1. CSIROC

    CSIROC New Member

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    Writing only makes you good at grammar...

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by CSIROC, Jan 9, 2017.

    New here, looking to get some insight from a larger writing community rather than the few friends I have who are published authors. Having a discussion with someone giving out horrendous advice about photography. In the act of doing so he uses the analogy,

    "Writers get better by reading, not by writing. They train their imagination by repeating the process of absorbing stories. They don't just write sentences every day. Their tool is their imagination and that's what they need to train."

    "Writers get to write better sentences by writing. They don't make better stories this way. Storytelling needs imagination which is fueled by something different than writing."

    "Writers indeed get better at writing sentences in terms of punctuation and grammar. That doesn't make for a better story but for improving their level of literacy which is the ability to read and write."

    My own emphasis added. Now, I'm well aware that writers do indeed improve their skill by reading (among other things). But every author I've ever talked to has said to get better you need to write, and write, and write...and not just to improve punctuation and grammar.

    This community's thoughts on the comments above?

    Thank you,
     
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  2. BayView

    BayView Huh. Interesting. Contributor

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    If all you do is write, not even your grammar will be improved - how could it be, when you're just practising the same mistakes?

    The idea is to write, and then examine what you've written. Analyze it, break it down, build it back up, play with it, etc.

    Really, I'd say the same is mostly true for reading. I think you can learn quite a bit just by a sort of osmosis, just by absorbing and internalizing structures, but to get the most value you'll want to spend a good bit of time breaking down what you've read and figuring it out.

    So I don't think either writing or reading, on their own, will do that much to improve your writing. But analyzing writing, whether your own or someone else's, will be really useful.
     
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  3. CSIROC

    CSIROC New Member

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    I would certainly agree with that, even applying it to other fields. However the premise being put forward is that the act of writing has no value other than "final output". That by the time you write, everything else is done and there is no value to the act of writing beyond that.

    So the question is, can you become a great writer by reading, analyzing that work, studying story structure, etc, etc without ever actually writing a single word (assuming you know grammar and sentence structure) until you're ready for final output? If so, I'll freely accept that I am wrong. I'd find it hard to believe based on my own experiences, but I'm not the expert here.
     
  4. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    I think that the premise is completely and totally wrong. Re your second paragraph, no, you can't. I don't have proof of that assertion, but I'm completely confident of it anyway.

    Edited to add: I'm not saying that there aren't non-writing things that are important to improving your writing, but you certainly also need to write.
     
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  5. BayView

    BayView Huh. Interesting. Contributor

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    Who's putting that premise forward? That the act of writing has no value other than "final output", etc.? If that's your paraphrase of what I said, one of us is miscommunicating.

    ETA: Although... the first piece of fiction I ever wrote (beyond childish assignments for school) was published and is actually the piece that has sold best and gotten the best reception from readers. It's far from a masterpiece and I think I've gotten better at writing since then, but it seems like reasonably clear evidence that it is possible to learn to write to at least an acceptable level without writing.

    Now, that doesn't mean there's no value to the act of writing beyond final output. But in terms of actually improving your writing? I don't think there's much value to the act of writing if there isn't accompanying analysis. Some of that analysis goes on as the author is writing, I expect, at least if the author is writing in a thoughtful way. But someone who follows the "first drafts are supposed to be crap" approach and who never goes back to turn the crap into something better? I'd be surprised if that person was significantly improving their writing.

    And of course there's value to writing beyond what it does for improving your writing skills. Enjoyment, therapy, sense of accomplishment, etc. - those are all valuable.

    ETA2: So could a person become a "great writer" without writing? There are writers whose first works are pretty damn excellent. I'm not enough of a literary scholar to know how they prepared themselves for these works (ie. whether there are dozens of novels that never saw the light of day before the greatness was produced).

    I certainly think it's much more effective to analyze both your own work and the work of others, so you can compare what you're doing with what others are doing. But I'm not prepared to say it's impossible to become great without doing so--there are some writers whose "natural" talent seems pretty overwhelming.
     
    Last edited: Jan 9, 2017
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  6. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    I assumed that it came from his friend who gave the bad advice about photography. But I'm a little confused.
     
  7. BayView

    BayView Huh. Interesting. Contributor

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    I did an ETA... I think I see the connection to what I was saying, but he took it ad absurdum.
     
  8. Iain Sparrow

    Iain Sparrow Banned Contributor

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    All the imagination in the world does not a good story make. Applying the analogy to what I do, drawing, painting, illustrating... you learn by copying, emulating techniques, and endless practice wherein every session you push yourself to improve. You develop your own style, become proficient at your craft, and hopefully execute professional level work. There are people who are naturally gifted and don't have to work nearly so hard at it. For the rest of us, we keep practicing.
     
