Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Beggars Can't Be Choosers

I never cared for the saying, "beggars can't be choosers." It always seemed to imply that standards are a luxury. Whether it be food or art or people, if something is not good enough for you, then you can and should choose to not take it.

I was wrong, though, about the saying. It is a correct statement, but I look at it from the opposite direction. A beggar is one without standards (or with standards so low as to be negligible). That is why they beg. Beggars can't be choosers because they are mutually exclusive terms. A chooser is one who, by definition, is not begging.

What matters, though, is to realize when you are and when you are not a beggar.

Young writers are beggars of a sort. They will do anything to have anybody acknowledge them and validate their writing (and thus validate themselves). They sell their services for cheap (or give them away) to anybody willing to accept them. It is classic begging.

Be better than that. Be strong. Just because you do not have a writing job does not mean you have to take anything that remotely resembles it. If you are a skilled professional (and if you are able to do that work, then you are), act like one. Don't take a lousy deal just because it was the first or only one offered. Be a chooser.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Don't Try To Be Quoted

I talked almost 2 years ago about unquotable quotes. There, I explained that plenty of brilliant things are thought of and shared to a small number of people, but are never realized to their fullest potential. As such, you can amass a substantial collection of ideas just by realizing how much gold falls out of people's mouths.

I want to pull a particular story from that post. In fact, it's the first paragraph. Every now and then, people will come up to me and say, "I 've been thinking about what you said the other day." I always tell them the same thing: "What did I say?"

I do have a number of quotes. I don't really think of them as quotes, but they are things I often say. Usually, they are a primary principle, like "total and complete honesty leads to true happiness." I say it often, but it never quite sticks. I think that part of the reason is that it requires further explanation to fully grasp what it means.

However, when I'm talking about the subject, it is some off-the-cuff comment I make that always seems to sink in. Granted, when I said, "putting whipped cream on a cyanide pill doesn't make you not die", it was pretty funny. And it was relevant to the conversation at hand. But I did not come up with it to get quoted. I made it up to add to a conversation.

And therein lies the point. Don't try to be quoted. Try to say something useful. Let other people decide whether it's worth quoting.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Only Relent A Little

I am working on a story for a writing contest. The contest has been around and, reading the the winners and runners-up of previous years, I find myself frustrated in trying to match that style of writing. I am still trying to do it, and it isn't completely unnatural, but it is not my default style.

I suspect that, if I wanted to, I could totally imitate it. It's mostly a matter of perception and willpower. Heck, it's a writing exercise. But, I just don't want to do that. If I imitated somebody else's style entirely, then it would be unnatural.

Sometimes, depending on what you are writing, and for whom, you may be forced to fit into a certain style. If there is no way around it, then bite your tongue and do your job. And if you absolutely cannot stand it, then don't make it be your job. (There is a reason I refuse to work as a journalist [though I will still do editing work for news publications because that's different than writing for them].)

If it is not an absolute requirement, then my advice is to only relent a little. There is no perfect writing style. Just because one kind has won a contest doesn't mean that your style wouldn't totally dominate it (or at least shake things up). I have made my peace by doing so, and however the results come in, I am happy that I stayed true to myself.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Let People Be Useful

Today's post is a classic example of being both about life and about writing.

The first part is about life. Let people be useful. Everybody likes to feel as though they have purpose and use. Your friends generally are more than happy to help you out for that reason (and maybe because they like you, which is why they're your friends). Sometimes, even if yo do not need somebody's help, you should still let them help you, just to make them feel better. You help them out by letting them help you. Plus, if you consistently turn away help, people will stop offering to help you, which may one day bite you in the butt.

The second part is about writing. Stories need characters. They very often need more than one. As such, each character should have a purpose. It is easy to focus a lot of time and energy into one character. It is not a bad thing to develop your characters unevenly (some are more important than others, some are more mysterious), but if you let one character do 80% of the work, then the other ones are basically six-year-old girls.

