Don’t Underestimate the Novice in You But Get Experience

This is a post of contradiction.  I’ll put that out there first off to avoid confusion.

I recently read a post on a writing blog where a man said he didn’t want to read others’ writing, because he didn’t want to be too influenced by what he read.   My response to him was that if one was going into, say, architectural design, one would study great design, not avoid looking at buildings and how they are created.  Writing shouldn’t be different.

Despite the image of the hermit writer, writing is a very social activity, meaning that we write based on what we experience in life, in what we read, who we meet, etc.  We build off of experiences and stories of others (if you think Shakespeare was all from scratch, you’d be sadly mistaken, but his versions of stories are arguably the most wonderful versions).  One of the best things we can do as writers is read.  We can find what style we like and dissect it to find out what works, what doesn’t, and why.  In graduate school, Dr. Amy Tigner would have us take complex academic articles apart, paragraph by paragraph, to see what made them tick and how to emulate the parts we liked.  It was invaluable in our own writing.  Find an author you like and try doing this; it is quite enlightening.

That said, don’t underestimate the novice in you!  I have students who dismiss their ideas all the time because they assume they aren’t worth anything, especially when their ideas deviate from something we’ve read in class or something I’ve said.  I have to coax ideas out of them at times and sometimes, they’re brilliant ideas, ideas I hadn’t thought of, even though I’ve been teaching the subject for years!  Sometimes, because students come at a subject with untrained eyes, they can see some connections I can’t, and that’s a wonderful thing.

New writers may see another idea or way of seeing something, of telling a story, that those who have been in the business for a while won’t initially see.  And that can be a wonderful thing.

That said (again), it’s a good idea to take these new and wonderful ideas and run them by people who know the business or hold them up against works that have been published and are held in high esteem.  If everyone who reads it says it makes no sense, then you may not be fresh and exciting, just confusing  (But Mom says I’m ahead of my time!)  Balancing freshness with the tried and true is tricky, but the right balance is what we usually see in the latest best seller.