Insights from professional editors and agents

Engine Assemby: Learning the Mechanics of Writing

Ginnie Bivona

Acqusitions Editor, Republic of Texas Press

August, 1999

Picture yourself standing at the open door of your garage. Spread out in front of you are the thousands of parts of an eight cylinder engine. You have to put it together. By yourself. No hints, no help, no manual. No way. It can’t be done. Oh, you may get it all kind of slung together in one big ramshackle clump, but will it run? Will the pistons pump, all the valves work precisely, and the whole thing mesh into one smooth running engine?


Writing is like that. You’ve got thousands, millions, of words spread out in front of you all waiting to be assembled into some wonderful kind of machine that will that will work efficiently and silently in the background of the reader’s mind.

Something that will turn over and start right up when the reader looks at the first sentence. And will keep on running smooth and fast right up to the last word in the last paragraph.

Taking the reader from here to there on a ride to someplace new. Maybe even making their life a little better in the process.

That’s writing. That’s what we do this for.

It doesn’t matter if it’s a short story, the next great American novel, a non-fiction book or an article. When it is written it’s got to run just right, or it doesn’t run at all.

Learning the mechanics of an engine and precisely how it works are vital to correct assembly. The same is true of writing.

Without critical knowledge of the "inner workings" of a manuscript, the "mechanics of assembly," it is almost impossible to produce a publishable piece of work.

The first challenge to the writer, then, is to learn the trade. To know which tools to use and when and how to use them, to build the magnificent engine of connection with another human being.

There are almost as many books about writing as there are books. Well, not quite, but still, there are a bunch.

Two of my favorites are The Writers Journey, by Christopher Vogler, and Bird By Bird by Annie Lamott. Read them. Study them. Have a working knowledge of what they teach.

That’s how you get published.

Use the numerous other resources available: writers magazines, writers workshops, both local and on-line, associations, conferences. Get critique from other writers. (Your mother doesn’t count.) All of these are invaluable in helping the writer get a good firm handle on the craft of writing, as well as what is going on in the industry.

Writing is a business after all; a book is a box with words in it, and in order to sell your box of words you must know what the box buyers are buying. Writing is a wonderful, difficult, and rewarding experience. But nobody ever said it was easy.

Go forth and write. The world is waiting.