In an interesting article on Christian fantasy writing (which I never read for the same reason the author doesn’t read much of it, though he writes it), Lars Walker says two things about writing useful for writers of all sorts to know. First,
Writing is a craft, like shoemaking. I don’t care how sincerely the guy who made my shoes loves shoes. The main thing I want from him is expertise, the practiced knowledge of how to put together a shoe that fits, won’t give me blisters, and lasts a while. Your sincerity may please God, but He also says, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men” (Colossians 3:23, NIV). It’s possible you may be a prodigy, a literary Mozart capable of amazing the world right out of the gate. But probably not.
I’d add to this that the writer has to want to perfect his craft and he ought to want to do that not only as for the Lord but because he’s driven to do the thing he’s been given to do as well as he possibly can. People who do things for others, even God, eventually decide they’ve done well enough — the readers and God’ll understand, they think, when the work gets too wearing — while the person driven to perfect his craft will never stop working at it.
I’m kind of sad for young writers today. You have much less opportunity to enjoy a benefit we old-timers had in abundance—rejection. Oh, we hated those editors who sent us their mimeographed rejection slips—“We’re sorry, but your work does not meet our present needs.” We railed at them as Philistines who hated and feared new ideas, guarding the gates of the Inner Chamber for the benefit of their rich, famous cronies.
But oh, what a joy it was to get that first acceptance letter! It didn’t come easy, that letter. One story at a time, rejection after rejection, we learned to prune and tighten our prose, and that first acceptance was a sign that we’d finally earned our way inside the Gates (only, finally, to look down with pitying contempt on those amateurs who cluttered the desks of “our” editors with their puerile, formless scribblings).
Such editors hardly exist anymore. Today’s writers, so often self-published (I’m not speaking in contempt; I’m self-publishing now myself), lack that thick wall to chop through, that sparring partner to toughen them up. I read so many self-published books now that leave me saying, “This writer has a good story and interesting characters. All he needs is a real editor to tell him to cut out the dead wood.”
The editor will also tell the reader where to put the good wood, where he needs to add more, how he needs to trim and paint the wood, etc. But the writer has to realize that he’s being helped.
Anyway, good advice from Walker, as well as interesting insights into writing fantasy books.
Update: By “wearing” I meant that point where the effort required produces smaller and smaller gains and you really don’t want to go through the thing yet again, but know that doing so will bring it closer to what it ought to be. It is almost always true, as Auden is supposed to have said, that a poem (or any kind of writing) is never finished, only abandoned, but the real writer will only abandon it when he has to, not when he wants to, which is usually several revisions before he has to.