I had a fascinating experience today in the way of a fantastic leap of personal growth.
First, we need to step back to sometime around 1995. Among a course of other things going on in my life, I was returning to attending writers conferences which I hadn’t been able to do while I was going to college. At the time I was still writing romances, so these were romance conferences I was attending.
At two of them, I had the fortune to get to meet and talk with Stella Cameron. Due to circumstances at the first conference, I didn’t get to listen to her as much as I would have liked. But at the second one, I got to listen to her speak more. She mentioned a book that had helped her, particularly one section, and that was Techniques of the Selling Writer by Dwight V. Swain. I’m certain I’ve talked about it before on my blog, but I’m not going back through 900+ posts to find it. Hopefully when I tag it, those blogs will surface; isn’t technology wonderful? (grin)
I knew I didn’t have this book on my shelves full of craft books, but I wrote it down and what chapter she was talking about. After I returned home from the conference, I ordered the book in. I remember it being expensive (I did note that the actual version I have is on Amazon for $88 – mine wasn’t that much). It probably wasn’t, it just felt like it at that time in my life. Even back then before I got into self-development, I knew that when someone’s advice resonated with you, you needed to do exactly what they said. You might not understand their advice now, but someday you would. She said everyone needed to read that book, so I bought it. When the book came in, I read the chapter she’d referenced. I think I only understood it because I’d listen to her explain the concept.
Then I tried to read the rest of the book.
I decided two things: the book was boring (!!!) and wow did Swain make writing hard. I had never read a craft book which was so difficult and went through so many gyrations to explain a concept that it made no more sense after I’d read it than it did before.
It went on my shelf.
Every so few years, I pulled it out because something will make me think of it. I’d go back and review the chapter Stella had been talking about. Then I’d try to read it again.
What the hell is this guy talking about? Wow. Writing is not that hard. And back on the shelf it goes.
I might take it off the shelf and flip it open randomly to a section and read a bit. Sometimes it’s helpful, sometimes not so much. He really knows how to make writing into work.
So, it has now been 26 years since I bought that book, give or take a few months.
Today was one of those days that I felt compelled to go pick it up. I flipped it open randomly to somewhere near the beginning. Page 12 of my copy if you want to be precise.
You start with an urge to write, and that’s really all you need.
That’s all, that is, so long as you don’t let other things get in the way.
What other things?
They go by so many names. But they all boil down to one issue: the fear of being wrong.Dwight V. Swain – Techniques of the Selling Writer
That’s what I read. And I found myself agreeing with. And I found myself understanding what he was talking about before he dove into it. I just got it.
It felt almost surreal.
I went back to the beginning of the book and started reading as I have many times before. Technically, I understood the words before (I’ll be the first to say that if I come across a word while reading that I don’t actually know, I look it up, which is so much easier now in this digital age), but I wasn’t ready for the teaching. As I said, it felt hard and like work. Now, today, it felt more like reading Shakespeare; I could grasp the concepts, but I had to modernize the language in my head first.
I could never believe that he was writing this for beginning writers as it claimed on the back of the book (which honestly I never looked at before tonight). When I bought it, I considered myself an intermediate writer. I figured he was actually writing for advanced writers and that I would understand the concepts with time.
Surprise. We were both wrong. He may have thought he was writing for beginners, but he failed. I thought these were advanced techniques but really they are intermediate skills for when the writer is ready to progress to the next level of skill. It was his manner of execution which failed both of us.
When I realized this, boy did I have to rethink some things.
When I woke up this morning, I read a newsletter I subscribe to but don’t often open up. Today I felt compelled to. Strange how today the universe certainly has been guiding me. Of course, this newsletter is from Mike Dooley. He has TUT (The Universe Talks). So, yes, guided. Mike talks about how he miscalculated his drive time to his doctor’s office for his appointment. He called, but when he got there 22 minutes late he found out the doctor had cancelled his appointment. Mike felt outraged because how often do we have to wait for doctors, and usually more than 22 minutes. The next day he was meditating and looking for an answer as to who had caused this blip in his universe. He realized he was the one that made the mistake and should have done better, and in thinking over the hurt he felt he began to wonder about times when he’d been insensitive to others. He said he had an experience of “karmic remorse” that provided him release for the injury and forgiveness to his doctor.
Okay, yeah, that was exactly how I felt when I had this realization over the way Swain’s book was written. Karmic remorse.
Dean Wesley Smith wrote a book Stages of a Fiction Writer, which I read through recently as well as listened to his lecture about it. I’m going to admit that at first I felt resistant to the idea, which is why I knew I needed to read and listen to it. If the critical voice is firing shots, there’s probably something in it that’s needed. As soon as I realized what Swain had been doing in his book, my brain flashed to Dean’s book. Swain was writing for beginning stage 1 writers but he was doing it in a way that only late stage 2 and beginning stage 3 writers would understand.
For the last 25 years, I was stuck in writing myths, fears, and stale lines of thought that weren’t serving me. I started clearing them out about 5 years ago, but I’ve really been making a concentrated effort over the last year to correct how far off course I’d become. I want to be a better storyteller and that is life-long learning pursuit. I have progressed in my own education enough that I have stepped up to the level where Swain is writing from. As I said, I still feel like I’m having to translate, so that means that Swain is still on a higher level, but I’m closer. I understand. It feels like I’ve been given the decoder ring.
Seeing it was like having a quantum leap.
But that’s what brought in the karmic remorse. I’ve had people talk and write to me about writing and I’ve been approaching it from where I was at during that moment and what I wish I’d been told much sooner. But I’m probably sounding just like Swain’s book and talking at a level so much above them that they decide it’s too much work so they decide to just keep on doing what they’ve been doing. I see now that I will have to curb my enthusiasm for wanting to bring people up stages faster. There’s a reason they are stages. They have to be worked through.
Swain himself states the very reason why:
You first have to be willing to be very, very bad, in this business, if you’re ever to be good. Only if you stand ready to make mistakes today can you hope to move ahead tomorrow.Dwight V. Swain – Techniques of the Selling Writer
I agree with Dean when he says you have to “Dare to be bad” and you have to always write the best book you can at the moment. Whatever your craft be, always do your best. If you do that, you will get better. That’s what Swain is saying too.
As for me, Universe, I don’t want to have any more karmic remorse. From now on, when I’m dealing with someone one-on-one that has asked me a question, I’m going to be concise and to the point. As much as I wish I could jump people through the hoops, that’s not what they need.
Otherwise, my advice may sit on their shelf for 25 years.
Dare to be bad.