Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Illusion Of Free Will

Fate flies in the face of free will. I know I can choose my choices. Right? Right. I see two or more options, I think about them I measure and weigh them, and I pick one. And maybe I do it very carefully over the course of weeks. And maybe I do it in a fraction of a second. But, no matter how impulsive I am, I know I have processed and considered and chosen my actions. So how dare I tell me that everything is destined to happen based on the status of things before I was even conceived? Well, I'm sorry, but unless science tells me otherwise, I have to say that we don't have free will because of cause and effect.

So, what do we have then? We have the illusion of free will. We think we have it. We believe we have it. And we think that we are making a decision rather than technically going through the motions. And people often get very depressed at this concept. They want to run away and hide, somehow remove themselves from the world because they feel trapped or useless within it.

But we should not do that. We should make use of this illusion. Illusions are incredibly powerful. With the power of illusion, you can look to be a god. With the power of illusion, you can become whoever you want to be. With the power of illusion, you can do far more than you could ever do if you feel like a prisoner of fate.

This applies both to you as a writer as well as your characters (if they choose to believe so). What you choose to believe can significantly affect what you are able to do. The mind is a powerful force. Make use of it. Write, read, observe, learn, understand, acquire, internalize. Do tremendous things because you can. Whether it's an illusion or a reality, you can make them happen.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Everything Happens For A Reason

"Everything happens for a reason." It is a classic expression, but people understand it only in one particular frame. People believe that everything happens for a beneficial reason. People believe that all difficulties lead to a positive result, that all clouds have a silver lining, perhaps that we actually live in the best of all possible worlds. This is an important aspect of theodicy. I do believe that everything happens for a reason, but I do not believe it in this "it's all good" frame.

I believe it in the most literal sense possible. I literally believe that everything happens for a reason. Or, in other words, nothing is truly random or spontaneous. All actions, thoughts, beliefs, etc. occur because of some set of stimuli that came together and yielded this particular response.

This goes hand-in-hand with my ideas of fate. We can know what happens next when we understand all of the things that are happening now. This process works in forward and backward directions.

The greatest power of the writer is to create worlds and people. But what makes that power effective is when the world governs itself. If you can understand all of the inner workings of your world and its inhabitants, then you never have to worry about what happens next; it will be readily obvious from the flow of previous and present events.

Everything happens for a reason. If you can find out what the reason is, you will know everything that happens. How can you turn that down?

Friday, July 29, 2011

Talents Are Weaknesses

In my previous post, said that writers with a natural ability to tell good stories will be equal to writers who had to learn and practice how to tell good stories once they have acquired and internalized those skills. That's not entirely true.

The person with natural talent may have the same ability, but does not have the same knowledge. The person who learned how to tell a good story knows what makes a story compelling, interesting, attractive, and also knows specifically how to do those things.

Talents are weaknesses. They may appear to be strengths, and they certainly make life easier to a degree, but it's kind of like cheating. To have ability that you didn't have to struggle or fight for, it's almost like you didn't earn it. You don't know what it's like to not have it. And because of that, you don't understand to the same degree what its worth, value, and total capabilities are.

I consider myself to be a talented writer. I easily come up with story ideas. I easily tell compelling stories. I have a very good vocabulary and can use it quite effectively. However, I was very limited because of that. When I started out, I thought I was already at the top. That was very wrong. I had (and still have) so very much to learn. I had to get that realization beaten into me. And once I finally realized that, I then had to figure out all the same lessons as everybody else. I had to learn what good writing was, why it was effective, how to make it work. But on top of that, I also had to learn what bad, ineffective writing was, and how to avoid it.

In terms of writing, I consider myself talented, but educated. I have spent a great deal of time studying my craft, as well as practicing and honing it. Although ideas come to me, good sentences come to me, proper grammar comes to me, I can also explain where those ideas come from, why those sentences are good, and why a grammar rule is what it is.

If there is something you naturally excel at, enjoy it for what it is. If you naturally excel at something, and you want to make it be a career or serious pursuit, then you better study and study hard, because relying on your talent will get you killed.

Equality In Easiness

I was talking with a friend tonight about our abilities. I told my friend that I was impressed by her resilience and determination, coupled with her kindness. She replied, "So do you though... and it doesn't come easy for you. Things come easy for me - I am naturally resilient and forgiving - most people aren't."

I told her, "Just because things don't come easy doesn't mean they don't become easy."

I could be wrong but I am fairly certain that, no matter how difficult it is to acquire a skill, once it has been acquired it loses its difficulty.

When I say "acquire", I mean to internalize it. You can do something before you have acquired the skill to do it. So, to an extent, acquiring something removes its difficulty by definition.