Let your characters be useful. They may not all have their own unique skills, but they should all have input and should all have some significant effect on the story.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Make A Satisfying Experience

People worry about the ending too much. They think that that if a story doesn't have a thoroughly satisfying ending, then it isn't worth making. Although the ending does certainly matter, I think it does not deserve as much concern as people give it.

When a story relies on a surprising ending, it is effective once. If I read or watch such a story again, I just spend the whole time waiting for that ending.

If you concern yourself more with the journey of the story, be it meeting people, amusing conversations, poignant debates, and a resolution of conflict, then the whole story will make a satisfying experience, not just the ending.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Should It Go Without Saying?

I was going through my folders, digging though my dozen documents of story idea blurbs, and dozens more expanded story ideas. In one of the documents, I read a single line: "I think that goes without saying. Still, I should probably say it."

It might have been ripped from an actual conversation. It may have been some dialogue I randomly came up with and wrote down. I have no clue anymore, since it probably predates this blog (and I have trouble remembering whether I did something on Wednesday or Thursday by the time Thursday night comes along).

That's not the point, though. The point is the words themselves. Some things do go without saying. The sun will rise tomorrow, then set. People will be born. People will die. There will be suffering, and it will be interrupted with joy. (I am aware that any of these so-called facts can be challenged by a writer. They don't really need to be said, because everybody knows them to be true - they do not reveal new information.

Originally, I titled this post, "Does It Go Without Saying?" But, thinking about it, I realized that's not the question. The more important issue is, should it go without saying? Just because something doesn't add new information does not mean that it doesn't add flavor or color to a story. Sometimes known information needs to be said to show that it is known, but it is still important.

It is your discretion whether something should go without saying. There is subtlety and nuance in giving information, implying information, and letting the audience make up their own. There is no right or wrong answer, only what you feel is right (or perhaps what your audience best-responds to).

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Don't Forget To Actually Do It

I'm writing an extended piece of fiction and I can feel the burn. I haven't actually done this in a long time. Much of my prose has either been nonfictional or very short fiction. On top of that, so much of my writing has been for a visual medium, like graphic novels, that doing prose is a significantly different experience. It requires a very different skill set.

I write a lot in Cheff Salad about storytelling. Technically speaking, storytelling is the same anywhere. However, the way that you tell a story can be extremely different. In a graphic novel, you have pictures to show the scenes, describe the characters, tell those subtle nuances. The writing you are doing is about the characters' actions and personalities. The words that people read are dialogue and some narration. Compare that to traditional prose, where your words describe everything, and understand how very different they are.

As such, although I have talked much about writing prose, I'm feeling quite rusty at it. Granted, I am writing my first draft, so there will be much editing and revising in my future, which makes me not feel so bad about being rusty. (Take note on that, writers.)

This leads to the important lesson: don't forget to actually do your craft. Talking is easy. It's also cheap. Anybody can talk about doing something. The difficulty and effort is in actually doing it. And, for the serial starters out there, the difficulty is in finishing what you start.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Various Revisited

With much regret and humility, I need to talk about the word 'various'. Actually, I need to talk about the word 'various' again. I have rescinded my loathing of 'various'. It was wrong of me to hate the word.

It was never the word I hated; it was how people used it that bothered me. Specifically, it was how people overused it. Although I do stand by much of my criticism, it is not all good.

'Various' is a word. That makes it a tool. Tools have purposes. Some tools are far more useful than others. Some tools have a very limited purpose. Sometimes multiple tools can be used to fix a particular issue. In that case, it bothers me to see the same tool being used while letting perfectly good ones rust over.

To get back to specifics, because 'various' is a tool, I need to be able to recognize its usefulness. I need to know when it would be an effective word and I need to use it when the time is right.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

It Can Always Be Argued

In an older post, I used the phrase, "it cannot be argued" I wanted to add a quick correction. Things can always be argued. The more important question is if the argument is worth the effort.

