Monday, May 30, 2011

The Power of Vacation Revisited

Vacation is truly awesome. It is a release from the everyday. It not only allows you to decompress (the joys of doing nothing), but it also allows to do different things.

When you do different things, you think different thoughts. And if you feel like your writing is in a rut (or that you yourself are), then take a vacation and do something different.

My notepad of ideas invariably fills up when I do different things. It is so beautiful. I give myself time to do things, and enough free time to digest the experiences. When I remove myself from the normal distractions, all I have left is the desire to write.

I will work on new projects, pick up old ones left too long on the backburner, and brainstorm ideas for even more.

The power of vacation is undeniable. It's a shame we can't do it more often, but don't forget to do it at least sometimes. Just remember, you're only a writer on days you write. You may be on vacation, but keep making words.

The Believing Game Revisited

One of the last lessons my writing professor/advisor was to consider The Believing Game. Like all good lessons, it was difficult; I outright rejected it the first several times, but I kept on trying. Part of me trusted that the lesson had to be a good one, while another part was so vitriolically opposed to it. It never left my mind though, and eventually, I went through some personal experiences that made me understand it.

Periodically, it returns to me, The Believing Game, and it sticks with me. Last lessons have a way of having serious impact like that. I find I become more tolerant of many things with each passing year, and The Believing Game may have a hand in that.

In my first post on the subject (the one I linked to), I said that people are either cynics or faithfuls. They either choose to believe or to doubt. This is still true, but there is such value in trying to believe. Even though you have your initial doubts and some things may sound crazy, there could be some good stuff in there along with the crazy.

We are used to the saying, "hear me out." It's the same exact thing. It means you said something that sounds crazy, but you are assuring the listeners that it is not. If you hear something crazy and scoff, imagine the person immediately said, "Hear me out." Then continue listening, and really try to hear them out.

From Kevin's reminder notes:
Accept the crazy, so that you may determine if it is truly crazy. This is the believing game. Crazy ideas probably are not all true, but they may not be all wrong, either. But if you only focus on disputing it, you will never be able to understand it. If you only ever call it crazy, you do not let yourself see any wisdom.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

In Medias Res Revisited

It's been quite a while since I talked about in medias res, but I find myself returning to it. When you start in the middle of things, you miss out on potentil storytelling.

For one thing, it takes away from elaboration. You miss out on characters meeting each other and becoming close frinds or bitter enemies. You miss out on seeing plans formed from and planned before they are carried out.

For another thing, you miss out on entertainment. It is fun to see events unfold, to see characters in their past and how they grow and develop, to see conversations take place, which are later referred to.

In medias res is a valuable technique. When your story is small in scope, starting in the middle keeps you focused (and there is definitely something to be said for a focused story). It will require you to be very conise in your writing in order to fit all the necessary details into your condensed space, but if it makes for a more effective story, then it is well worth the effort.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Unmotivated Me

Since Whitney is no longer using the title for her blog, I am totally stealing it for this post (one person's trash is another person's treasure).

The point of my last post was that passions are powerful and you should make use of the passion that you have. My curse is that I have no passions. I have wishes and dreams and desires, but that burning compulsion to do a particular thing just isn't there. I see this happen with people who are good at communicating.

Excellent communicators are excellent arguers. But because of that, it makes them dispassionate because they can see the validity of both sides of an issue. Similarly, it is hard to get really amped about any one subject because you know how awesome so many other subjects also are.

This is not an excuse. If you don't have passion, tough. You still gotta keep on kicking. Rely on your desires. If you want it badly enough, you may be able to dig down and pull out enough energy to do what you want to do. (Maybe just forcing yourself to write at least one blog post a day is a good way to start.)

Your Anti-Drug Is A Drug

I found myself thinking about the "my anti-drug" commercials. On its surface, it seems like a good thing. Drugs are a way of using your time, which could be used in countless other ways. Whatever activity you chose to fill in the blank was a more constructive way to use your time. Unfortunately, it can also be seen in a darker sense.

