Thursday, July 9, 2009

Thinking in the Language of Writing

“Writing fiction is like learning a second language. There is that moment when you begin to think in that language, when you dream in it. That's when you know you're ready for prime time.” – Nate Kenyon in On Writing Horror.
The first computer I purchased, a Kaypro 64, came with a software package that included a word processor, spreadsheet and database, like Microsoft Office before there was such an animal. It also came with a Basic programming language. I was a househusband at the time and decided to learn everything I could about all the software. The word processor was my favorite, but I enjoyed writing Basic programs, too. I got the point at programming where I felt I needed some assistance, so I signed up for six private tutoring sessions. Near the end, the instructor gave me a program he’d written to shuffle a deck of cards and asked me to improve on it. I shared my work with him the following week. He read through it without saying a word. I had done as he’d asked, and the look on his face told me he was impressed. I’d reached the point of “thinking and dreaming” in Basic. And I felt proud of myself.

I haven’t reached that place in my writing yet. Like with computer programming, there are certain structures the writer can use to be successful. Unlike programming, writing stories is less exact. A computer program does what it’s intended to do because the instructions tell the computer each step of the process. The final program is unambiguous. Not so with writing. I can write what I feel is the perfect story, with a beginning, middle, end, conflict and resolution, yet reviewers and editors may find it unappealing. There are no step-by-step instructions that guarantee success in writing. This doesn’t mean I’ll stop trying. I’m closer to “thinking and dreaming” like a storyteller, and besides, isn’t getting there half the fun?

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