Monday, August 22, 2011

I Don't Play Games I Can't Win

I am a man of progress. I don't have a lot of patience with complete failure. I say "complete failure" because not all failure is equal. Suppose you're trying to learn how to do a backflip. You will probably fail dozens of times before you do one successfully. However, every time you make the attempt, you learn something. You figure out what went wrong. You work out what needs to be done to fix the error. You train your body to do what you want it to do. Although you are failing, you are making progress toward success, which, ultimately, is success.

What I will not put up with is a fruitless endeavor. If you try to do something, consistently fail, and make no progress, I get very irritated and give up very quickly.

People may disagree with me on this system. I know that my inner writer wants me to believe that if I persevere just a little longer, everything will magically become better, but more often than not, that is a sequence which exists in our fictional stories.

I don't give up at the drop of a hat; I do it when I am out of options. If I want to succeed at something badly enough, I will throw everything I have at a problem. But when I'm out of things to throw, then obviously I don't have what's needed.

The point of this post is not to be a downer. The point is to pay attention and focus. What do you want to do? What are you doing in order to succeed? What are the obstacles? What are you doing to overcome them? And most importantly, are you making progress?

I don't play games I can't win. They are a waste of time and energy. I still write. No matter what happens, I know it is a worthy endeavor, and I am going to keep going down that path.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

You Are The Inspiration

My close friends, the ones I regularly converse with, always notice something about my blog: some posts sounds very familiar.

It's no coincidence. If I have a particularly striking conversation with somebody, I will be aware of how great a blog post it would be, so I use it. I never copy word-for-word and hit post. I am either going to copy some text and elaborate, or I will borrow the idea and refer to the conversation and expand on it.

The reason I do this is that either the subject was one that I wanted to explore further, or that the conversation I had was so good that I thought that other people should be exposed to it.

The important note here is not about me. It's about you. You are the inspiration. Your words, your thoughts, or even your silent nods, they are what produce the thoughts that become my stories. Left to my own devices, not nearly as much would happen. More importantly, different things would have happened.

I thank you for your inspiration. I like the things I've done and the thoughts I've had, and I know they would not have happened without you.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Assimilate, Replicate, Integrate

Classic writing advice is to read. Ok. But why? Everything should have a purpose, so it should be explainable. Ultimately, it should be to discover your style. But, since some authors' writing styles may be rejected outright, it is not an end in itself.  Reading is the first step in a multistage process.

When you read, you will get a feel for an author's style. There will be certain nuances - word choice, phrasing, subjects of focus - which you will pick up on. This is the first step: assimilation. Being aware of a writing style in the first place is necessary to be able to do anything with it.

The second step is replication. In this stage, you are tasked with creating the actual style that you have assimilated. This is actually a very fun writing exercise. It is potentially more challenging than it looks.  Take a book or some piece of writing. Find a small passage from it, then imitate it. Write a new, unique passage, but one in the same style as the original. The goal is to make them be so exact that a reader could not tell which one was the imitation.

The final step is to integrate, not imitate. Here, you take that style, shuck away unappealing aspects to it, and implement the rest into your own style. Although this sounds a lot like replication, the important part is balance. You do not take one author's style and make it your own. You take dozen's of author's styles. You will never use just one style for your work. You will switch between them all. Over time, they will blend seamlessly into a single entity, and that entity is your writing style.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Chill Out On Your Interests

I assure you, this post has nothing to do with my previous post, nor does it in any way intend to contradict what I said in it (even though I probably will). I also do not intend to totally contradict the advice given from every writer to every aspiring writer (even though I may be doing that, too).

All I want to do is tell you that you have to chill out on your interests. I understand that we are told that you need to write what you know about. That's fine. Hell, every sane person will tell you to have interests and hobbies and embrace them and all of that, and they're right. But when you get too interested in your interests, you become a lesser person in its presence.

I like music. I like martial arts (I like physical activity in general). I like language. I know a tremendous quantity of information about those subjects. I know so much about them that I would bore any other human being if I talked about all the things I knew about my interests.

