Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Give Yourself Homework

Writing is a voluntary act. That's a great thing in general, doing something because you enjoy doing it. And yet, people seem to have a real issue with doing things voluntarily. We're so used to being forced to do things that anything that isn't a requirement keeps getting put off.

If that is your problem, then your fix is simple. Make writing an assignment. Give yourself homework.

Every time I go out to relax or have fun, I come up with several things I want to write about. If I go to a concert, all the free space on the program is filled with my notes.

But notes alone don't cut it. I've been writing notes for quite a while and I guarantee that plenty have gone unused. The difference between then and now is that now I have to cross them off my list. My to-do list stays in sight until I get to finish it and throw it out (and that achievement is really nice and worth the effort of completing).

And throughout it all, I have this blog. Cheff Salad is my homework. Or rather, it's my excuse. This is why I write regardless of my mood. This is why I take the time to write down my thoughts. This is why I do something with those thoughts. It started with somebody else pushing me into it, but it has been my self-enforced homework for years now.

And it is because of that homework that I am still a writer.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Leap Sideways

Suppose you are going to leap over a puddle of water and you are not quite sure you can make it. What you are certain of is that you need to get as much distance as you possibly can.

So, how do you do it? You get a bit of a running start (not more than a few steps), make sure your stronger foot steps down at the close edge of the puddle, and then leap forward across the puddle. But you don't continue to face forward. You turn your hips as you extend mid-leap; this pushes your body and your front foot ever so much further forward. You also throw your arms out to gain a little more momentum and a little wider stretch.

Although you think you're leaping forward, you're actually leaping sideways. And to an outside observer, you look pretty damn goofy. That's not how people leap in the movies. In movies, they look super cool and always stick their landings.

Well, this isn't the movies. This is real life. And in real life, success is way more important than looking good (or looking how other people think is good).

And what's the point here? The point is what I just said above: success is more important than looking good. Most writers have some particular way of doing things when they create. Some people find it very mystical and others simply have developed habits or preferences. But the common folk probably would see it as a weird or goofy way to do things. Don't worry about that. Worry about writing successfully. Because once you create something amazing, nobody will care how you looked while you made it.

Monday, November 28, 2011


Periodically, I need everybody to shut up and leave me alone.

Don't get me wrong. I do like the people in my life. They are very dear to me. But I'm introverted; I relax, calm down, and process stress through solitude.

I like to help people and I am happy that people come to me with their problems. But sometimes I have my own problems that I'm dealing with. And when everybody I know is having a bad day at the same time that I'm having a bad day, I need everybody to shut up and leave me alone.

This is a delicate endeavor, though. When you push people away, you run the risk that they don't come back (which is magnified when either party is in a stressed state). And if you push away somebody you like, you may find that it is even worse to be without them than it is to deal with them being overbearing.

I treat writing the same way that I treat people. Writing is a daily activity to me; it gets regular attention. However, some days i really just don't want to do it. On those days, I go to bed and don't even write a post. But I never want writing to be gone forever. That is why I always return and make up for the loss.

That is also why, on the days that I am so upset with writing that I contemplate ending this blog, I take extra special effort to write a post. I know that if I entertain that thought and push away writing, there is a chance it won't come back (or that it will take way longer than I want to wait for it to return).

If you love to write, then write. If you need to take a day or two off just for a break, that's ok. But if you're in a bad mood and you're overwhelmed, don't let those stresses make you choose a bad decision.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Last Time

I really hate the word "last". I still use it every day, but that doesn't make it less of a frustrating word. "Last" means both "final" and "previous". How is that not the most confusing (and therefore obnoxious) word?

Certainly, context clues tend to illuminate which meaning we intend, but the ambiguity still exists. In certain situations, it is not clear which definition is used, and can cause all sorts of head-scratching.

A reason to use "last" is that it is more common. Not that "previous" or "final" are uncommon words, but "last" is more colloquial. So I'm not saying to avoid the word, but to be very aware of how it might be interpreted.

If you're not careful, you may do something stupid like give your blog post a title that sounds as if you are ending it.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Side Quests

I was reading an article about Skyrim, a video game which allows the player to go anywhere they can reach in an open environment. The story of the game involves a main line of quests, where the player goes to different places and fetches items or kills bad guys. But along the way, you can talk to strangers, listen in on conversations, or just explore random caves or ruins and discover the journal of a long-dead explorer or bandit, any of which might start a quest aside from the main questline (a sidequest, if you will).

