Mark Twain on Writing Part IV

It’s been a busy and eventful week. Plans for the 8th grade writing and literature class are falling into place, the novel’s ending is being surprisingly cooperative (slow and steady…), and I received my first award from Anthony Lee Collins. Thanks again, Anthony! I’ll pass on the love this week.

In other news, to finish off Twain’s Rules of Writing, here are his closing thoughts.

An author should:
12. Say what he is proposing to say, not merely come near it.
13. Use the right word, not its second cousin.
14. Eschew surplusage.
15. Not omit necessary details.
16. Avoid slovenliness of form.
17. Use good grammar.
18. Employ a simple, straightforward style.

Good general rules of thumb, especially for those learning the craft of writing.

The one I struggle with most? Number 16, becoming lazy with my prose. It is the primary problem with my novel’s ending at this point. (I think plot problems have been eliminated…) The prose is–at least in my own eyes–lovely at the beginning. But the closer I came in my struggle towards the story’s end, the more the style became little more than a slightly detailed list of actions with occasional interjection of emotion and dialog. Utterly pathetic and terribly embarrassing.

What do you struggle with as a writer?

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4 responses to “Mark Twain on Writing Part IV

  • Anthony Lee Collins

    Two things mostly.

    One is #18. My style is pretty simple, but I always try to make it simpler. I look back at my first novel and I like it, but it seems overwritten in spots. A bit too much “Hey, look at me writing here!” I like my writing to be a window. If it’s clean, as it should be, you can concentrate on what’s outside. If the window is dirty (this applied to eyeglasses, too), then you start looking at the glass and not focusing on the world outside.

    The other things is balance, since I’m writing a series of (mystery) short stories. Each needs to be self-contained, obviously, but each should also advance the story of the core characters a bit. I try not to go too far one way or the other, but sometimes I miss.

  • The Third

    I have several problems when I write but I don’t know specifically which catagory they would go under.

    1. Being able to give enough detail. Sometimes I find myself rushing through a scene in an excitment to get the plot moving. I know that you don’t always have to have a lot of detail, but sometimes I even forget to descibe what a character I am introducing looks like.

    2. I have problems with finishing what I started. I don’t usually finish any stories I write, yet I love to write and read.

    3. I often use banned words. Good, bad, etc.

    4. I have problems getting the plot to move. Sometimes, when I begin to write a story, I don’t finish it because I can’t figure out what needs to happen next. I know what is going to happen later, like, I know the out come but I don’t always know the action I need to have to get to that spot.

  • Bryna

    Howdy! Thanks for dropping by! I’m so sorry about not replying sooner. Being a teacher means this time of the year is incredibly busy.

    I can definitely sympathize with those problems, especially rushing through scenes to keep the plot going.

    It sounds like one solution might help with the problems you mentioned. It’s one that’s taken me years to accept, but ever since I have, writing has become a much more enjoyable and productive process. The first draft doesn’t have to be perfect. Its sole purposes are to help us capture our ideas into a chronological order, record those moments that we know we want, and to provide a launching point for other drafts. It’s okay if you rush through the scene in the rough draft. I unintentionally do it all the time. Once you’ve finished that draft, you can go back in, reexamine it (or even have someone else take a look at it), and figure out what needs to be added. The same goes for word usage. If banned words creep into the rough draft, don’t worry about dealing with them until that draft is complete.

    Now, keeping a plot moving is a bit more complicated. There are two ways to approach it. Some people work best when they plan events out. In that case, jot down some ideas for how the characters could get from point A to point B. Since it’s the rough draft, it doesn’t have to be perfect. It just needs to be enough to bring you through the draft. It is easy to go back and fix it later. However, if you find that planning is not your style, then you might be a “pantser,” like me. In stories, you sort of fly by the seat of your pants and write whatever comes to mind as you try to weave your way from the few points in the plot that you do have in mind. The same idea applies. Once you come across something that might work for bridging between where you are and the next event, just write it down. You can always go back and change it in another draft. Often, once the entire story is written out in the first draft, it begins to become easier to discern what action is working and what isn’t. And if you are still stumped, ask someone else to read over it and offer opinions. Friends, family, even strangers like me are always willing to help. : )

    For the second problem that you mentioned, firstly allow me to say that I often find myself in this place too. It’s very hard to finish more often than not. But there are two pieces of advice that I can give. First, it’s okay to set a story aside. Eventually, it will work. It might be weeks later or maybe even years, but at some point you will finally feel where the story is supposed to go and be able to complete it. The second is a quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson that has become my writing mantra: “Patience and fortitude conquer all things.” Try to spend some time writing on a regular basis, even if you don’t feel like it. Take up that story that you’re dying to tell and push through that first draft. Just like in anything, there will be times when the story comes easily and times when you are ready to throw it through a shredder, but your determination will bring you through in the end.

    Best of luck with your writing!

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