The first lesson in learning to chill out on your interests is to shut up sometimes. If people obviously are not resonating with what you're saying, then let it go and give the other person a chance to speak (it's the difference between talking to somebody and talking with them). If it's not obvious whether or not somebody is resonating with your words, then ask them earnestly if they are interested in it or not really.

That whole first lesson was actually just a side-track. It's relevant, but not the reason I'm writing this post. So on to the second lesson.

Ella Johnson's interest is cats. She seriously likes cats, like, a whole lot. She somehow is able to laugh at all sorts of sick, twisted, dark humor without a care in the world. She does not even acknowledge that in a passage written by David Thorne, which she herself was citing verbatim, David infers that he neglected his mother after having a stroke by sending her to a home. And you know why? Because she is way too worked up over him using the same ludicrous and obviously tongue-in-cheek style to talk about neglecting cats.

This is not an entirely uncommon thing. Even to me. When people start talking about my interests incorrectly or in some way insults them, my immediate reaction is to tell the person that they're not funny and need to stop talking and go away. Fortunately, I've grown up enough to suppress that feeling and go with the flow. If you can laugh or simply not get worked up by people talking about people abuse, you don't have the right to get all hot and bothered by the same abusive talk directed at animals.

It's all about being fair. One good turn deserves another. One blind eye deserves another. When you write, be aware of your interests. Make use of your interests. But don't be boring about them. And do not be too serious about them. Nothing is fun if you can't make fun of anything. And if it's not fun, why do it?

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Nothing Is Infinite

I really like fantasy stories. I prefer to explore and study worlds where the impossible happen. Ironically, I can't stand it when those worlds don't make any sense.

My pet peeve is when there is any kind of infinity. For example, I'm totally fine with the idea that Cyclops can shoot energy beams out of his eyes. I'm bothered by the fact that he could let loose a beam that can literally clear an entire forest in seconds, but he doesn't lose 40 pounds in the process to create and release that much energy.

The stories I am attracted to, and the stories I prefer to write, are the ones that explain how the seemingly magical powers work. They are the ones that show the limit of powers, as well as the cost of using and maintaining them, due to the sheer fact that nothing can be done infinitely.

To me, the most interesting magics are the ones that use the least pseudoscience. On the subject of X-Men, my favorite mutant is Gambit, because his powers are the most believable to me. Basically, he touches things, they glow red, and then they explode when struck against something. In my mind, what he is doing is transferring energy to the molecules of the object he holds, speeding them up to the point of instability, making them release that energy violently when they pass a threshold of tolerance.

For some people, the science of fantasy (or even the science of science fiction) is irrelevant. The good story and sufficient consistency is enough to keep them happy. For me, enough inconsistency or impossibility will wreck a story, no matter how good it would otherwise have been.

As you write, consider your audience. Who are you looking for to read this? Even within the realm of fantasy or the supernatural, there are countless different preferences, of which I have one particular kind. What kind are you?

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Content, First and Foremost

I was looking at a writing contest which involved writing a short fiction story in a fantasy realm. The page that listed contest rules also had a number of helpful suggestions for the writers.

There were multiple suggestions all hovering around the same idea: Don't make your background look like parchment; Don't make your text look like handwritten script; Don't send in handwritten script; Use a white background with a reasonable-sized font in a .doc format.

They don't explicitly say it, but the message rang loud and clear: This is exclusively about content. Leave all of your design and visual effects out of it.

In the grand scheme of things, design and layout does matter. Even something as simple as a business thank-you letter should look nice. It makes a difference, even to people who are not cognizant of it. However, in the digital world, forms and layouts are completely malleable. And if you have somebody else who will be doing that job, then it is not your concern.

Worry about content, first and foremost. It is literally the most important part of writing. Design and layout is done even after editing and proofreading, if done at all.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

A Pleasure Passing Moments

At the end of a conversation, my friend tells me, "It was a pleasure passing moments with you." The wording struck me. We often see conversations as whole units (probably why we call it a conversation [singular]). To think of a conversation as a collection of moments that pass seamlessly (we hope) from one to the next might be more accurate.

