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  • Ben Stower

Writing Blind: Lessons for an Out-of-Practice Writer

It must be more than eight years now since I finished my BFA in creative and professional writing. Since then I’ve been writing, finishing the odd unpublished short story here and there and a novel that feels slightly better than amateurish. I have also been hiring out my soul as a freelance copywriter and editor, which hasn’t required any retention or rehearsal of the narrative principals I learned while at university.

So now, as I look at beginning my second novel and writing short stories that might have a slightly better chance of being published than a tale about a cat in a drain*, it’s time to reassess just how blindly I’m charging forward. For eight years is ample time for someone to forget their writing techniques.

*There are many writers who could write amazing stories about a cat in a drain. I am simply not one of them.

This is why I’ve started this little series on writing. Mostly for me. Actually, entirely for me. You may glean something from the lessons to follow, but if you take any advice from this blog at all, it should be to go buy, borrow or steal (don’t steal) Steven King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. It offers sage advice for all writers seeking to fine-tune their dialogue, characters, setting and a myriad of other elements that comprise a good novel, script or play.

If you do decide to read on and venture deep into this rabbit hole of writing techniques and practice, do not expect a tea party or sunny games of croquet. There will, however, be plenty of madness and the frequent losing of one’s head. But isn’t that what all writers must endure in the quest for an imperfect, yet publishable story?

I’m going in slightly better than blind with little more than a handful of carrots to help me see in the dark. But at some point during these wanderings I hope to stumble upon some of my own original thoughts on the various writing nuances, through research and practise.

Our first lesson will be on dialogue. “Why start with dialogue?” I hear you murmur, your curser hovering over the Close Tab button, one click away from being freed of this languorous blog. Ultimately, if you’re reading this a few months later from now it really doesn’t matter, because you’ll be able to start wherever you damn well please by clicking the links below.

But why start with dialogue? Because I’m shite at dialogue.

One of the last things you want to hear when someone’s reading your dialogue is: “Does anyone actually speak like that?”

I’ve heard that. I’ve heard it more than once. But I can either take my pen and proceed to stab out my eyes and perpetually rid myself of all sight of these rubbish exchanges, or I can take that pen and continue to work at writing entertaining and clever dialogue that will keep pages turning instead of being burned.*

*I have and will never burn or condone the burning of books. Unless they were written by Gabriel Matzneff.

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