When people would fill in the blank, that activity was an obsession. This still played well into the metaphor; drugs to people were an obsession. Obsessing over an activity is a way to make sure that drugs do not become part of your occasion (especially since use of drugs could ruin your ability to do that obsession.

In this latter view, the fact remain that obsession is obsession. If you spend your entire life focused on playing the guitar, then you're spending your entire life not paying attention to anything else. The same goes for playing cards, building robots, or knitting.

"But wait," the people say, "aren't those other activities far more positive than doing drugs?" I dunno, are they? Drugs make you really, super happy, much like doing any other activity you're obsessed with. Some drugs do not make you happy, but they do let you escape from reality, just like any other obsession. Obsessing over playing guitar could make you a world-famous superstar. The same is true for building robots. Even knitting could be turned into a business. But so can drugs. It may not be legal, but it is doable.

In this view, all obsessions are equal. They get you high when you're on them. They make you crash when you're without them. You can be extremely passionate and knowledgeable about them. If you make it your life, there is a way to make a life out of it.

I'm not really trying to defend drugs, nor am I trying to condemn them. What I am trying to say is that all passions can be treated the same, even if the public does not. Passion is the strongest form of energy you can have from within. If you actually have passion for anything, follow it.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Smart Friends Are Awesome

So, I write a post about how you shouldn't try to write a magnum opus, completely oblivious to the fact that this blog itself is a magnum opus. And then one of my friends kindly pointed that out to me. I kinda felt stupid for a bit. Then I realized that it was brilliant.

Cheff Salad itself is a perfect example of exactly what I was saying in my post: Your magnum opus can best be made by taking a single step and not worrying too much about every single step that will follow it. I never worried about writing a hundred posts, but I got there. I never worried about writing a thousand posts, but I'm well on my way there, too. I only ever worried about the post I had to do before I went to bed.

I never worked ahead on them. I only keep a log of ideas for future reference. But I also never let myself get behind. If I slipped, it was usually a day, which I made up. Sometimes it was a couple or a few days, but I still made them up. That is why I am still here, regardless of everything else that has happened.

One a day, chug along. And even if you don't want to do it, you can at least do a small piece just to say that you did it. Do it for a couple or few years, and there's a thousand posts.

All of this realization happened because I have smart friends (and ones who choose to speak). And because of them, everybody wins.

Smart friends are awesome.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Ignore Me If I'm Wrong

As I was writing my previous post, I couldn't help but hear the voice of an impudent writer telling me that everything I was saying was wrong. It said that a magnum opus is perfectly fine to start with and that the best way to make it happen is to dive right into it.

I know that voice because it's mine. Part of that voice is Kevin the arguer; it's that voice that has to contradict everything. The other part of that voice is Kevin the impudent writer; that young, green, knows-everything-about-everything beginner who thought that any advice regarding caution was cowardly.

If you know that I'm wrong, then ignore me. If you are sure that you can start on a magnum opus off the bat, then go for it. Most people cannot do that. I am writing for the people who are not as confident as you.

That said, I would hope you are not so impudent as to ignore all of my words because you disagree with some of them. One day, they may ring true. No knowledge is useless, even if it doesn't immediately benefit you. Log all of the opinions, concepts, and advice you can. Have them for when they are relevant to your situation.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Don't Worry About A Magnum Opus

Periodically, some kind of crazy idea comes into my head. The most recent one is a multiverse-type series. I write a story about a group of people who do various things (as most stories generally are), then I write another story using those same characters and scenario, but have them make different decisions. Each change in decision yields different results, so it is almost like a choose-your-own-adventure, but each book is an equally valid adventure.

This would be a magnum opus. I would need to start from absolute scratch. What story is there to tell? What characters would be in it? How much change can there be in the decisions made that wouldn't yield a short ending or a boring, drawn-out one?

These ideas do not generally get off the ground. They do get recorded, but the sheer size of the project is daunting and looms over me, so I let it go.

At some point, I will make a magnum opus. I may make several. But I am not going to start my career with one.