Still, the point lies elsewhere. The point is that some people are born with particular abilities either fully acquired or extremely close to being acquired. For those people, doing such abilities, like doing math in their head, is easy. For everybody else, it will be a struggle, perhaps a grueling struggle to be able to do math in your head. It may take a library of tips and tricks and techniques to do process numbers and store them all. It also may require hours upon hours of raw practice to develop and internalize those abilities. But once they have been internalized, they are now just as easy as they are for the person born with that ability.

I do not doubt that talent exists. I see people, some of whom can spin a yarn in casual conversation, and others who couldn't string two cogent sentences together to save their lives. But I will never believe that a given person can't become an excellent storyteller.

Whether you are born with latent talent or you have to read and write and practice and rewrite to gain the abilities that other people are born with, the fact of the matter is that you will reach a point where it becomes easy (or at least easier). At that point, all professionals are equal.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Why Are You Really Upset?

I'm listening to the song Big Yellow Taxi by Counting Crows. It's certainly a pleasant song, but it's also really amusing to me.

The most well-known (and most often said) lyric in the song is, "they paved paradise and put up a parking lot." It's even the first line in the song. And you hear about how they put up a mall and a boutique. You hear how they cut down the trees to put in a tree museum. You hear him tell the farmers to "Put away your DDT" because he'd rather have apples with spots on them than filled with pesticides.

It's pretty obvious that this is a song against the so-called progress of the modern world, increasingly separating us from nature. And what's worst is that we "don't know what we've got until it's gone."

Except that halfway through the song, it gets really quiet and we are told that, "a big yellow taxi took my girl away."

That has nothing to do with anything else being talked about. You'd think that maybe it was just a bad analogy, except that the name of the song is "Big Yellow Taxi", so it was definitely done on purpose. In fact, maybe that's all that this song is really about: some guy being upset that he lost his girl, and not giving a damn whatsoever about the world or mother nature.

People do a lot of things. They can get very upset, which can make them very motivated and very vocal about what is upsetting. But when you come across such characters, ask them, "what are you really upset about?" They may stick to their story. It may be a good story. It may even be perfectly legitimate and unquestionable. But even still, question it a little. Don't push too hard, but let them rant for a bit, and see if the truth reveals itself.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Be Attractive

If I said I was attracted to a person, you would probably think I want to have sex with that person. If I said I was attracted to a thing, you'd think I had bizarre fetish. Because of our euphemisms (or perhaps our laziness), all attraction is assumed to be sexual attraction.

In reality, attraction is anything that attracts you, anything that draws you in. (That's right, even more connotation vs. denotation.) A familiar song can attract you to its source. A delicious smell can attract you to delicious food. And a compelling character can attract you to a story.

Be attractive when you write. Be attractive in all of your levels of writing. The more you can attract somebody to your words, sentences, phrases, to your worlds and scenes, the more likely you will be to have them continue to read and think about them (which is exactly what you want).

Attraction is partly a matter of doing something different, and partly a matter of doing something really satisfying. Pick nonstandard words that other people will know. Satisfy the music between sentences and paragraphs. Have a concept that people may think of, but do not put into words.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Amazing Things Already Exist

Quite some time ago, I had an idea for a character. Normal painters very often draw a pencil sketch of what they plan to paint on a canvas as a beginning step. My character would do the most gorgeous pencil drawings of one thing (like a covered bridge), then paint a completely unrelated image on the canvas (like a formal portrait). With this character, it makes no sense why he does this or how it helps, but he is completely unable to do a painting without making the sketch first.

I have yet to do anything with this character because I cant find a story for him yet. I have some scenes, like a friend coming to visit and seeing the process in action (and having his mind blown). I also see a scene where the friend (or some other ancillary character) faces a deep personal struggle whether or not to scrape the paint off of the works to see the pencil drawings beneath them.

Right now, I have a cool concept and some scenes, but not a whole story, which is why it has remained on the back burner for some time, though it has never left my head.

Today, I was screwing around (either flipping through TV stations or internet pages) and saw a hairless cat. It is by no means a new sight to me, though I was really looking at the patten on the skin; it was mostly white, with some black splotches on the back half. I was thinking about how incredibly weird it is that a cat's fur creates a totally different pattern than what their skin pigmentation shows. And today, it clicked with me how similar this phenomenon is with my bizarre painter.

It may be worth exploring. If I can draw parallels between the two, it could be the story that I'm looking for. More importantly, one should realize that some amazing things already exist in this world. Even if you come up with a really compelling concept, either for a character or a place or a relationship or a material, look around the real world first, because there is a chance that it already is out there.

That doesn't mean that you shouldn't write the story you want to write. It just means that you should learn even more about that subject so you can make the most-compelling story possible.