Much is true in writing. Although we think of a piece of writing as a cohesive whole, it exists at several levels. The story or the philosophy may be a cohesive whole, it is made of smaller moments, like sentences and paragraphs, which really are snapshots that pass from moment to moment.

As a writer, you certainly wish to create a whole piece that is enjoyable, but people rarely devour larger works in a single sitting. I mentioned a long time ago that you cannot be boring for the first 100 pages of your novel, nor can you be boring for the first 3 panels of your 4-panel comic. As such, be aware of the moments you are creating. Although people will think of your story all together, it is the moments they will remember.

If your writing is a pleasure passing moments, it is good writing.

Monday, August 15, 2011

I Keep Things Here Professional

I can be pretty laid back here on Cheff Salad. I have purposely made this not academic in nature or in tone. These are my thoughts, spoken in my voice, conveyed to the public. Despite that, though, I do like to keep things here professional.

I do talk about life. I even talk about my own life. But I always do it to explain writing. I don't write a post telling people that I'm going out of town (though I do write about traveling). I don't apologize to my readers about missing posts (though I do write about update schedules and trying to not miss updates).

I draw from my own experiences, looking through the archives of blogs or webcomics that I read. I see filler strips, comics who break the fourth wall to apologize for delays, or simply see notes that tell about what the author is doing and why they won't be updating for a while. But to me it's irrelevant. The updates are already up. So now it just looks silly and weird.

It's not that I don't care about my regular readers. I love you all tremendously, and I do apologize when I am not able to maintain my update schedule, but I do this for a specific reason.

I am looking in the bigger picture. In the annals of time, people will see that I had the equivalent of a post a day worth of updates. People paying attention will notice that the dates are not perfect, that some days have no posts and other days have multiple. They can infer what they may.

This blog is about writing. It is not about my petty bullshit or vapid plans. It is a forum of substance, and it shall remain that way.

Story vs. Fact

Sometimes I try to tell a story to somebody of something that happened in real life, but forget some of the details. The story pauses and the room gets silent as I try to recall some detail, like whether an exchange occurred on Tuesday or Wednesday. I lose all of my momentum and all of my audience's interest.

In general, I will never strain over a fact like that; they just aren't worth the trouble. The point is in the story: the concept of the time and place, and the actions and interactions of people. Although details certainly help to paint the picture, mundane information is not critical (that's pretty much what makes it mundane). If you don't remember it, leave it be.

The other side to that coin, though, is that sometimes details are not mundane. Sometimes they are thoroughly vital to a story. In that case, then leaving out those minute details will make your story equally ineffective because the lack of crucial information will leave people confused.

When telling stories, weigh out how important it is to get your facts thoroughly flawless and how important it is to be entertaining continuously from start to finish. It is quite rare to be 100% on either side of the spectrum. Facts are always important, as is a good stream of story-telling.

Writing as a form of storytelling generally allows us to get the best of both worlds. This is more about any form of spontaneous storytelling. But, it is not by any means an uncommon situation, so it is definitely worth being aware of such things.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Have A Conversation With Yourself

To me, dialogue is the most natural part of writing. I can make people talk without even trying. If there is any purpose or structure, then lines will naturally flow from this task. And if there is no structure, then lines will flow from whatever the last line said was.

My friends have all seen at some point me speaking impromptu dialog between equally impromptu fictional characters. I change my voice and body position to show which character is speaking (though context generally gives it away). Again, this is a very natural thing for me to do.

I recommend that everybody starts talking with themselves. Become a character. Become two characters. Switch between them instantly and constantly. You never know what you might come up with.

Three-Man Job

I've put together two futons in two days. One of them was an old wooden one, and the other was metal with a bunk bed on top.

Both of these projects took only a few minutes to complete. This included figuring ut how the pieces fit together, putting them in place, sticking in the bolts, and tightening everything.

Three people times five minutes is fifteen minutes of combined time. But if there was only one of us, it would have taken far more than fifteen minutes. Holding the pieces in place took both hands, so bolting things in would have been nigh impossible.