The article in full:
You know what I found odd while playing Skyrim? (Hold on) While playing, I would find myself starting a quest and ending with having more than what I began with. This excites me as I become more and more busy within the world of Tamirel. Now I thought to myself, "Heck, I have the main mission, brb peoplez," and went off to beat the game. Then I beat the game. Then I felt as if I did not feel like playing anymore. It's like the feeling of doing stuff before beating the game felt better than say...beating them after completing the main mission.

Nobody has that feeling too?

I've been thinking about this article the last several days, mostly because it's true. I am playing Skyrim and really do want to see the main story play through, but I keep putting it off, and I know that this is why. If I beat the main story, I am certain I'm going to end up being the big badass savior of the world for it. And once you reach that title, why am I going to go through the ranks of all the organizations, getting pushed around like some punk who doesn't know jack? Don't they know who I am?! (Of course not; they're just lines of computer code.)

But there's more to it, and I figured it out tonight. It goes along with what I said up above. And it actually comes down to storytelling. Games like this involve a certain amount of role-playing (hence being classified as an RPG, or role-playing game). You have to get into the story not just of the events around you, but of your character, too.

Prose stories involve sidequests of a sort. Something holds up the main characters from doing the main thing they have set out to do. But this is not done to be a waste of time or to fill blank pages. Side quests show the audience who these characters are. We learn what they might do and how they think. The characters themselves also grow by gaining experience and earning trust (or infamy) of the others.

I know that, when I am playing Skyrim, I will get around to saving he world after I have become the leader of all the groups, bought all the houses, helped all the citizens, and plundered all the gold and trinkets.

I will save the world when I care about the world. Or maybe, when I own a significant chunk of it. That's why we have side quests and not post quests.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Below Me

As a writer, you need to have pride. As a professional writer, it becomes even more crucial. Don't take "anything you can get". Have some standards. Have some self respect. Know that if you let people abuse you, they will continue to do so.

If you stand up for yourself, one of two things will happen. Either you will be hired at rates and with respect that you deserve, or they will try to find some other spineless writer to take advantage of. In the latter case, their work will probably be sub-par, which is what gives you the edge.

The beauty, though, is that, if every writer would simply say when some deal was below them, we wouldn't have this problem in the first place.

Next time somebody throws a lousy offer your way, stand up proud and strong and shout out, "Below me!"

Thursday, November 24, 2011

The Story You Write Today

Ideas come and go. That's just the way things are. We try to combat that. We write those ideas down. We save their essence for us to return to later, when we have the time to handle them. But when that time does arrive, the idea isn't there.

That's why we have our notes though. We read them and it brings the idea back to us. But the idea isn't the same. You don't remember what you were going to say. You knew you had some good lines. You had a whole thought progression you wanted to take. But they aren't there anymore. You have words on paper. Now what?

Now what?! Now you write your story! It sucks you lost the spark. Having that feeling of inspiration along with that major motivation is awesome. But sometimes it just isn't there. Tough luck. You still have to write.

Here's the thing though. The story you were going to write a week ago is gone. You can't reclaim it. All you have is the story you write today. Do not try to reclaim those lost lines. They're lost. Make up new ones. You will. You always have something worth saying.

You may end up saying the same thing with different words. You may end up saying something completely different. I know I've done both of those things.

Writing is very much about the thoughts that come to you while you are putting down words. It may change from day to day, or even hour to hour. Maybe if you started writing at 9:00 instead of 10:00, you would have come up with a completely different story. There's no way to know for sure. But it doesn't matter. Write what you write. If you don't like it, change it. If you want to give it a second shot, do so. Writing is a serial act, so there's always a next time.

Writing Is A Serial Act

All of my advice is geared toward long-term writing. I always talk about what to try for your next project, your next idea, your next session. There's a reason for that: All writing is long-term writing.

Writing is a serial act. You do it some, then you do it some more. You finish one thing and you start another. Once you stop writing, you're not a writer, so the whole thing is predicated on their being a next thing.

If you prefer long narratives like novels, then you are mostly working on your next session. There are a lot more of them. If you prefer the poem or the short story, then you are more apt to be thinking about what to do for your next project.

However you do it, there's always more writing to do. You make more words. You change words you've already made. You try new ways of doing so. That's what it's about sometimes - just trying out a new way of doing it and seeing how you like it.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Retired Grammar Nazi

I used to be a pretty hardcore grammar nazi. I would correct people's spelling, syntax, and punctuation on the internet. I did it because it really did annoy me when I saw these mistakes that I knew were wrong. As I grew up, I realized that I saw "mistakes" that I "knew" were "wrong".