Sunday, July 24, 2011


I accidentally created he word 'grisp' yesterday. As in, "She had a strong grisp on her beliefs." Basically, I tried to say 'grip' and 'grasp' at the same time, and they fused. Even now, I still try to say one of the words and say the fusion instead. Somehow, it feels more natural.

I think it's funny that people will probably not adopt 'grisp' because it is nonstandard, but if I ever used it in conversation, most people would know exactly what I meant and not think twice about it. It's funny, how much more willing we are to accept new things that are spoken instead of written. Still, the more you treat something as normal, the more likely it is to be accepted as normal.

Go forth and propagate 'grisp'. Give it a unique meaning and add to its legitimacy. After all, if Shakespeare can make up words, why can't I? You know that once you start using it, it will have a serious grisp on you.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Modify It Until It's Not Crap

A fellow writer asks: "How do I get motivation to keep writing something that I know is crap?"

My answer: Modify it until it's not crap.

If you are working on a project that you have control over, then take control of it. If something is screaming at you that it's crap, then some part of your project may be actively awful. If that's the case, then change that aspect until it's not awful anymore.

Suppose you're writing a story about an elephant that is the size of a squirrel who goes on adventures in a city park, but it just feels like crap to you. The first step is to isolate the problem. Is it this character that you think is crappy? Is a squirrel-sized elephant just too silly or ridiculous to get into? Or is the problem the story itself? Is a generic adventure story too plain and uninteresting?

If the character is the problem, then change it. Make it be something other than an elephant (maybe a sheep or a giraffe). Or, keep it as an elephant, but make it be the size of a dog instead of a squirrel.

If the story is the problem, then change it. Instead of it being a playful adventure, make it be a quiet introspection of being such a unique and bizarre creature. Make it be a lamentation of being the puniest version of a creature known for its enormous stature.

As I said in my original response, you are feeling conflicted. Some part of you still believes in the project, but some part of you is disgusted. If you simply change the disgusting portion into a more palatable form, then you'll be good to go.

As always, it is far easier said than done. I won't deny that. But I will tell you that if you start thinking about and playing with your stories, you can make these modifications a lot faster than if you just sit around in woe.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Remove Your Options

A fellow writer asks: "How do I get motivation to keep writing something that I know is crap?"

My answer: Remove your options.

The reason you are plagued is that you believe that you can stop writing. And, quite simply, you usually can. It is remarkably easy to put down the pen, close your word processor, and move on to some other thing. It could be another project or it could be another activity (like learning sweet magic tricks).

But the other reason you are plagued is that some part of you has a tenacious grasp on this project and refuses to let the rest of you put it down.

This puts you in a deadlocked position. As you said, you lack the motivation to continue. If you remove the ability to drop your project, you will be filled with a great motivation to complete it just to be done with it.

Being a fellow writer, I am sure you are well aware that nothing puts a fire under your ass like a deadline. So give yourself one. And give yourself a real deadline, something you will be held accountable to by other people. Make it a deadline you can't push back. And if you need to pull an all-nighter to complete it, so be it.

You may need to tell yourself that you will submit it to a publication. If you have an editor or agent, then promise you will get a draft in by a certain date. Make it a reasonable one, so you don't expect to fail, but that you cannot screw around. If it is just you, then promise a friend or colleague to show your project by a certain date. You ought to have enough pride and self-worth to not be embarrassed by showing up with nothing.

When we went to school, we had to write a lot of projects. We all thought that most of our writing was crap, but we had to grin and bear it; we had to finish our works and make them be the best they could (really had to shine those turds). This doesn't stop being true post-graduation.

I will admit that I am making some assumptions here. I assume this is a personal project that you are losing motivation with (and saying that you know it's crap comes from your lack of inspiration). If this is for work, then you already have a deadline and there is nothing you can do but grin and bear it.

If the problem really is that you hate the particular project you're on, but you don't want to stop writing, then drop the project and start a new one.

If the problem is that you hate the current form of your project, but you don't want to give up on the concept, then you'll have to wait for tomorrow's post.

It's Hard To Stay Objective

A friend of mine sent me an article recently, titled Why do some Americanisms irritate people. It starts out very well and made me very happy. It takes a look at the English language through a linguistic standpoint, explaining how Americanisms (variations of words that were created in America) made their way to Britain and became adopted. It also explains how English has gained power as a world language, specifically because of its ability to absorb and modify any word and that any person can learn and communicate in this language because of that.

Reading through those sections, I was filled with pride. This writer understood that language was alive, that some people thoroughly despise change and look silly nowadays because of it, and that my native tongue is one of the most amazing languages out there.

Granted, these are all things I have said myself, many times, but even still, validation is awesome.

