I don’t usually write about writing, but lately I’ve been squeezing in some reading of Techniques of the Selling Writer and thought it would be fun to share some of the wisdom of the late Dwight V. Swain.
It took me a couple of years to track down an affordable used paperback copy of Swain’s masterpiece. Since my search began, the University of Oklahoma Press has had the good sense to reissue the book.
For those who’ve never heard of Swain, he was a writing teacher on the staff of the Professional Writing Program at the University of Oklahoma, a program designed to teach–gasp!–commercial fiction writing. Genre fiction! Imagine! He is also a member of the Oklahoma Writers Hall of Fame.
But if you have heard of him, it’s probably because he’s Mr. Scene and Sequel. And for more information on that subject, you can’t beat the explanation on Randy Ingermanson’s website.
Swain taught writing back in the quaint days of manual typewriters and monthly Western/SciFi/Mystery magazines.
Reading between the lines of his craft advice, it strikes me that the pressure to produce those short commercial works back in the day was much the same as the pressure on indie authors in current times.
And true to his mission to teach commercial fiction writing, Swain’s book includes advice on not just the craft of fiction writing, but on production. It’s good advice for today’s entrepreneurial authors tapping away on laptops. In fact, it works for entrepreneurs in any field!
Dwight Swain’s common sense production advice; or “Getting Out the Work”:
- Work: “Dream as a writer, and your income stops. ‘Get the story written!’ is the only thing that counts.”
- Work regular hours: “…set up a schedule of regular hours, and stick to it. The hard part here is that friends and family very well may prove your worst enemies. It never dawns on them that…two minutes’ conversation may, upon occasion, shatter your train of thought for half a day….” Hold to your writing hours “complete with locked door and blunt refusal to be disturbed.”
- Set up a quota: Set a number of words or pages to produce daily. “Find your own pace. Start with minimal demands; then work up.”
- Have a place to work: “When you enter your workroom…or work area…it should be for purposes of production only.”
- Eliminate distractions: If you can’t eliminate them “condition yourself to ignore the situation…If you want to write badly enough, you’ll get the job done somehow.”
- Don’t push too hard: “Writing is hard work…work that makes strenuous demands on your unconscious.”
- Stay alive: “Life is a writer’s raw material. Successful writers immerse themselves in it.”
- Get enough exercise: “Writing is an appallingly sedentary occupation.” Exercise “is time well spent…Your work will benefit, not suffer.”
What do you think of Swain’s advice? Common sense, right?
Swain has more to say on the psychology of production, and I’ll share that wisdom with you next week.
Images: book cover–Amazon; Roll of hall of fame inductees, Oklahoma Center for Poets and Writers at OSU Tulsa