Working my way through a used book store, I stumbled upon a copy of Louis L’Amour’s memoir Education of a Wandering Man. I had found the book in my public library years ago and enjoyed his stories, but this time his comments on the craft of writing caught my attention. Here is an example found on page 54.
“One is not, by decision, just a writer. One becomes a writer by writing, by shaping thoughts into the proper or improper words, depending on the subject, and by doing it constantly. There was so much I needed to learn that could only be learned by doing, by sitting down with a typewriter or a pen and simply writing. Most young writers waste at least three paragraphs and often three pages writing about their story rather than telling it. This was one of the many things I had yet to learn.”
Writing is not always difficult, but good writing is hard work. Telling a story (or preaching a sermon) to an audience who can see your expressions and hear the action in your voice is quite different than trying to communicate the same message to folks who see and hear only what your written words stir in their imaginations. If your speech doesn’t connect with your audience, you can read it in their faces and try a different approach. But you never have that luxury with your reading audience. In order to convey your story, you’ve got to put in the work so that your message plays in their heads just as it did in yours.
Many writers (and preachers) wrap their stories inside the package that appeals to them, not always considering how it may reframe the message they are trying to convey. Good writers learn to whittle away those paragraphs and pages that are more about the story and interfere with the telling of it. That is a skill that comes only with time and practice.
So, write. And write. Then write some more. It’s that constant work of writing that the King of Westerns says is necessary to learn how to tell the story without getting in its way.