I had to laugh when I got to the second half of the article, though. It devolves into a lamentation of how terms and spellings from British English are being replaced by American ones, how we are using sayings whose origins we are unaware of, and how some words in use nowadays are just plain ugly and vile.

Oh, Mr. Engel, you tried your best. I understand that it's hard to stay objective. It was a valiant effort to be scientific and unattached (or at least unopinionated), but you lost all of your credibility when you started saying the very things you denounced.

Don't mock people who insulted words we now find commonplace, and then insult words we find commonplace. Don't talk about how amazing the flexibility and capacity for growth the language has, then be upset with the words made when the language grows.

And in reference to your last sentence, don't you DARE have the gall to believe that the English you speak is even REMOTELY CLOSE to original.

If you want to be educated, be educated. If you want to be full of pride, then do that. But don't try to do them both in the same piece of writing. I don't care how difficult it is for you to remain objective - put in enough effort to do so.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Satisfy The Music

I was doing some editing for a friend, trying to find the right wording for a particular phrase. The original wording described a collective as building "camaraderie and community", but it wasn't quite right. At one point, I had the idea of replacing the phrase with "close-knit community", but I wasn't sure if it felt the same.

My friend said, "I do like 'close-knit' because it satisfies the music."

I really liked that wording. You might say it struck a cord. I very often describe this concept by talking about melody or rhythm or flow, the first two being music terms, but I never really talk about "the music" of a sentence. It's pretty perfect, though, and said in a flawlessly succinct manner.

I do enjoy the friends I have. They have a way with words I find endearing. And sometimes, they say something that reminds me of exactly why I keep them very close to me.

This post really has two points. The first is that sometimes the best word or phrase to choose is the one that satisfies the music of your sentence more than having the most exact literal denotation. The second is that you really ought to have people in your life who support you, both actively and passively. If you are friends with somebody whose very presence uplifts and inspires you, you will be able to do far more than you ever could if left to your own devices.

Bohemian Rhapsody

Yes, I am totally talking about THE Bohemian Rhapsody. Now, I grew up in the '90s, so my introduction to it was through Wayne's World. In that version, you start out with the rocking out and headbanging and it's a joyous good time. But coming back to it, I realize that to listen to the whole song, you got a truly amazing story.

What makes Bohemian Rhapsody so powerful is that it starts out with the tragedy (technically, it starts out with a brief character description in the album version).  "Momma, just killed a man."

Murder is generally a culmination. It's a final resort, an act of either unbridled rage or absolute desperation. We must justify murder in our stories, or at least explain it. Even if it was wrong to do, we need to know what happened to drive a person to take a life.

But in the song, we just start with the murder. This is actually a spectacular example of in medias res. We jump right into the story and consider things that I feel are often overlooked: the remorse that follows the realization of what he's done, the fear of what will happen to him to pay for his crime, understanding how his punishment will also hurt the people who love him.

The story does have a journey, much like any classically-structured story. There is the introduction, where we meet the protagonist and follow his actions. Actions lead into reactions, more characters are brought in, all building up to a climax. And after the final decision is made, there is the denouement where characters settle down and accept their actions and decisions.

There is no doubt that the music adds significantly to the story. We can understand a great deal about the protagonist by the way Freddie sings his lines and the melody that accompanies it. But still, the words are key.

Whether you are writing lyrics or prose, tell a story. And as always, tell an interesting story. Look around, ask questions, dig underneath the common, and find those stories that are often overlooked. Try something daring like making the end of a classic story be the beginning of yours. Or try writing about the life of an ancillary character. It may not seem as bright and amazing, but it will be new, and it could be a smash hit.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Diverse Vocabulary

In conversation tonight, I was talking with a friend about anger and its results. My friend shared a story, opening with the line, "well, one of my friends got me mad... like REALLY mad."

Though I politely said nothing, my instant reaction was a sarcastic, "Oh wow, so like, really mad?"

I understand what my friend was trying to express. But I stress the word "trying" here. Without the context of what came before and after that sentence, it does not successfully convey the power of emotion she had felt.

She was beyond angry, beyond livid, beyond fury; she was even beyond seething. She experienced a blinding, white-hot rage that consumed her rational mind and exuded hate.

It doesn't matter in what way you visually modify the word "really", if you are "really mad" it just does not come close to all of the other more descriptive words and phrases out there.

I've mentioned vocabulary at least a few times on Cheff Salad (type "vocabulary" into the new search bar and see what comes up). It is, in fact, that important. Tonight, I had a particularly effective (and I hope poignant) example and wished to illuminate a point I have steadily made through the years.

Diverse vocabulary matters... like REALLY matters.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

A World Or A Life

Quote from note: "For the effort used to create an entire world, some people would prefer to create a single life."