If you try to start with a colossal project, you will probably give up before then. Do tiny things. Build up your strength, your endurance, your confidence. When you are ready to take on a magnum opus, you will know. In fact, you may end up creating one without even realizing it if the project is exciting enough.

It's easy to take the first step when you don't expect your trip to be a few yards and not several miles.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

You Have Tremendous Power

This afternoon, I walked into a column. I was passing by it, but I didn't notice the decorative trim jutting out several inches, so my upper arm collided with it. It really hurt. Like, I was surprised at how much pin I was in. In fact, I am still sore from it.

I was walking at a normal rate. I wasn't whipping my arms around. I wasn't doing anything out of the ordinary. The fact that I produced enough energy to hurt myself so significantly and so casually is boggling.

Boggling though it may be, it is also true. The human body generates a tremendous amount of energy without even thinking about it. Consider how much you weigh. You move that much weight effortlessly. Add another 20 pounds on a backpack and you can feel it, but still walk around without issue for some time. The energy used to propel your body (and anything attached to it) in a continuous, fluid motion through space is pretty significant, so when it meets a solid object, all that energy gets sent back into your body at the point of contact. Seems no surprise that it hurt.

You have an equally tremendous power linguistically. You know how to talk. You can communicate. You may not know what a gerund is, but you know how to use them just fine. You may not be able to define comedy, but you have said things that made people laugh.

Practicing writing does not teach new abilities so much as it does enhance and refine what you've already done (much as physical exercise trains the body to do more than usual). Studying writing codifies and names techniques and skills. When you learn what a simile is, you have not learned a new skill; you have simply given a name to a skill you already possessed. It may feel like a new skill since it now has a specific designation, but you've been making similes way before that.

The best way to make use of your inherent power is to not pay attention to it. I generated great force by walking without paying attention. I have written excellent things by simply trying to explain a belief to a person (or to myself). Do the same. When you finish writing, stuff it in a box and don't look at it for a month. On June 22, open it up and see how you feel about it.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

If You Can't Remember Why, Remember That

Every endeavor has difficulties. Some at the beginning, some the middle, some the end, and some at every friggin' step along the way.

Whichever one writing may be for you, it sure ain't easy street. When you hit the rough points, you lose sight. You lose focus. You lose your memories. You forget why you chose writing in the first place.

No path is easy, nor is there any easy way out of the difficult times (if there was, they wouldn't really be that difficult), but you can always persevere.

If you can't remember why you're a writer, remember that you're a writer. Hold on to this truth and keep it close to you. You know it is truth because you chose this path in the first place. It doesn't happen by accident; it happens by conscious effort.

When you don't know what to write or why to write, remember that you have to write. If you cannot see the truth now, continue moving and it will reappear to you.

Friday, May 20, 2011

It Was Always Better In The Past

I came across a Youtube video of Colors of the Wind, a song from the Disney movie Pocahontas. The majority of the comments I saw were lamentations. This is such a good movie and such a good song. All the stuff Disney makes now is garbage. The stuff they made in the past was so much better.

I had to laugh. I remember when Pocahontas came out. People were making the same lamentations. Pocahontas was so terrible and lousy. Disney shouldn't try to combine fact and fiction because the movie had nothing to do with the real Pocahontas. The stuff they made in the past was so much better.

Funny how, no matter who you are, the stuff from your childhood was the best and everything else is inferior. No matter what happens, it was always better in the past.

You start thinking that way, you start being an old curmudgeon. Embrace change as best as you can. Look for the value in new things and look for the flaws in old things. If nothing else, be fair in your judgements.

Trust me that you will wish people would be fair when they start judging you.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Just Keep Going

There is a lot of writing advice out there, rife with tips and tricks to get you writing. Some of it will tell you to just write within a window (but of course always sticking to that window), and others will tell you to use your self-imposed boundaries to gain momentum and let it take you as far as it can. I find them both good options and have tried them both.