The same is true of writing. Sometimes, writing is a three-man job. One person is the primary writer. The second person is a developmental editor, who aids in crafting and honing the story. And the third is the copy editor, who proofreads and polishes the lines and passages of the written words.

Sure, one person can do all those jobs, but it just isn't the same. For one thing, the quality of the results may not be as high. For another thing, it may take far more than three times the time to do those three jobs by yourself.

I Prefer Parallels

I was thinking about how I rarely speak directly about craft. Rather than write a post about verbs or passive voice or soliloquy, I write about running or bird watching or depression. I would choose to write about things that aren't writing, but that relate to writing.

My initial thought is that it may be that I don't actually have that much to say about writing. That's ridiculous, though, because I always do relate my posts to writing. If I really wanted, I would start the same way, but edit out the non-relavant bits to make them be more standard articles about writing.

Therefore, I am not doing it for lack of capability. So, I must be doing it because I prefer the parallels. I learn far better with similar examples. It allows me to isolate, for one thing. If I am shown two things and am told they are similar, I can figure out exactly what they have in common. This includes both construction and operation.

Learning from parallels is a general thing, though. Some lessons need to be direct and blunt. Rather than explain it with a story, I just the facts and the crucial parts. This is usually only true for subjects within my fields. Most martial arts simply need to be shown to me; I don't need any explanations other than what specifically my body does. The same is true in large part for music, at least the ones I've  practiced.

Different people, though, simply have different learning methods. Whatever floats their boats is cool by me. I understand what works best for me and I know why it does. It may not be effective to everybody, but if you don't know what to try, then give it a shot and see if parallel learning works well for you.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

On The Road

Eventually, we will find ourselves on the road. Some of us will do it more frequently than others, but once we are away from our home base, we all feel that same sense of estrangement.

We can't do things as quickly or as effectively as we can where we have our perfect set-up. Sometimes all we can do is take little notes and save them for later.

It is frustrating to not have your home base with you. It is frustrating to only be able to take little notes. But do take those notes. They still allow you to be actively productive while you're out there.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Embrace The Metamorphosis

When I write a post for Cheff Salad, I will do one of two things: Write about a thought I am having, or write about an idea I had. The former is basically like having a conversation or giving an impromptu speech. It is easy enough because it really is just typing my thoughts as they come to me. The latter is a little trickier.

When I write about an idea that struck me at a previous time, it is never quite the same. I usually only leave a title and a descriptive phrase for my blog ideas, specifically because I don't want to post pre-written articles. But because of that, I never have quite the same words as I did originally. Along with a change in words, there is often a change in path. Different words lead to different thoughts, which lead to a different entry.

So although I had the same title and subject matter as my original wording, I now have a distinctly different final product. Often times, people are upset by this. They feel that all they have now is a disfigured bastard, the original, more beautiful version having been lost forever.

Stop thinking that way. It is not a bastardization; it's a metamorphosis. Embrace that metamorphosis. Writing is always changing and growing. Your work always goes through multiple versions as you revise and edit. This is just a second version that happened in your head. It is never fun to give up your germinal idea, but it is not truly gone, it has simply grown into a new form. The heart and soul is still there.

Remember that, and carry on.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Use That Adrenaline

Energy can be fickle. Sometimes you're overflowing, other times you're half dead. And, even when you have just enough energy, it means you don't have the excess energy needed to tackle one more project.

Because I write these blogs generally right before going to bed, I am sometimes thoroughly exhausted. (You can usually tell because my rate of typos severely increases.) Still, the worst thing I can do when it comes to writing these is sit down, stare at my screen, at my list of ideas, and really try to think about what I might want to write about.

Although thinking and planning is a wonderful thing, it also makes me calm down. And sometimes, all I have to go on is the residual energy from whatever I have been doing. A good conversation or an interesting game my have my mind reeling. With all of that, I could whip out some writing like it's no big deal. But if I stop, slow down, let that energy subside, then I will be struggling to keep my eyes open and eventually lose 5 minutes hear and there to crash naps.