A world is a terribly complex system. You are going to have different terrains, which will be split up into different nations, each one with its own government, economical system, religion, technology, etiquette, and communication (both within the nation and between nations). In order to create a fully-functional world, you will require a significant quantity of effort and energy.

A person is a terribly complex system. They have hopes, dreams, fears, thoughts (both deep and shallow), homes, other people in various roles, and the have histories, which include all of those aspects, but to a younger version of that character, all of which have worked to shape these characters into the people they currently are. In order to make a fully-fleshed out character, you will require a significant quantity of effort and energy.

As a writer, you may choose to focus on one subject or the other.

I tend to lean toward writing about worlds. I find that making these enclosed, but dynamic systems is an incredible challenge. The nature of technology to improve, leaders to degrade, and revolution to occur makes stability incredibly difficult, and if it is impossible, then I am constantly exploring how form of government ends up producing the next form of government.

I also enjoy writing about people. I find trying to capture and portray the entirety of a person's psyche an incredible challenge. There are so many factors that are simultaneously acting upon us, affecting the thoughts and decisions we make, combined with our collected history, which has shaped us greatly, that it is a wonder people can be described in any accurate way at all.

Whether you lean toward worlds or people, you will find them to be incredibly similar in their depth and complexity. If you wish to do them justice in your works, be prepared to work for it.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Not All Greatness Is Hyperbole

In my second post ever, I said, "I have hundreds of ideas all fighting to come out of my mind and onto the web." Hundreds of ideas seems pretty grandiose when I am on post number two, but look at me now, a week away from 900 ideas having come out of my mind and onto the web.

I have been reflecting on the feat of this blog lately. I'm two and a half years in and I still have a lengthy list of blog ideas I have yet to write. The longest endeavors I've had both lasted about 10 years. Though writing, in some form or another, has exceeded all other endeavors, Cheff Salad specifically still has a ways to go.

It sounds hyperbolic to say that I will write several hundred or several thousand entries about writing, but if I were to do this for 10 years, I would have 3,650 posts (a couple more, considering leap years).

Not all greatness is hyperbole. Sometimes people do truly great things. If you set out to do something amazing, people may think you have delusions of grandeur, but when you actually succeed at your amazing goals, then your plans were merely accurate.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Make An Ending

A truly Great comic I have been reading has ended. Great was a comic that started as a short story, but just kept on going. There kept being another chapter, another set of people, another opportunity for greatness. It ended up being 139 pages (although each page is like 5 pages long).

The reason I am writing about it is the ending. It was thoroughly satisfying. It tied up the loose ends, completing this last chapter, but not ending with death or dreams. It was the ending that the story truly deserved, and it is still moving me now.

Comics are so amazing because they can be infinite. It could last a year or twenty. Generally the ones like that are one-shot comics with no significant ongoing story. Some, though, do have a cast of characters that keep on showing up. And every now and then, you have a continuing story, which can continue indefinitely, adding more and more to the canon and shared history of these people.

Most things that can be updated can be endless, whether comics or books or movies or blogs. All too often, though, they stop updating. They don't end, though, they just stop updating. This is the most tragic thing imaginable, to be in this perpetual living death, being unfinished, but having nothing more added. It is an orphan, there for all the world to see and mourn.

I make a promise to all of my readers. If there comes a time that Cheff Salad will cease, it will have an ending. Barring some horrendous atrocity like me suddenly dying, I will say goodbye to you. And if that does happen, I am sure my writing soulmate will write a touching and heart-felt goodbye on my behalf.

I ask that you as writers will grant the same benevolence to me. If you begin a serial work, whether it be for a week or a lifetime, please give it a proper ending, when it is time to end.

Another Step Forward

So I changed the subtitle of Cheff Salad again. It now reads, "thoughts and observations, often about writing." These changes are becoming ever more frequent. Eventually, I will be making a new one every day, along with a new post.

The impetus to make this change came from my friend, who got quite upset when she found out that I had changed it from "A blog about writing, and sometimes about life." That really was a great line, and I have been very tempted to go back to it, but I just can't let myself go backwards.

Instead, I chose to take another step forward. The wording struck me last night, so I made the change. It is similar in style and content to the preferred one, though obviously not the same. I do like it, and I will see if it grows on me.

To me, taking a step forward means I am doing something new. It means I'm not returning to my safety net, not doing what I know has worked in the past. At some point in the future, I may return to my past successes and either expand on them in some manner or another, but right now, I want to keep moving forward and seeing how many things I can create, and how many new successes I can put under my belt.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Embrace Change

I took yet another baby step in updating my blog: I added a search bar to the side.

If you were looking for a particular entry, start typing in those keywords and you will be rewarded.

If you aren't looking for a particular entry, then play a game where you type in a random word or phrase and see what it returns. With 890 posts, you have a good pool to choose from.