Tonight, I am recommending that you just keep going. In yesterday's post, when I was about halfway through, I realized that I could have stopped and saved the second part for the next day (today). One post could be about interviewing people and knowing the difference between common and unique. The second post could have been the part where I say that you are always interviewing people, even when you don't realize it or do it formally.

I could stretch a line of thought in that vein into a week of posts, probably. But I didn't want that. I didn't want my thoughts any more disjointed. I wanted to share all of my thoughts on the subject and leave them all there in a single post.

In doing so, I feel better about it. No leaving people hanging. No leaving myself hanging. I can move on to the next idea, whatever it may be.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Interview People

The best way to learn about people is to talk with them. No duh, I know. But we often don't really think about it.

When you learn about people, you will find two things: there are some truly remarkable stories out there, and there are some incredibly common stories out there. As a writer, you should have both of them, and you should also know which ones are which. And trust me, it's easy to find out.

Interview people. Ask them questions. Find out what they have to say. Notice the patterns. How many people have the same story? How many stories are truly unique? How many people think their stories are truly unique?

If you ever work on a cash register, you have to ask the same questions to a whole bunch of people. What are the responses to 'would you like a bag for your items?' You will find a lot of people saying "No, save a plastic tree." If you can't find a barcode or price tag, a whole lot of people think it is absolutely hilarious to say, "If there's no price, then it must be free."

You may not think of this as an interview, but it is. It's also a survey, since you are asking the exact same questions to every person. And there is no kind of data collection like scientific data collection. It's so simple and pure. No extenuating circumstances (or at least as few as possible), just question and answer, and you get to sort the results.

As I said earlier, you will find which experiences are very common and which ones are unique. This is useful when you start writing your story. When you have a character tell a cashier to save a plastic tree, you will strike a familiar chord with a large number of people. When you tell the story of a farmer's son who went on a lifelong quest for knowledge, you will know that it is truly remarkable and inspiring.

Interview people. You just can't know the world until you experience it as much as you can, through as many eyes as possible.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Leave Your Work At Work

I have often heard the advice that one shouldn't take their work home with them. That means that, not only do you not do tasks while off the clock, but it means that whatever frustrations you have from your work, you don't inflict them upon your friends and family.

In most cases, it's pretty good advice. It makes home happier, makes your loved ones happier, makes you way less stressed in general because you are detached from your frustration. It's actually a beautiful mental trick. When you know that you can leave your frustrations elsewhere, you are already mentally separated from them because you know you can take it off regularly. And when you are there, you're halfway toward losing your frustration all together.

I think it's pretty good advice for writers, too. Stress is stressful and totally no fun. If you can detach yourself from it by leaving that stress in a specific location, you get all the benefits that everybody else does. It's the best reason possible to make your own designated writing area and using it during designated writing time.

However, you don't want to have a total disconnect. Writers are observers and questioners. No matter what you are doing, you should be paying attention. When a thought strikes you that would be worth writing about, write down the thought. If you need more than just a thought, write down as much as you have. Then you have it for the next power session you choose to do.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Use Your Time Wisely

I am returning to the 8/8/8 concept. In short, the 24-hour day is split evenly: 8 hours for working, 8 hours for sleeping, and 8 hours free. Although this is not usually how the breakdown goes, the important point is that you get a limited quantity of time in a day and that free time is where all expenditures come out of first.

Because it is finite, you should use your time wisely. If you spend your evening out with friends, then you have sacrificed an evening of reading, writing, going to a concert, or hanging out with other friends. This does not mean that hanging out with friends is bad. It simply means that you have chosen to spend your time in a particular way.

If you have a deadline you need to meet, then spending your time not doing work to meet your deadline is a bad idea. If you have to choose one optional thing over another optional thing, nobody cares. If you know that you really ought to be writing, hanging out with friends will only be so fun because of the nagging feeling in the back of your head.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Hearing Them Breathe

I really enjoy the song Thoughts of a Dying Atheist by Muse. When I listen to it, I get so sucked in that I start singing along. At one point, though, I become really aware of my breathing. There are a number of words which get held for a long time, so they require a lot of air. They also require tactical inhaling. You have to take a deep enough breath to sing the next part, but quickly enough that you aren't late on the beat.