  9. Ghost Reflection

    Ghost Reflection Active Member

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    Having sever dyslexia those statement really don't work for me. I really tend to see things differently. About 80 to 90% of my thoughts are in pictures. This is even more so for when I'm writing stories. So when I'm thinking of a story, I'm trying to describe what I'm seeing in my head. I would say for me word choice is really the issue, but I've noticed that this is an issue for any sort of writing. I don't really enjoy reading. I read hardy any fiction, but I enjoy writing it. Because of my field of study I've had to do a lot of reading. I just don't think doing all that reading has actually made me any better at telling stories or writing. It's helped me some with word choice. I actually think being observant about details, events, and people along with analysis and feedback has made the most different. Also actually writing, otherwise there would be nothing to analyze and improve on.
     
  10. Iain Aschendale

    Iain Aschendale Aunt? Supporter Contributor

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    I disagree with this. Someone who is merely reading, even critically reading, is not a writer, they're a reader. Readers are great, and I do think that writers should be, no, need to be, readers, but until you pick up the quill pen or keyboard or text to speech device or whatever, you aren't a writer, and there's a whole bunch of things about writing that you've yet to learn.

    Look at Shakespeare. He lifted most of his plots from existing stories and history, so not much imagination in terms of plot etc, but there's a hell of a lot more going on there than "good grammar".
     
  11. Ghost Reflection

    Ghost Reflection Active Member

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    Shakespeare came to my mind as well. He may have taken plots for history, but he added his own understanding of human nature to it, which I fine to be very keen. He also made up his own words and grammar.
     
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  12. CSIROC

    CSIROC New Member

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    Thanks for the thoughts, folks.

    BayView, the quotes I posted are not in any way edited or paraphrased. They are literally the words this person wrote, not a hypothetical. That is where I got the premise. That people don't get better at writing by writing (first quote), that writing doesn't improve your storytelling, only your ability to write sentences (second quote), and that writing only improves your punctuation and grammar, again, not storytelling (third quote). I apologize if that wasn't clear in my response.

    I don't write creatively, but have been published in a few peer reviewed engineering journals. My technical writing certainly got better the more I had to do it, and it had nothing to do with grammar and sentence structure. I've never known any craft where you can become proficient by thinking your way to perfection; it has always required practice, in my experience. Hence why I was so baffled by those statements I quoted.

    Anyway, thanks again. The outside perspective is much appreciated.
     
  13. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    Your friend is totally wrong. People are wrong all the time. It's not really surprising. Was there a reason for you to believe him to be right?

    (He's probably also wrong about photography.)
     
  14. PenelopeWillow

    PenelopeWillow Member

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    I think it depends hugely on the writer. I have read a lot in the past. I have spent years absorbing the words of others, but it wasn't until recently that I invested in my own words. Since doing so I have noticed great improvements in my writing.

    If you have a firm grasp of grammar and a vivid imagination you may be surprised what stories you can weave without spending a lot of time reading. I do still read, but it takes more than just reading. I find all forms of art and my own life experiences provide me with the inspiration I need to write.

    There is no cookie cutter answer for this. I dislike nothing more than assuming that what is right for one person is right for everyone. Find what is right for yourself and do that.
     
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  15. CSIROC

    CSIROC New Member

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    Writing has never been my strength. However, research has been. So while I found it very hard to believe, I don't have the experience to refute it, other than the one friend I have who is an author, and second hand information from friends of friends who are trying to be authors. As adamant as he was in sticking with this, along with is claim that he got this information from other authors, I figured reaching out to a more experienced community would be better than fighting from my own limited viewpoint.

    He's most definitely wrong about photography - of that I can speak from an experienced and knowledgeable viewpoint.
     
  16. Homer Potvin

    Homer Potvin Funky like your grandpa's drawers.... Staff Contributor

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    Writer's definitely need to be readers. I really don't see any way around this. How can you stimulate the imagination of others if you don't exercise your own? Having said that you're not going to get better at writing without actually writing and thinking critically about your own work and the work of others. The words are the easy part, it's making them relevant and compelling that takes decades to refine.
     
  17. GingerCoffee

    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Me too. It's silly. It helps to read, but until you put pen to paper, and have that critiqued, you won't move forward.

    Try learning how to drive by watching other drivers. You think when you get in the drivers seat you are going to be able to drive without ever practicing?
     
  18. BayView

    BayView Huh. Interesting. Contributor

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    Be able to drive? Sure. That's... it's the premise of our driver instruction system, isn't it? We give people learners' permits, allow them on our streets, and they're allowed to drive. If they were absolutely unable to drive without having driven, we'd be fools to give them permits, wouldn't we?