It is important to update and to adapt to the world when it changes. I do feel like this blog is out of date because it doesn't have any widgets like sharing tools, nor do I put in images or videos. The whole thing is a wall of text.

Part of me is an old codger who doesn't want to change. Part of me is just a lazy lout who doesn't want to get into these things. Honestly, I wanted to find a Random button, but I didn't see a pre-existing widget I could add at the click of a button, so I chose the search bar instead. Oh well. With a random input, you will get a random entry out of it.

Still, though, change should be embraced. If you ignore it, you, too, will be ignored by it and everybody who supports the change. Nothing says you can't take baby steps in the right direction to get comfortable with it, but something does say you shouldn't drag your feet.

That something, by the way, is me.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Typographical Errors

Everybody knows the word 'typo', but few people know where it comes from. 'Typo' is short for 'typographical error'. A typo is a specific kind of error. It means that your error was not in knowledge, but in execution. You either hit a wrong key, didn't hit a key, or hit the right keys in the wrong order.

When we see the written word, we are incredibly harsh when it comes to errors, and we treat them all the same. We always assume that the writer cannot spell or doesn't know any of the rules of grammar. We never seem to consider that somebody may have just put their finger in the wrong place or was extremely tired while typing. No, instead, we're all a bunch of idiots who can barely communicate a thought.

Ease up on people with typos. We pretty much all make them at some point, so don't be hypocritical. And try to understand what it's like trying to communicate a thought effectively as possible, while also being as fast as possible. We can only catch so many errors when we read our own work and it is fresh in our minds.

On the other side, don't be an irresponsible typist. Proofread what you write. Even if not super thoroughly, give it a once over. Correct the big, major mistakes. Train yourself to type effectively and accurately. Don't justify your mistakes by saying that other people need to learn to accept your style. It doesn't work that way.

Not surprisingly, things work when both parties are willing to put in effort and compromise.

Monday, July 11, 2011

It's New To You

At this point in Cheff Salad, I repeat myself fairly often. I'm at nearly 900 posts now (this is #888 to be exact). I do not expect you to have read all of my posts and know what I have and have not written about, nor do I have an encyclopedic knowledge of every word I've ever written (which would be boring because it is so good to go through my archives and rediscover something that was not just throwaway writing). But, because of that, I will talk about the same subject more than once.

Sometimes I do it on purpose. Like, I know that one subject is basically a continuation of a previous thought. In that case, I will link to it. If there is a subject that I specifically want to talk about that I know I have done before, I will write a Revisiting post. But for every time that I'm just covering a subject I've covered before, well. . .oh well.

If you don't remember it, then it's new to you. And if I don't remember it, then it's new to me. And if neither of us remember it, then I might as well have not written about it the first time.

What I find more important is not worrying about it. If you've done it before, so be it. Do it better. You will be far better off continuously creating than maintaining a knowledge base which you focus on so much that it prevents you from adding to it for fear of redundancy.

Go forth and write.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Relative Truth

So much of writing is about the truth. We seek to create characters who are true people in their thoughts and actions. We seek the truth in a mystery. We search for the answers to our questions in essays. When you have truth, you hold onto it, knowing that nothing can separate you from facts.

The problem is that not all truths are absolute. Your age is relative; it changes every year. Your location is the same, but changes far more often. Some relative truths are intangible like 'how do you feel' or 'what do you think about this subject'.

Relative truth can be tricky for writers for two reasons. The first reason is that, if you are seeking the truth, you may find it forever slipping away from you. The second reason is that, if you are trying to create true fiction, you are very likely to fit into somebody's truth by accident.

Because of relative truth, people also are unstable and not dependable. They have temporary selves who they cycle between , but you can never guess which version of them you will come across.

When you are writing, ask yourself a two-part question. "Is my statement true? If so, is it true forever or is it true right now?"

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Why Didn't That Work

There is an episode of American Dad! where Roger is an acting coach. At one point, he gets worked up into a rant about acting and randomly shouts at a student to bring him butterscotch. The student asked what kind of butterscotch, but Roger simply shouts for her to go. Roger continues his rant about acting and the student returns with her arms full. She says that she brought butterscotch candy, butterscotch pudding, and butterscotch ice cream. Roger grabs the pudding and smacks the rest of it out of the students arms. He smears a handful of it on his face and shouts out, "Pudding Man!"

There are a few seconds of silence. Roger regains his composure, then calmly asks to the class, "Why didn't that work?"

I actually found it to be a very interesting scene. This character gets wilder and wilder, which is increasingly amusing, but then he does this one action which goes too far and completely loses the crowd. It is an undeniable fact and no amount of trying to hide or cover it up will change that. Rather than try to justify it, he accepts it and uses it as a moment to reflect and to teach.