I noticed that every time I listened to the song, I kept breathing in the same spot every time. Then my ears perked open. As it turns out, the singer was taking the exact same breaths in the exact same moments of the song. That made me really happy.

Studio albums sound really good. They have all kinds of effects and filters and can make it sound so clean and polished and supernatural, but in doing so, they can also take away from the humanity of the music. Hearing deep breaths in the music reminded me that this was real, that human beings were making this music and that they were just as limited by the laws of physics and physiology as anybody else (and that I was just as capable of singing along).

I like reading handwritten manuscripts for the same reason. You can see so much humanity in the words themselves: how they were written, cross-outs, breaks in writing style or writing utensil that indicate a break in the writing process and a return at a later time. Sometimes, even food stains can add more to the human who wrote the story.

Sometimes, though, all I want are the words. If the words are thoroughly encapsulating, then I don't need the story of their creation.  However, within the words themselves, I still want humanity. In your stories, don't forget that humans breathe, and that breathing is audible.

Writing Is A Multiperson Project

Although Blogger was having some technical difficulties last night, it did not stop me from making my blog post.  It occurs to me that writing, in general, is a multiperson project.

I am an editor, and a damned good one at that. If you read my blog, you might not believe me. I have a lot of typos and other little errors that do not reflect well upon my skills (one of the many reasons I keep Cheff Salad unadvertised).  But I do not edit my works.  That's why they're there.

I am a great editor, but I am the worst editor of my own work. When I just finished writing something, it is way too fresh in my mind. I can't concentrate over each little letter because I already know the whole sentence in my head.

There are tricks that help you to edit your works. Read your sentences or paragraphs in reverse order. Read something else for 10 minutes and then come back to your work. Tricks are helpful, but really, the best editor is a fresh set of eyes.

That's when I realized that writing really is a multiperson project. One person may be writing, but another will be editing. Another may be giving creative feedback to aid in the revising process. There are agents and publicists involved, too.  Some of whom may have more impact in the writing process than others, but all of whom do make a difference.

Consider all the people that are involved in your writing process. Don't forget to make use of them when you need them.  Also don't forget to say thank you.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

A Meal of Ingredients

My favorite part of writing is making characters. I love defining people and qualities in them, explaining their past in order to understand their present mentalities and beliefs. Seeing the world through their eyes is definitely interesting, but the best part is telling the story of who this person is.

The problem is that such a story is like one ingredient in a recipe. Character bios need to be mixed with settings, conflicts, potential resolutions, and countless other parts. If I just told a character bio, it would be like eating a piece of lettuce instead of making a whole sandwich.

What I would like to do is write a collection of character bios. They might only be a few pages, or they could be a sizable short story in length, depending on the depth of the character. But, rather than tell a full-length, drawn-out story involving these characters, I would simply present them, one at a time.

It would be like having a platter, each section of which having the makings of a sandwich, but rather than assembling one, just eating each ingredient one at a time.

At this point in the thought process, I remembered: I like to do exactly that! One can totally enjoy a meal of ingredients. They're all going to the same place (stomach/mind), so it doesn't matter how mixed up they are before they head that way.

I'm going to be working on my collection of characters. Their stories may be brief, even miniscule, but it will be ok, because they will be satisfying.

Reason vs. Excuse

In my previous post, I said that technical difficulties were the reason for my lack of updates, but it did not excuse them. There is a significant difference between a reason and an excuse, one of the many lessons I learned from my father.

A reason is an explanation. It tells you what the cause is in a cause and effect relation. Reasons are facts, cold and simple.  "I didn't do my homework because I was too tired to stay awake" is a reason.

An excuse is a pardoning. It says that, although an undesirable thing happened, it does not deserve punishment or retribution of any kind.  "I didn't do my homework because my brother was sent to the hospital" is an excuse.