When I learned of linguistics, that languages are alive, that there is no strict continuity of the language between any two generations, then I knew that I didn't have a leg to stand on. People may not be using standard written English, but they were using a form of English (as long as it was mutually intelligible).

So, I retired. I hung up my hat and armband and changed my title to Word Nerd. Because that's what I am now. I am an enthusiast of words and languages. I am interested in grammar and structure. I love the malleability of English and enjoy playing with it the way I once enjoyed playing with Silly Putty. I have no desire to harangue others with "corrections".

I have no desire to, but some people still warrant my ire. People who are wrong are the main group. If you ever tell any person that "effect" is always a noun, and I am within earshot, I will correct you. If you fight with me, I will destroy you.

Language is fun. It has nearly limitless possibilities. But I wholeheartedly advise gaining a thorough grasp of the standard language. That will allow you to play with it and not break it. It will also allow you to avoid putting your foot deep in your mouth when you have an argument with a retired grammar nazi.

Monday, November 21, 2011

One In The Chamber

The best way to have energy for your next writing session is to finish your current writing session with an idea ready to go. That next scene, that next conversation, that next blog post. Sometimes I sit down and get ready to write and I am totally confident because I know that I need only glance at my notes and I will be able to fire away.

This isn't always easy to plan. Sometimes you have a writing session where you wrote everything out in your mind. That's ok; it means you got a lot of work done. But think about it as a fantastic tool to take on big projects.

It can be daunting knowing you have so many things to work on. But don't think about it in that way. Think of it as a bunch of small projects. Write each of those down. Work on one small project for each writing session. Every time you finish, you will have another one ready to go for the next day.

You may also spontaneously get an idea for something to write as soon as you sit down. That's fine. Go and work on this new, fresh, exciting idea. Know that you still have another writing project in the chamber for the day after that.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

It's About The Skeleton

Once again, I am going to contradict the post I just made. The flesh of a story is important for all the reasons I mentioned yesterday, but it is not something to rely on. When you rely on the same skeleton over and over again, only changing the specifics of the story for each iteration, you become tired and pigeonholed.

Stories that blow you away have remarkable actions. They are surprising things that were unexpected. They are decisions that are difficult to come do and have repercussions that are felt throughout people's lives.

When you watch a body-swap story like Freaky Friday, it isn't interesting; it's just another iteration. You can make one very child-friendly or another one very "adult" or one very violent and gory. But no matter what, it's the same story, and that makes it not terribly interesting.

A story like Inception, on the other hand, is brilliant. Of course it borrows concepts and ideas from predecessors, but the skeleton of the story was original. It was not terribly predictable. It had twists and turns and it was exciting because of that. The characterization was certainly part of the whole experience, but it was the actions and the layers that made the story.

The flesh of a story is important, but not if it comes at the expense of an interesting concept.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

It's About The Flesh

I wrote yesterday's post, unsurprisingly, because I recently had that experience - while having a random conversation at dinner, I heard a phrase that created an entire story in my head.

The phrase was "Piano in Alabama", which totally sounds like the name of a story for kids in middle school or high school to read. The story would open with a homeless man who is trying to sleep in the lobby of a ritzy hotel. The manager is going to kick him out, but the homeless man, sitting at the decorative piano, starts playing incredible music. The manager is blown away, and lets him stay the night, eventually leading to a job as a lobby piano player. Over time, we would learn about this man through his conversations with others in between playing piano, and he would rise in fame and popularity until he reaches his happy ending.

I think this could be an incredible story. But if I simply said that it was a story about a homeless guy who gets a job and does well, it sounds like a tired formula.

What I have right now is the skeleton of the story. I have the basic framework, the destinations and many stops along the way. What I do not have is the flesh. And that's what really matters.

This guy is homeless. Fine. But how did he get there? What was his childhood like? His family? When did he start living on the streets? What are his dreams? How did he learn to play piano so well? What kind of piano playing is he doing?

Those are the important questions to ask. The answers are going to create the specifics and the uniqueness to the story. Those are going to be what people remember and think about. They are going to be what makes the story excellent or piss poor.

Skeletons are important, but really it's about the flesh. Make sure that yours is enticing.

Friday, November 18, 2011

I Still Think About It

I have a mind like a steel trap: rusty and hard to open.

