - Red - Orange – Red

The logical connections (the electricity, if you will) between any two lights in that network are there. It isn’t random, and in the end, it’s logical. It’s even linear. It just…isn’t necessarily a straight line.

Now, the reason that the educational establishment insists on the linear model of writing is that you can force a non-linear writer to work linearly (or apparently linearly). You can _not_ make a linear writer work non-linearly. (In fact, every time I describe the way I write to a linear-thinking person, they get annoyed. “You can’t _possibly_ do it that way!” they say. By which they mean that _they_ can’t possibly do it that way—and they can’t.)

But you can make any fifth-grader cough up a reasonably coherent essay using the linear model—and no one ever mentions that this isn’t the only way to do it. (Every time I go talk to an elementary-school class for Career Day, I pause mid-way and ask the teacher to turn his or her back. Then I tell the kids, “OK, the teacher can’t see you, so tell me the truth. When you get one of those essay assignments and you have to turn in an outline and a rough draft and a polished draft and a final copy….how many of you just write the final copy and then fake up the rest?” About a third of the class will raise their hands. I think it would be more, but some of them are scared to admit it.

• This is why you can read an article purporting to tell you How to Write, and discover that you just can’t write that way. That’s because the writer is not really telling _you_ how to write; he or she is just explaining how _they_ write. Maybe they have the same kind of brain you do—but maybe they don’t.

• ** This is the insidious principle that underlies Politically Correct speech, btw—the undeniable recognition that names have power, coupled with the invidious notion that by insisting on a specific term, the person assigning the name thus controls the person named, by controlling the perception of the named party. Hence the tiresome attempts to rename political parties as “haters,” “tax-and-spend liberals,” etc.

Stupidly annoying as this may be—it works. Frankly, it’s a lot older than the notion of PC; it’s one of the baseline techniques of exorcism and voodoo. As a character in one of my books observes, “Ye don’t call something by name unless ye want it to come.”

The writer Diana Gabaldon in a Cameo appearance on the TV  adaptation of her book Outlander.
 How would you feel to have the chance to be inside your own creation?