Excuses always have a tacit ending: "and that's more important."  I didn't make my bed because I was making breakfast for my family...and that's more important.

Because that ending is tacit, a reason and an excuse sound identical. And if nobody teaches us the difference, we don't realize that there is one.

The other difficulty is that excuses are judgement calls. It is up to the individual to decide what is more important. However, no matter how hard we try to justify our actions, some things you just can't defend that hard.

Shirking your duties to play games is inexcusable. Not writing because one method of writing is not available is inexcusable.

Before you try to excuse your actions (or lack thereof), take a step back and think about it. Are you giving a reason, or an excuse?

Technical Difficulties

It does not inspire faith when I write about the obligation to create that we have, and then proceed to miss multiple updates immediately after that. For that, I apologize. The reason is technical difficulties. The excuse is nonexistent.

Shit happens. No avoiding it. However, that does not excuse us from writing. Writing is communication, and it is nearly impossible to not communicate. If one method fails, there are countless others. Be resourceful.

Aside from my laptop, I have an old laptop in the closet I can pull out if I absolutely needed to get online or do electronic work. I have my phone that I can write notes in. I have my boxful of notebooks I can write in. I have a pocket-sized pad of paper to write in. I have pens and markers which work perfectly well on my hand if nothing else is available.

Technical difficulties made me frustrated and not wanting to write (and took a good chunk of my time), but it did not actually prevent me from doing that. Next time you try to say that you were unable to get some writing done (whether you are trying to convince yourself or somebody else), take a look around and see if that's really true.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Is It Really Shorthand?

I find abbreviations pretty amusing sometimes. They are designed to save time and energy, but can often not be any help at all

Some months have long names. Others, not so much. "June" and "July" are only 4 characters. "Jun." and "Jul." are still 4 characters. The abbreviation saved no effort.

Sometimes abbreviations are meant to save time. Using a single character to represent a word is convenient. But the problem is that it is only convenient if you are used to it. I dabbled in internet/chat speak, but am not the hugest fan of it. Typing "u" instead of "you" requires more effort because it is not one of the common words that I have a muscle memory developed for. All of a sudden, the abbreviation only saves in keystrokes, but not in time or energy.

The other issue with shorthands like abbreviations is explaining them to others. If I talk about the Department of Justice all the time, DOJ is handy.  If I mention it once or twice in a conversation, it takes more energy to call it the DOJ because I will also have to say what it stands for when the listener gets confused and asks what it means.

So, consider how beneficial your shorthands are. Are they saving you time and energy? If so, are those savings just in the short run or are they still beneficial in the long run? If not, why the heck are you doing them anyway?

Let Your Fingers Do The Typing

I spend more time typing than handwriting. I've been using word processors since at least 4th grade, so I'm pretty comfortable with a keyboard and have developed a pretty strong muscle memory because of it.

I know where the keys are on the keyboard. I remember the first time I realized that I could type without looking at the keys (I still do look at the keys, but that's more of a hand-eye coordination thing). I am not only comfortable with finding individual keys, but I am comfortable with key combinations, too.

There are a lot of common words out there, words I probably type every day. Because of that, my fingers move from key to key without really thinking about it. Typing is nearly as fluent and thoughtless as walking. I do not have to think about the typing itself, just coming up with the words that I wish to type.

Sometimes, though, my mind and my body are not in sync. Sometimes I am composing a sentence in my head, but my hands are typing the word behind what I am thinking. When I am cognizant of it, it trips me up. I have to halt my thoughts in order to catch up physically. Then I can work in tandem.

The important point, though, is that, when I am on autopilot, I get by just fine. I don't think about the spelling of words. I don't think about where in the sentence I am. I just compose it and my body takes the dictation.

If you are comfortable enough typing that you largely don't think about it, then don't think about it. Let your fingers do the typing and let your brain do the thinking. When you trust everybody to do their jobs, then work gets done.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

You Have An Obligation To Create

In writing about Cheff Salad, I made a comment that got me thinking: My traffic drops on days when I don't update. It comes as no surprise, but it is something that strikes me.