All kidding aside, memory is pretty lousy. I tend to remember inconsequential crap and never remember those gems of ideas. I have literally been on this website and gotten an amazing idea for a post and, by the time I pressed the New Post button and the page loaded, I lost the idea.

Every now and then, though, I actually retain an idea. Some stroke of genius comes to me and I can see the entire story presented to me. More miraculous though is that, the next day, I still have that story idea in my head, even though I didn't write it down.

Days go by and still I think of this story. It is a tenacious puppy, begging to get some fresh air. Of course, who am I to say no?

It is both a relief and an impetus when this happens. It relieves me that I do not have to grasp at straws for ideas, as is it also nice to know that it is not like holding sand, where it constantly slips away no matter how tightly I grip. It also means I have this drive to write. It is nudging me and saying, "Come on." It wants to see the light of day even more than I do.

If this happens to you, rejoice. But more importantly, do something about it!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Your Story Is A Chapter

Endings are always tricky things to me. It's so easy to have a premise and follow what actions happen naturally, but when does it end? In a sense, it doesn't. Unless you kill off all your characters or make the world end, they keep going on (and if you kill off your characters, other people's stories go on).

So how do you find an ending? What feels right? The simple answer is that it happens after the primary conflict has been resolved. But you don't finish the story at "And the bad guy was killed." Characters have to process what happened. They have to come down from the rush a bit.

Generally, I see stories end when characters have reclaimed their lives, gotten things back on track, and take their first steps into the next chapter of their lives.

And that's the key right there: it's a chapter in their lives. Stuff happened before and stuff happens afterward. Even if your story followed the life from birth to death of your character, then the same principle applies (the next chapter is other people's lives).

This idea is similar to when I talked about how a story's universe is bigger than any story told within it. A person's life is bigger and more complicated than the portion of it we see in your story.

As a writer, you have to know what happened before and after. This is common advice, but it never stops being crucial. If you don't know what happened to your character in the chapters preceding your story, then your story will be screwed up.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Making Fun vs. Finding Fun

I find that most people have a belief that good times reside in some random location. Once they find this location, they will be enjoying themselves instantly. These people don't say that this is their belief, but it's how they act.

I admit that sometimes it does seem like you go to the right place and just being there makes you feel better, but that's a rarity.

In reality, fun isn't something you find. Fun is something you make. You can go out or you can stay in. You can be with others or you can be alone. You choose which mood you're in. You decide that you're going to be hung up on some thing which keeps you being unhappy, or you decide to release all your cares and live in the moment.

I know many people who say that they write because writing makes them happy, and yet they are never capable of writing when they're upset. So writing makes them happy when they're already happy. That's silly.

If you enjoy writing in any way, it will make you happy. You have to choose to let it make you happy. You have to agree that you are going to start writing and create a world and lose yourself in this world and without even realizing it, you will become happier because of it.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Open For Interpretation

Since tonight is a double post, I want to stay on a single subject. Specifically, the last subject. My previous post was about how sometimes you can take one story and derive several lessons from it. This post is about a similar, but vastly different subject: interpretation.

Interpretation is what you think the lesson is. It's how you specifically react to a story. "The Giving Tree", for example, can be seen as a story whose lesson is that a true friend will give anything and everything because they want you to be happy. But it can also be seen as a perfect model of an abusive relationship where one person takes and takes and never appreciates the gifts, yet always asks for more, and the other side is so blinded or deluded that they will even allow themselves to be killed for the abuser.

With interpretation though, everybody is looking at the same thing. In "The Giving Tree", everybody read the same parts, saw the same actions and results. They see the relationship, but they have different beliefs on what that relationship is.

In the story I used in the previous post, the lessons came from different aspects of the story. One of them was about the quality of friendships increasing with fewer numbers. Another was about the difficulties in changing your identity.

Creating a story that is open for interpretation is not difficult. Usually, it simply requires less-than-thorough description. Show characters doing things, but don't have anybody expressly say why. Then it is for the readers to guess or assume why.

I have mixed feelings about such stories. Sometimes it can lead to incredible misunderstandings (which would be poor communication). Sometimes, though, it can lead to very interesting discussion points. It can lead to philosophy and questions. And if you are doing that, then maybe you are doing something worthwhile.

So Many Points

I told a story to my friend today. The short version is that, over the last several years, I have found myself keeping far fewer friends, and that although I felt bad about even being willing to turn people away, it has been a positive evolution because the friendships I do maintain are deeper and more meaningful.