Of course, an easy cure is to simply write during a time of day when you have more energy. It's certainly a good plan. But not everything goes according to plan. If you find yourself totally drained and running on leftover adrenaline, use that adrenaline for all its worth. Create now. Edit later.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Everyone Has Problems

People seem to think they are the only ones who suffer (except for the abstract concept of people with visible suffering, like starving children and burn victims). But the kind of problems they have, they feel all alone.

In reality, everyone has problems. We all shield ourselves and shield the public. We hide our pain, wear masks with smiles (or at least emotionless stares). We know we are in pain and we actively feel it, but we do not wear our hearts on our sleeves.

The irony is that, because we all do that, we only see people smiling and sharing the positives in their lives. And we believe what we see. Everything is golden and full of sunshine except the rainclouds over our own heads.

Everybody has problems, and we are all motivated by our problems. The issues we struggle with affect how we think, what we choose to do, what we focus our attention on. No matter how a person appears outwardly, they are dealing with their own internal problems.

When you are working on your characters, keep this in mind. If you don't know who somebody is or what they should be doing, find out what their problems are and how they deal with them. The answers will come from there.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

It's Not Going Away

"I don't like this project right now. I'm not inspired. I'll come back to it." You don't come back to it. Days pass - you keep wanting to come back, and get annoyed that you just don't sit down and do it. Weeks pass - you feel stupid for letting the dust settle on it. Months pass - you give up; you think it would be better to just leave it alone and let it die in solitude from starvation.

It doesn't work like that. It doesn't die. It's not going away. And, most likely, neither is your guilt. If you want to take care of that, take care of your writing. The only thing that waiting does is make it worse. It's harder to remember your ideas, harder to get back in the groove, harder to get over the negative feelings for taking this long in the first place.

But don't feel too bad about it. Getting back in the groove only takes one solid writing session. The memories come back, the thoughts and feelings cascade to fill your min, and after all of that, you will feel like it was worth the wait to be doing the work you are now ready to do.

Don't be afraid or ashamed. Just be dedicated. Be a writer. Write something.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Wrong, But Not All Wrong

Simplistic writing deals with simplistic characters. In general, such people are absolutes. Characters are absolute good or absolute evil. If a character is bad, then they are also wrong in their beliefs. More importantly, they are wrong in all of their beliefs.

Although such stories and characters do have their place, I am not interested in them much. I care about characters who are imperfect, who are not absolute. I want characters who are wrong, but not all wrong. They are so difficult to handle.

A character who volunteers at a homeless shelter is a good person, but if he also beats his girlfriend, we will have great trouble liking this person. Imagine he is also a spiteful racist. We would eventually start to think that everything this guy did was horrible. But despite all of the awful things he does, his volunteering is a good thing; it cannot be argued.

Consider characters as people. I have met very few people who would count as being pure evil. No matter how hardened a bastard they are, everybody does something heartwarming eventually. How would seeing such conflicted characters affect your stories?

Thursday, August 4, 2011

I Like The Way I Talk

I like the way I talk. The words I choose to use, the ways I put those words together, how I ask questions, the ways I respond to questions, every single characteristic and mannerism I have, I have chosen. And the reason I choose them is simple: they make me happy.

Words are collections of sounds with meanings. That belief is why the musicality of language matters so much to me. I care about how my words sound. I have a large enough vocabulary that I can choose countless synonyms or sentence structures - I can say any given thought in a dozen ways on average. Therefore, what matters most is picking the one that is most pleasant to my ears and mind.

And, the combination of exposure to people's verbal styles and my own experimentation with language has produced a style of language that I very much enjoy. It is a combination of standard and nonstandard language. It has academic prose and colloquial banter. It switches between outdated Ebonics and Shakespearean English. It can be either circuitous or direct.