I am a creator. Thus, I have an obligation to create. This is especially true since there are people who want my creations.

If you need motivation to write, self-respect should be high up on the list. Set up a deadline, even if it is just once a week, and write something. Put it in a blog to keep yourself honest. Every day you miss a deadline, you should feel bad for not having written something.

If that doesn't work, then think about your readers. People are expecting your next update. Even if you don't think your work is all that great, other people do. When you miss your update, you let them down.

Don't let down your adoring fan base. They're the ones who will do more for you than anyone else. And all you have to do is write stuff for them. And writing is what you want to do already.

P.S. This post was totally written tonight instead of tomorrow because I didn't want to let you down.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Is Your Voice Your Soul?

From a conversation with a fellow writing major:

I am thinking back on all of my cortland college contemporaries.
Liz was fierce and biting to the world, a facade to hold her up while she crumbled on the inside.
Pat was outwardly resentful and destructive, disgusted at the realization of what the world around him was.
You were wistful, yet adventurous, a free spirit waiting to take off.
And in those voices of writing, I saw your souls.
Or what felt to be them.
For all I know, they were all facades, fictional voices meant to entertain a reader.
But still, it is how I remember you all.

A writer's "voice" is the most powerful facet of their being. Your voice affects every single thing you will ever write, as will it affect the perception of your readers. The irony is that your voice is something that naturally emanates from you. It's something that will always be uniquely you, no matter how you change the way you write.

It seems, then, that your voice is your soul. What better way to describe the soul than with the sentences in the above paragraph? But I'm not sure if I agree. As I told my friend, I do not know if the voices I heard were true reflections of the inner authors, or masks put on to make a good show.

Although I can recognize my voice, I cannot separate myself from it, so I don't know what it shows about me, which means I cannot analyze myself to try to figure it out. Science is made difficult here.

I will leave this as a question posed to you. Is your voice your soul?

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Labor Yields Fruits

I wanted to follow up on yesterday's post with an example: me. Or rather, Cheff Salad. I still consider this a personal blog. I do not advertise it, save for a few posts on Facebook, and I don't run it to make money. I continue this blog to continue writing. I do envision every post as a lecture or pep talk to fellow writers and aspiring writers, but I also still see it as a book in a library that never gets pulled from the shelf (mostly because the library is filled with way more amazing books). But that's not entirely true.

I periodically take a look at Cheff Salad's stats, things like traffic flow and page views. The first months of the blog had zero (0) [that's a zero in parentheses]. That means no traffic, no visitors, no anything.  Eventually that did pick up. I started averaging about 2 hits per month. I can guarantee they were the two times per month that I linked one of my friends to a specific post I had written that was relevant to a conversation at hand.

Time continued and so did I. I had a few followers of my blog, including such notable titles as "a couple of my friends" and "my mom". My traffic also increased from 2 per month to 2 per day. That's 30 times the traffic flow. That's 3000% of what it was.

As time continued to continue, and I managed to keep up with it, more interesting things happened. I noticed that I had even more followers. I had more followers than I had friends I kept in touch with. I had people following my blog who I didn't even know. My traffic also increased from 2 a day to 20 a day (at least on days that I update).

In the mean time, I have treated my blog no different now than when I started. One post a day about writing. Figure out the nuances on my own. If I miss a day, do two on the next day to make up for it. I still don't advertise aside from the occasional link on Facebook and in conversations where it's relevant.

I know that 20 hits a day is like a grain of sand on the beach in terms of the internet. That's not the point. The point is that when you put effort into something, you will be rewarded for it. I do not have a massive traffic flow, but I have not put my effort into that. I have put my effort into writing. This is a testament to the claim that making a good product and making it available are all you need to start.

It can be a great difficulty, but actually keep it up. Labor yields fruit. If you can put in 2 years of effort and still see no difference than where you were at day 1, you can give up. But until then, get crackin'.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Actually Keep It Up

The top advice to writers is to keep on writing. There are countless ways to say it. You're only a writer on days you write. Write a page a day and you will have a novel a year. Write nuggets of wisdom and they will become ingots of brilliance.

