The Nuts and Bolts of Writing

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Sometimes, as a creative writing instructor, I feel like the squisher of dreams. It’s nothing I’m doing intentionally, but as I lead students through the building blocks of good fiction writing, I can’t help but imagine what some of them might be thinking: “Dude is killing the magic.”

For many writers, part of the allure of our craft is its mystery. Who knows what compels us to sit at the keyboard and transform our thoughts and ideas into words? Who knows why we spend our subway rides thinking about scenes and plot twists and people who don’t exist in real life? Who knows why we tear things down only to build them up again and again and again?

That mystery is what draws many of us into writing. Speaking for myself, I have no idea what compels me to write, other than the need to do it. And, for many of us, this is why the magic of writing is so appealing. It’s as though the writing is in control of us, rather than the other way around.

Writing should feel intuitive and personal. It’s a room we inhabit even when we’re not sure why we’re there. It’s an obsession of finding precise language. It’s a mystical experience, especially when our writing takes flight and surprises us in the best kinds of ways.

And while that magic needs to inhabit your writing, there’s another, non-magical side that isn’t quite as fun. That’s what I call the nuts and bolts of writing. In other words, our conscious writing. Nuts and bolts are the practical tools of the trade that you need to factor into your writing. I’m talking good dialogue, evocative settings, believable plot points, compelling characters and more. The nuts and bolts side of writing isn’t glamourous. It involves a lot of tedious work. Nuts and bolts aren’t always in sync with our imaginations and can sometimes interrupt our creative flows. But without the nuts and bolts, the magical side of your writing can’t flourish.

© Paula Wilson

© Paula Wilson

In my course, Becoming a Better Writer and the two workshops I co-present, Improving Your Writing and Publishing 101, I try to help emerging writers understand the importance of being conscious of their writing. And while some writers are resistant to completely letting go of their magical, intuitive sides, embracing the conscious side of writing doesn’t kill the magic. In fact, the best writers are highly aware of every aspect of their writing, both the conscious and subconscious elements. It’s only when you understand the relationship between the magical and practical sides of your writing that you can achieve the heights that all writers strive for.