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How To Write

LEARNING HOW TO ... 2004, Michael ... a student of Spanish, my goal was to think in Spanish. Skipthe ... ... so I'd have the ... speed tospeak and listen. I kno

Copyright 2004, Michael LaRocca

As a student of Spanish, my goal was to think in Spanish. Skip
the word-by-word translation so I'd have the necessary speed to
speak and listen. I know words in Spanish that I'd be hard
pressed to translate. Usually profanity, I confess. Chingow!

For years my students here in China have studied grammar, and
know it better than you or I. They read. They write. But
speaking involves moving faster than that. In conversation, we
don't have time to write it first and make sure it's all
grammatically flawless, then read it aloud, perhaps after a bit
of rehearsal.

So, I try to give them a chance to practice putting words
together on the fly, rules be damned. The rules they've
internalized will kick in and keep them comprehensible, which
will build their confidence in their ability to keep creating
conversation that way.

This is not unlike what we go through as authors. First we study
rulebooks, perhaps take some classes, and conclude just about
everything we're is doing is wrong. So many rules to memorize.
We might dread sitting down to write with all those constraints.

But really, it's not about memorizing rules at all. It's about
internalizing the rules, following them (or not if you prefer)
without being consciously aware of what they are. They're there,
but in the background.

The story's what matters. You're supposed to be having fun, not
"working." At least not during the creation phase.

We don't always take the time to say, "I've written ten active
sentences in a row so maybe I'll whip in a passive one now" or
"I need a beat for every X lines of dialogue." I published four
novels and edited dozens more before I learned what a beat was.
(It's a pause so the reader can catch his/her breath.)

And, of course, since it is writing and not speaking, we can
always go back and revise later. Then rely on editors to
catch what we missed, or at least make us wonder why we wrote
it this way instead of that way.

Some authors aren't even consciously aware of "the rules."
They've never taken a class, never read a book about writing.
They're simply avid readers who one day decided to write. But
they've internalized the rules as well. It comes from reading.

I've said it before and I'll say it again. If you want to write,
you must read. If you don't like reading, maybe writing isn't
for you. It's not about writing because you want to say, "I am a
writer." It's about writing because you enjoy writing.

And, it's really nice when you've been writing for a long time
to go back and read a book about how to write. You might find
one or two things to tweak in your techniqueArticle Submission, as opposed to a
daunting laundry list of flaws. It's much easier to internalize
one or two new rules than 50 or 100!

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Michael LaRocca's website at was
chosen by WRITER'S DIGEST as one of The 101 Best Websites For
Writers in 2001 and 2002. He published two novels in 2002 and has
two more scheduled for publication in 2004. He also works as an
editor for an e-publisher. He teaches English at a university in
Shaoxing, Zhejiang Province, China, and publishes the free weekly
newsletter Mad About Books.

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