The Talent and The Technique

Writing can be a Sisyphean task for the amateur. All those drafts, all that effort, only for your damn manuscript to fall back down to the bottom of the valley. I wonder if Sisyphus used to think: “ok, next time I’ll definitely be finished.” If so, he was as foolish as he was strong.

Inkeeping with the boulder metaphors, I recently invited SFF Chrons readers to throw rocks at the first 1000 words of Jewels, through the excellent Critiques feature. I figured that it would get some decent feedback, and I’d get some pointers about tone, feeling, that sort of thing.

Oh, boy.

I’d always considerd myself to be a talented writer: a good wordsmith with an excellent literary education and background, and all those good things. I still think that – despite the cliches, I don’t think writers, particularly independent or amateur writers, benefit from suffering-artist false modesty. But some of the technical areas that were pointed out to me were staggering: certain types of repetition, stylistic points, POV details… all were highlighted, giving me plenty of work to do in (groan) the next draft. 

At this stage, I have a serviceable manuscript, and might think myself within my rights to simply leave it be and move on to the next one. but such temptations are quite common within the writing fraternity and actually don’t do anybody any favours. Writers are quick to complain about the stringent rules set out by agents when requesting submissions; one recalls the old office cartoon where the boss says :”give me some creative thinking. Within these guidelines.”

Exposure to my peers has given me a greater appreciation for the technical aspects of writing; sure, it’s difficult, and requires timento get right, but one has to earn one’s stripes. One has to earn the right to be creative, take risks and break the rules. And it’s worth remembering that one can break the rules much better if one knows them in the first place. Unless you’re disgustingly talented or lucky, or absolutely nail the zeitgeist, you never start off at the top. And that’s ok. It’s no bad thing to work up fom the bottom, although Sisyphus might not agree.

Published by Dan Jones

I'm a science fiction writer and podcaster. My debut novel Man O’War was published in 2018 by Snowbooks, and I’ve had a few short stories published here and there. I also host Chronscast, the official podcast of SFF Chronicles, the world's largest science-fiction and fantasy community. Away from writing I work for the UK Space Agency on a programme of space robotics for advanced satellite and planetary exploration technologies. All of which comes in rather handy when coming up with new ideas for science fiction stories.

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