Jeff Seymour - Author of Fantasy, Literary Fiction, & c.: Writing Wednesday: Confidence

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Thursday, April 26, 2012

Writing Wednesday: Confidence

On a Thursday! Those of you who have known me for a while will understand that I live in a sort of bubble that moves back and forth irregularly through the timestream. Sometimes Wednesdays happen on Thursdays. Sometimes Thursdays happen on Fridays. Very occasionally, Tuesdays happen on Mondays, but I do my best to avoid that whenever possible.

Anyway. Writing Wednesday! And confidence!

As I sit on the cozy side of the submissions desk again, one of the things that grabs my eye more often than not is confidence. Meaning, more than anything else, a willingness to be intentionally different. The Internet, the shelves of your local bookstore, and the mouths of your fellow writers are all full of advice on how to write an opening. In medias res! Start with action! Do this! Pull that! Twist here! Add a drop of lemon juice, set to 450, and cook for 25 minutes!

When you see the same elements in an opening over and over again, they get stale. I imagine that most writers-as-readers would agree. The kind of confidence I'm talking about it is a combination of the daring and the skill to say, "There's a lot of good advice out there suggesting I should jump left here. I'm going to try a misty flip instead." When I write, I try to think of it as approaching a scene from an unusual camera angle.

That's not to say that you should ignore the advice out there. It's like grammar. Learn it, then decide when and where to deviate from it for a particular purpose. But do, please, deviate from it. Imagination and beauty live in the spaces outside the normal, and experimentation is what will make you great.

Not every author who attempts a misty flip lands it. Most of them don't. Even writers who can string two or three together often don't make it to the end of a book without falling on their head a few times. But that's okay. The only way to learn how is to try, over and over again, until you get it right.

And as an editor: I notice. Even if I reject a book because the author's attempt at a double-cork 1080 takes him or her flying wildly off a cliff from which there can be no recovery, I respect the effort. It's the bold and the brash who will write the next great story.

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