Why didn't it work? I started thinking about it. Pudding Man had no context, so it existed in this vacuum, which took away its power of relation. Where Roger was previously irate, Pudding Man was campy. This complete shift in tone and feeling and sense completely derailed the scene and jars the audience. That utter confusion loses the audience, along with their laughter.

The only reason I analyzed that scene was that Roger told me to. He posed the question and forced me to think. There is no exercise I can think of that is more beneficial to a writer's growth.

In fact, my college professor had us do exactly that. Understanding why things are effective is great, but all too often we ignore our failures. We say "it doesn't work" or "it doesn't feel right." These are not helpful answers. They are leads to go hunting for real answers. Follow those leads. Be able to explain your failures. Be able to explain other people's failures. And do so with concrete language.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Monkey Work

Any work so simple that "you could get a trained monkey to do this job" is what I call monkey work. We usually think of it for jobs like working in fast food or any other cash register job, but every field has monkey work.

Even in writing, there is proofreading. That is the editing where you are simply checking for errors and correcting them. Though it does take a lot of training to learn all of the rules of language and the mechanics of the written language, it can be learned by training. And at that point, it is monkey work.

Monkey work is not necessarily a bad thing; it's simply less demanding. I enjoy proofreading. It is a simple task that I can totally lose myself in. When I am going over a piece for the first time, I am simultaneously absorbing the content as I am searching for mistakes. I don't have to worry about the big picture stuff or about the smoothness of transitions or the subtext of a given passage. It's actually the most relaxing reading I do.

That said, I also enjoy the more creative aspects, too. I love actually making my own world and people and stories. Even in editing, I love developing ideas and finding the perfect wording for a passage.

Not surprisingly, it is the balance between creativity and monkey work that makes for happiness. Find a way to be productive while also relaxing. If you can get your writing done, then decompress with some proofreading, you will be incredibly productive, but also stay sane.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Tacet Buger

Hanging out with a good friend tonight, I heard an excellent story. She is a musician and was telling me of the antics of the group she was playing with. They had an inside joke involving the phrase "tacet burger". Whenever people would miss an entrance or otherwise not be playing, that was a tacet burger.

One singer was holding their notes for way too long, so my friend said, "Tacet burger - Hold everything."

I died laughing. It was the best line I have ever heard. It was so good I pulled out my pen and paper and wrote it down, fully intending it to be the fodder for tonight's post (which it totally is).

Later on in the night, she saw my note and told me I spelled it wrong. I had it spelled as "tacit burger". I disagreed with her. I know for a fact that I use 'tacit' regularly and without issue. I have looked it up in the dictionary. Most importantly, I know it comes from Latin, the imperative command being tacite.

But I also know that 'tacet' is a term in music, which is mostly from Italian, so I wasn't sure what actually was correct. I pull out the dictionary and look it up. They are both in there, and both seem pretty much the same.

Upon further inspection, though, I noticed that 'tacit' is an adjective and 'tacet' is a verb. So, the latter is a command and the former is a description.

I told my friend that we were both right; both variations are acceptable English. However, she was more right because calling "tacet burger" is done when you are wanting or telling somebody to be quiet.

There are two main points I want to draw from this whole experience:
1. "Tacet" and "tacit" are two very similar, but different words. They are truly wonderful and ought to be used, but go the extra mile and use the right one for the situation.
2.  If you have no idea why my friend's line is absolutely hilarious, expand your vocabulary.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

My Own Little World

I really do live in my own little world. For other people to tell me that is not an insult, but a compliment. It means they can see that it exists, too.

My world is one of absolute absurdity and inanity. In my world, the ocean is a living entity (and one with loose morals, at that). The things people say in jest are absolute truths ("Yeah, I can turn into a race car with a rocket launcher, but only after a three-bean burrito."). Completely conflicting and mutually exclusive things are simultaneously true ("I'm a famous ninja. Absolutely nobody knows my name, that I exist, or recognizes that I have ever had any effect whatsoever in the world.").

There is a good balance of the absurd and the plausible, the surreal and the super real, absolute silliness and dire seriousness. Whatever mood I'm in, there is a place in that world to suit me. And, best of all, it is never boring. Always something new to do, see, or discover. And when I don't want anything new, there is always something familiar I can return to.

All my creativity comes from this world. Much of my fiction comes from exploring the world or other people there. Most of my novel insights are simply reading the sign posts along the road of that world.

We are often told to leave our little worlds behind and enter the real world. I say hooey. My world is my home and my haven. I know that I need to make excursions into the real world, but it is not great enough to stay there. The longer I stay out of my world, the blander everything becomes (and the fewer interesting ideas I have).