Easier said than done. Try actually keeping up with writing. There are plenty of times you don't want to, plenty of times you don't feel the passion, plenty of times you just want to sleep! Pathetic though it sounds, I have lost two or three hours just writing a blog post on more than one occasion, and they were hours that, had I been sleeping, would have made the next day way more pleasant.

But, you know what? I survived all of those 'next days'. I also had written something! Keep it up, people. It pays off.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Calculated Bad Ideas

We learn far more from our failures than we do from our successes. Failures hit very hard, very deeply, and the impacts made last for a very long time. Failures are by no means pleasant, but they are a cost to pay for your future gains. They give you experiences to draw from forever.

Our failures largely come from bad ideas. Going out and partying when you know you have to wake up early the next day is a bad idea. Starting a fight with somebody who can beat you is a bad idea. Putting off your assignments until the last minute is a bad idea.

I don't recommend following through on bad ideas just for the sake of a learning experience, but without them, I can't help but feel that one would be missing out to some degree. So, what if you carefully planned doing something stupid? What if you tried a calculated bad idea?

Go out partying, but come back at midnight instead of 4 AM. Start a fight with somebody, but be willing to throw in the towel (note: this works way better with word fights than fist fights). Put off your assignments, but always know exactly how much time you need to complete them so that you are never past the deadline.

In a calculated bad idea, you still get the adrenaline rush or the stress relief that bad ideas give you, but you still stay within the realm of safety. You get as close to that line of danger as you feel comfortable, and you still feel excited from having done it. And the closer you get to that line, the more you learn just how much you don't actually want to cross it.

Learning lessons the hard way sucks. Learning lessons from calculated bad ideas is a pretty decent alternative.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Classical Hoedowns

I always find it odd when people make classical music versions of folk songs. They are a complete conflict of culture. Folk music, like American hoedowns, are designed to create energy. People are meant to get up and dance around, sing and shout, have a good time all around. Classical music is meant to be listened to in absolute silence until the very end, at which point we may clap our hands.

That said, I have nothing against orchestral variations of folk music itself. It is the culture clash I take issue with. If you are going to do music that invigorates people, then you should encourage them to make use of that energy you inspire. You should make an entire concert that does that instead of playing one song that is and a dozen pieces that are not.

In general terms, all adaptations should still fit the source material. For example, if you were to make a modern-day or science fiction version of The Diary of Anne Frank, it is still a tragic and depressing story. If you ever tried to spin it into a comedy, it would either be a thorough bastardization of the story (like a Disney ending) or it would be the most dark, twisted, black comedy imaginable.

If you are told that somebody is playing a hoedown, you should be expected to dance. If you are going to see The Diary of Anne Frank, you should expect to cry. Adaptation is fine and dandy, but it has to be true to the source material, both in relevance and in spirit.


My boss asked if I agreed with a point he made earlier that day. As I was collecting my thoughts, he tells me that he wanted my actual opinion. "I don't want to be surrounded by yes-men."

Another employee was walking by at the last comment and sprang in with a jocular 'no'. My boss replied with, "I don't want any no-men either. I want answer-men."

I liked that. We should surround ourselves with people who have answers. People who only have problems, or people who give thoughtless responses are useless burdens.

As writers, we should be doing the same thing. Have people who can give you answers to your problems. That's what a good reader or editor will do for you. They can do more than just tell you that they don't like it. They can tell you why something doesn't work, how it is falling short, and most importantly, what you can try in order to fix it.

It is not always easy to find such people, though you should look for them. They are worth the time and effort spent to find them.

If you are not so fortunate though, then you do still have one more option: Be your own answer-man. I know it's easier said than done, but it is still doable. If you can tell when something isn't right, you can use your own resources to figure out how to fix it. And if you can't tell when something isn't right, then you can still make use of a reader who can point them out to you, even if they can't fix it.