In general, though, it is distinctly mine. And I really like it that way.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Three Disciplines

In my years, I have had three major areas of study: music, martial arts, and writing. I find myself incredibly fortunate to have all of those experiences, because they all benefit each other (not unlike my three problems).

These three disciplines are all arts. In this sense, they are all extremely similar, and because of that, I can use the knowledge and principles gained in one field to aid in the others. Even if I do not have a master or teacher giving me all of my lessons, I have enough knowledge and experience to figure out what is wrong and discover how to fix it. In any given art, the other two arts are my teachers, or at least my helpful colleagues.

Although these three disciplines are so similar, they are not the same. Significant differences exist. Music and martial arts are very physical activities, whereas writing is not so much. Writing and music are largely prepared activities, whereas martial arts are spontaneous in their execution. (At some point, I will do a more thorough list/diagram of them.) Because of these differences, I cannot simply use all principles from all arts willy-nilly.

The world is full of examples. Being able to approach these examples from different angles, with different eyes, will allow you to get the very most out of the examples you find. It will also allow you to realize that there are more examples than your one discipline may have you believe.

Most people already have a good chunk of knowledge about one or two subjects already. What do you know? What do you spend the most of your free time on? What could you teach a 14-year-old child if they asked you for knowledge? Those are the disciplines that will add to and blend with your writing.

And if you don't think you have a specialty, that means you know a bit about EVERYTHING, so you have zero excuse to not be doing this.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Language Prevents Some Secrets

It blows my mind that we have a plural tense. Think about this: One pound, two pounds, ten pounds, one-and-a-half pounds. The form our words take changes depending on whether there is one unit of an object or any other quantity whatsoever.

Gender is similarly strange to me. Although English is largely genderless, our pronouns very much depend on knowing the gender of the noun they replace. And when it comes to people, you are not allowed to use a genderless form.

The reason this bothers me, aside from the fact that it's stupid and unnecessary, is that it forces us to give away certain information. You cannot refer to a mystery stranger with a pronoun without divulging their gender (unless you break the rules of prescriptive grammar by using the plural "they" in reference to a singular person). You cannot refer to an unknown object without giving away whether it is one thing or several things.

Technically, that's not entirely true. You can refer to a person without betraying their gender by avoiding pronouns. and continuing to use genderless descriptions. You can mask the quantity of an object by referring to a collective group that the object is in, provided it is a group title which can actually contain only one member. But in that case, your language becomes incredibly unnatural.

If you can realize these aspects of our language and how the very structure of it determines how we can communicate and what we must communicate, it will give you the power to work around it. It may take some effort to make effective sentences that allow you to keep your secrets, but if it is a worthwhile endeavor, then do everything you can.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Some People Are Actually Like That

I was listening to the stand-up comedy of Louis C.K. and at one point he is talking about his family and the stress it causes to be a father and husband and middle-aged. Despite all of the stresses though, he will always be there for them. He has been hardwired to take care of his wife and daughters.

He even remarks, how wonderful would it be if he could just wake up one day, not give a damn, and walk out. But he can't do it. He is just bound to these people and bound to take care of them (no matter how much he feels bound by them).

What is remarkable to me is the people he described. Some people are actually like that. Many people, actually, never do give a damn about their wife or girlfriend or children and leave them all, never to be seen again. It blows my mind that a concept that one person jokes about (because it is too horrible to ever consider seriously) is an absolute reality for other people, who even find it the best course of action.

This is a critically important point for storytellers. Many stories are works of fiction. Many stories based in truth still contain fictional material. We may consider them embellishments or exaggerations, but some of them are outright creations. However, just because something is absurd to you does not mean it is absurd to everybody.

Crazy, messed up shit happens in this world. Never forget that. Reality is scary and awful for some. And some people choose to make reality scary and awful. You can make up some characters who are thoroughly ridiculous. You can make them so incomprehensibly different and wrong that people may even tell you they are absurd and unrealistic. In all likelihood, there's somebody just like that out there.

Go and write your stories. Go and make your characters. Don't worry about whether they exist in real life. They do.