If you like your own world, enjoy your time in it. If you meet similar-minded people, invite them in. And if they can't quite be in it, then be so comfortable in your world that other people can at least see what is inside.

Be Free From Association

Writing is a very associative process. Everything is related. You see an image and it makes you remember an experience. The color on a poster reminds you of your favorite cereal (because it is the color that it makes the milk turn).; just keep forging ahead.

It's why we struggle so often with originality. We know our story has been told before because we associate the concept with other stories that have the same or similar concept. But in reality, your story, no matter how similar it may be, is a unique and original creation (unless you outright stole it).

One of the hardest things you can do is free yourself from association. Put on your blinders and move forward. Worry not about any distractions or any similarities to anything else. Just live in the moment.

I recommend this for life as much as writing. Do not avoid an activity because you associate it with some other experience. The activity you will do will be as unique and original as your stories.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Don't Rely On Your Crutch

Everybody has a crutch (or three). They probably don't even see it is a crutch, but it's there. It may be as large as "I only like to write in the mornings in front of my window about my thoughts and feelings, which I later transmogrify into narratives." Or, it could be as minute as, "I like to write when the mood strikes me."

Crutches, whether they be big or small, are wrong. They provide support, but at the cost of flexibility. An unburdened writer can writer can write anywhere. Although they may prefer to write in their studio, they can do it on the road or in the doctor's office. The same is true for what a person writes about, how a person writes, or any other qualities of writing.

Crutches have value. They allow you to be strong when you still feel weak. But, much like a literal crutch, if you let it replace your natural ability and maneuverability, you will never grow the internal strength to be able to operate without that crutch.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Freudian Slips

Freudian Slip - An article of clothing worn under a dress that reminds you of your mother.

All kidding aside, a Freudian slip is when you say something that you did not mean to say, but was on your mind and reveals some hidden part of you. It's an interesting concept, and though it is not entirely ridiculous, I only give it so much credit. What I do find interesting, though, is that there is a similar experience you can see in the written word.

Many of the typos I catch myself doing come from writing a less-commonly used word. I will type "know" instead of "knot". The former is a word daily. The latter is not. ("Not", though, is another word I use daily, and I easily type instead of "knot".)

The reason for it is simple enough. It is not necessarily that it is a word that is on my mind, but it is in my muscle memory. Because I type in a cascade of keys, as opposed to pressing one key, then pressing another key, my semi-auto pilot sometimes makes me take the common path, even though it is not the correct one.

What is interesting, though, is that you can glimpse from these errors (assuming they are not caught and corrected) the words that a person uses regularly. What are their common words? Their auto pilot words? And what do you think it reveals about them?

What are your common words, and what do they say about yourself?

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Learn From Yourself

One of the most useful skills you can acquire is how to learn from others. Sure, there are teachers who will specifically sit you down and educate you, but there is so much knowledge out there in the world beyond them.

You can learn so very much by reading books and journals. You get a feel for what styles resonate with you, words and phrases that produce certain reactions, how you can interweave ideas, and so many skills. You can also learn from reading the random words surrounding you, even on a piece of paper in a buffet.

Another great source to learn from is yourself. More accurately, perhaps, is your past self. If you have written before, return to that writing. Read it with fresh eyes. Read it as though it was foreign (and if it has been long enough, it will be foreign to you). Analyze it like you would any other writing. "Wow, that was really good" for the sentences that moved you. "Meh, could have been better" for the so-so ones.

You have a unique relationship with yourself. Although your old works lose familiarity, they are still yours. You know that you came up with and created all of those words, in that order. They are proof positive that you have accomplished great things in the past. And your current self is proof-positive that you can recognize the flaws or lackings in your past writing, which means you have the wherewithal to correct and improve them.

Learn from yourself. You are a valuable resource.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Apply Principles To Everything

I don't always draw a direct connection between my ideas and writing. This is because the idea covers so many aspects of writing that it is faster and easier to just give you the principle and let you apply it. Such was the case with yesterday's post.

Frankly, you should always try to apply a principle to everything possible. Most things that apply to you can also apply to your characters. It might also apply to your other endeavors. It might also apply to your friends.

More often than not, I give principles, not lessons. A lesson is a single tool which you can add to your toolbox and pull out when you come across a situation that can be fixed with that tool. A principle is a truth which can be used in several situations.

Lessons are useful. They are direct and usually simple (the best tools usually are). Principles require more thought because you have to see that it can apply to a situation and figure out how to apply it. But the fact that it can be applied to so many different situations is its value.

The best writers are the ones who can apply a principle (or a concept) in a nonstandard way. It is a powerful combination of the familiar and the novel (by which I mean new). The best way to find these is to play around with principles. Try to apply them to everything around you.