I love writing. It’s kind of my thing and it’s something I love to talk and think about.
It’s probably no surprise, then, that one of the reasons I love Shakespeare is for what I can learn about writing from him. Today, in honor of National Novel Writing Month (which I am participating in!), I thought I would put my writing lens on and share what I’ve learned about the art of writing from the Bard!
Easy Way Out
One of the things that makes Shakespeare truly remarkable in my opinion is that he never seems to take the easy way out. What do I mean by this? He does not shy away from complexity, and he refuses to patronize his audience. He trusts our intelligence without being deliberately obtuse. The “bad guys” in Shakespeare are never simple, one-dimensional stereotypes. They are complex and very human. Even aside from that, he trusts us to follow his metaphors and abstract points without spoonfeeding us.
Translation for today’s writers: Writing can be difficult. And it can be very tempting to take the obvious way out. The obvious solution to a plot problem. The obvious character archetype/stereotype. Do better than that. Spend the extra time to go beyond the obvious. Trust your instincts if something feels too trite, and then find a better way out. And trust your readers. Trust that they will realize that, if you mention your character closed the door, they will realize the door had been open. You don’t have to spell everything out for them.
Let Your Writing Speak For Itself
On a related note, trust your writing to speak for itself. Shakespeare did not litter his scripts with instructions to the actors on how to speak the lines. He doesn’t give us much information outside of the lines themselves. Now, he is not unique in this regard; it was due in part simply because of the way that scripts were assembled and distributed to the actors at the time. But we can still learn from that.
Let go a little. You don’t need to add modifiers to every speech line to specify exactly how the character said it. You may have a very specific tone in mind, but loosen your grip a little. Trust that your words are enough. You shouldn’t have to say whether they are meant angrily, jokingly, impatiently, or gently.
Progress Is Not a Straight Line
One of the most powerful lessons I learned from reading through every one of Shakespeare’s plays was that even the very best writers have work that doesn’t quite measure up. Progress and improvement can realistically never be a solid, straight line. There will be things you write that you are tremendously proud of, and there will be things you write that you are humiliated to think anyone may ever see. If Shakespeare is allowed to have work that is somewhat patchy (for lack of a better word), then so are you! Expecting perfection, or even expecting to constantly meet your highest standards (whatever they may be) doesn’t do anyone any good. It is not realistic, and it can result in frustration, which won’t help your writing at all.
Work. And work hard. And by that I mean write. A lot. But don’t expect everything you write to stand up to that one brilliant passage you wrote last year.
Those are some of the things I have learned about writing from Shakespeare, and I’m pretty convinced he would recommend the same things if he were alive and knew what NaNoWriMo is.
What do you think?
And don’t miss my more sarcastic “NaNoWriMo tips from Shakespeare” that I shared on Finding the Bard’s Twitter over the last week.