Thursday, December 12, 2013

Breakthrough on Writing

I just finished studying this book yesterday. I have never studied another book on writing that I would recommend as highly as this one.

But keep this a secret.

There are hundreds of thousands of would-be writers that have not yet learned how to write well enough to get published (if you don’t believe me, just join an on-line critique group) and if they all learn what I learned from this book, there will be far too much competition for anyone who isn’t directly related to a high-powered editor to actually get published.

I’m not saying I believe I am going to get my novel published just because I studied this book, but now I have a much better chance.


Stein leaves no doubt that he knows how to write, edit and teach. The pride he has in his personal skills juts up throughout the book like the mountains that surround me.

But the man is brilliant. And with the light of his knowledge, he breathed life into my mummified brain.

I have studied a tall stack of books on writing, books that attempted to crack through to teach my old, stubborn, lazy mind. But of all the authors I have sweated with, recited, and stored notes from, Stein alone knew the value and power of his own words.

Wielding his control of language with stealth, he cut through the tough-as-lead casing around my head, sliced through layer around layer of petrified mush until he found the lone kernel inside my head that can still learn.

And there, with his words carefully on humble, white paper, he planted the seed that sprouted in the well-fertilized soil of my mind. So many other authors of writing books had attempted to help by carelessly tossing a handful of seeds that landed in my face.


My introduction to Sol Stein was a recommendation from an article in Writer’s Digest magazine to read his novel, The Magician. When I found a copy on Amazon, I also found Stein on Writing and ordered it at the same time. That weak moment of impulse buying, which I so rarely indulge in, turned out to be one of the luckiest moments of my life.

I read The Magician first. I was not entirely enthralled with the book, though I must say it was masterfully written. It just isn’t my kind of reading material. I’m the kind of guy who likes to read books with a little more fantasy, those in which the protagonist fights against the system and wins. The Magician is about a family who learns to fight using the flaws in our system in order to win, because that’s the only they could succeed.

I suppose, for me, that kind of story is much too real and if I want reality I can follow the news. The book was very popular, though; it sold over a million copies.

Still, I cannot recommend his novel and I doubt I will read any more of his novels. Had I read The Magician before I ordered Stein on Writing, I would never have ordered the latter.

But before I was even finished with Stein on Writing,  I ordered his other book on writing, How to Grow a Novel, which I will begin studying today. I’ll report on it when I’m finished, which may not be for awhile, since I don’t have a lot of time for reading and studying.


Just to show you what I learned: I was printing out what I have written of my novel to have a hard copy to use for my latest revision and groaned silently over page after page of drivel. But what I also learned from Stein is that, with extremely few exceptions, every writer’s first draft is “top of the head” crap and needs to be revised or rewritten. The first draft is the skeletal system, so to speak (my words not his) which gives a framework to do the “real writing.”

Anyway, I read the first two sentences of Chapter Six, which is the last chapter I have written, and that last kernel of brain that remains inside my head kicked in as soon as I groaned and said, “Hey, I know how to cure that!” And I honestly had never instantaneously experienced that before.

So here are those two sentences: Suvio roused Kirian as the carriage pulled up to their apartment building. His head was groggy from the long trip and he was hungry.

Definitely “top of the head crap.”

Here’s my quick revision: A gentle nudge pushed Kirian out of a dream that evaporated when he opened his eyes. He blinked the fog away and focused. He frowned at Suvio, then saw that the carriage had stopped in front of their dormitory. He let his head fall back against the seat and groaned as the sides of his stomach grated together, snarling up at him.

It still needs a little work, but I’m actually editing this scene out of the book. I just couldn’t resist revising it since I now have the knowledge to use skills that have lain buried beneath ancient stratified layers inside my head for far too long.

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