    I'm not saying they won't get better by having more driving experience. They probably will, especially if they're mindful of their practice as they go. But they can drive to some extent the very first time they sit behind the wheel.

    So, if we accept an analogy between writing fiction and driving, then, yes, people can write fiction to some extent without ever having written any before. Doesn't mean they won't get better if they apply themselves, but they can write right from the start.
     
  19. Iain Sparrow

    Iain Sparrow Banned Contributor

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    This brings up something seldom talked about when it comes to the creative process... the artist as observer.
    Doesn't matter what medium the artist works in, paint, words, clay, that what elevates some work over the rest is the ability of the artist to distill his or her observations. Shakespeare is a perfect example of that.
     
  20. Iain Aschendale

    Iain Aschendale Aunt? Supporter Contributor

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    But we don't just chuck them out on the street. Thirty-ish years ago, in a reasonably well-off suburb, we had quite a few hours in a (crude) simulator, followed by maneuvering around an empty parking lot with an instructor who had independent control over the brakes in the passenger seat, followed by a while supervised by a parent (we had a time sheet they had to sign off on, IIRC) moving the car back up and down the driveway to get the feel for the accelerator and brake before we were allowed to drive on side streets, again with an instructor with brake control. Hardly just a permit and a jaunty wave.
     
  21. Ghost Reflection

    Ghost Reflection Active Member

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    I was thinking about the difference between reading verses writing. When you're reading, someone else has done the work. They have come up with an idea, constructed a sentence to describe it, edited it so that is as comprehensible as can be, but that doesn't translate into you being able to do the same with your own thoughts. It helps, but it's not a substitute. The only way to do that is by what has been mentioned before, actually doing the writing as well as the feedback process.
     
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  22. jannert

    jannert Retired Mod Supporter Contributor

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    I think writers of short stories and novels must learn the art of storytelling.

    Good grammar and imagination are pretty standard requirements as well, but somebody can have a fantastic imagination, never make a grammatical mistake, and still not be a successful writer of stories. They must also understand how story structure works. (Either instinctively or by deliberately learning the ropes.)

    Figuring out how to keep a reader turning pages and becoming absorbed in the world you've imagined is an essential skill. It's not just about not making mistakes—not doing things that distract the reader or bore the reader or confuse the reader. It's also about knowing how to absorb the reader's attention and keep them moving along at just the right pace. This is a skill that's best acquired by both study and practice.

    By practice, I don't mean just writing all the time. You'll also need constructive feedback so you'll know if what you're writing has had the desired effect. YOU know what your story is about and what you want the reader to feel like, but you won't know if you've communicated your intentions until you try it out on people.
     
    Last edited: Jan 12, 2017
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  23. 20oz

    20oz Active Member

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    reelly, That is. Good to now! my grammer grate now?

    Now that my shit joke is out of the way, I'll give my thoughts.

    My imagination helped me become a better writer. When I was younger, my imagination ran rampant. so I forced myself to read and write. It certainly was an uphill battle. My head hurt and my stomach ached trying to figure out what a sentence even was! The only thing that pushed me forward was expressing the story I wanted to tell, even if the grammar was wrong.

    It was when I joined a writing forum (it doesn't exist anymore) that I got better at grammar. I'm not going to lie, I'm going to tell you the truth. Even at that time, my grammar was shit, complete horsehit. But despite that, I volunteered to be an Editor on the site! I still to this day wonder why I did that, especially since I was a newb. However, they gave me a shot and I got better at the rules of writing.

    Everything else is history.
     
    Last edited: Jan 10, 2017
  24. R.P. Kraul

    R.P. Kraul Member

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    We all have opportunities to exercise our imaginations: when we're showering or eating lunch; when we're picking a weed from a garden or pushing a mower; when we are waiting for sleep or listening to music. It's not as if reading is some secret sauce for exercising one's imagination.

    The entire analogy is absurd, kind of like telling a guitarist that practicing won't make his compositional skills better. No, having broader technical skills also means that your creativity isn't as limited. Writing is about experimenting. How can that be a bad thing?
     
  25. Arcadeus

    Arcadeus Senior Member

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    I feel like they said the perfect thing to troll writers.

    The writing enthusiast in me wants to argue points that have already been pounded into dust.

    The entertained instigator in me wants to post the original post to many different writing forums and watch.


    I still have to say it... Anyone who thinks writing doesn't improve imagination has never finished a large work of fiction.

    The imagination it takes to develop the story after it has already started.
    My fun comparison:
    I can read a pamphlet on how to set up a desk from IKEA 100 times and still screw it up. However, if I set up the desk correctly once, I can set it up a 100 times without screwing it up.

    Someone buy me 100 desks so I can prove my point. Also so I can sell said desks and make some extra profit.
     
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