So, what was the point of my story? That depends on who I'm telling it to and why. Today, I told it because my friend keeps too many lousy people in his life. My friend stretches himself too thin, so the point of my story is that everyone would be better off, himself included, if he would trim the fat and grow deeper relationships with fewer friends (including spending more time to grow those relationships).

I told the exact same story a couple days ago to a different friend. She was having an existential crisis because she could not cope with the idea that she is not the person she used to be. For her, the point of the story was that such crises are natural. People change. It comes with growing older. And usually, we are also growing up. I, too, am noticeably different from the person I once knew myself as, but I have come to realize that I am a better, happier, richer person for it.

This is, as it turns out, my most favorite kind of story: one with so many points. I enjoy a good fable which slaps you in the face with its sole lesson, but I much more prefer a story where there are several points. I love that I can draw upon one example to explain several concepts.

Writing such a story requires multiple things happening. It requires different fronts, different characters, simultaneous experiences. It usually requires the different aspects interacting and weaving together. Writing with so many points is dense writing. And dense writing is the best way to be succinct. (And if you know me at all, you know I think that's the best.)

Sunday, November 13, 2011


Objectification is used too narrowly these days. It is used exclusively with "women" in talking about how they are treated as a means for having sex. But there is so much more to it.

Objectification is presenting anything as an object. Consider how often a story has a protagonist meet a character who embodies their fear or their courage. These are objectifications. The same thing happens with the angel and devil sitting on a person's shoulder (objectifying morals and desires). When the Wizard of Oz gave the Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Lion their gifts, those were also objectifications.

Even in terms of humanity, objectifying is more than sexual. When you think about how many people it would take to fill a swimming pool, you are objectifying them. They are no longer unique individuals, but blank slates whose sheer purpose is to be a tool to be counted and measured, but not examined.

"Evil corporations" are considered evil because they objectify us. They do not think of humans as people, but merely as numbers. How many people have to die before you recall your dangerous product? That is a question that is actually considered and answered by the "evil ones". (Of course, they lose court cases because the human victims tell their human stories to juries, who are sympathetic.)

Any time you think of a person in general, as a statistic or a number - any time that you think of a human being, but are not considering their life and feelings and experiences, you are objectifying that person. It is not an evil thing in itself (nor is it good in nature); it is why you objectify them and what you justify through your objectification that makes it good or evil.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

What's In A Name

When I am having a conversation with somebody, I do not need to use their name. They know who they are and they know I am talking to them. Still, I will use a person's name at times.

There are two primary reasons I use the name of the person I am talking to. The first is for punctuation. It catches their attention. If they are drifting or otherwise not at full attention, using their name snaps them into focus. I am talking to them. I'm not speaking metaphorically or theoretically. I am using their name so they know that I really am directing it at them.

The other reason I do it has nothing whatsoever to do with communication. Sometimes I really just like using a person's name. It sounds good to me. It feels good to say. It may not add to the conversation at all, but it makes me feel good.

As a writer, you have an obligation to your audience. You must communicate. You must intrigue. You ought to provoke thoughts. But, as a human being, you have to enjoy yourself. And there is no reason not to write things that also make you feel good. I always say that you should not ever add anything to your writing that lowers its quality. But there is no reason to leave something out if it doesn't hurt your writing and makes you happy.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Your Vocabulary And Your Voice

When reading other pieces of writing, I will sometimes have to look up a word. It may be that I have never seen the word before in my life, but it may also be that I simply don't know exactly what a word means and I want an exact definition.
I don't think my vocabulary is particularly great, but I bet that I use words from time to time that other people can't readily define.

Actually, I should clarify that. My vocabulary is tremendous in the sense of words I know. When it comes to words I use, it ain't so grand. I tend not to like needlessly complex words and most of my thoughts can be expressed in the basic ones that everybody knows.

There is use in distinguishing between your vocabulary and your voice. Your voice includes only part of your vocabulary.

In reading my friend's novel, I came across the word "wanly". I know the word. I have come across it. But I never use it. It doesn't strike me sweetly, nor do I find it particularly descriptive, so I personally let it go.

This is no slight to my friend though. Her voice is different. For her, it is a word worth using. When I read it, I had no problems with it. I simply would not choose to use it.

And it goes both ways. I'm sure that the word "cessation" does not appear in her prose very often, but I used it five days ago.

Young writers often struggle with "finding their voice." (And by "young", I mean in terms of writing experience.) Truly, don't worry about it. Your voice is a natural thing. It is what you choose to do unconsciously. You already have a voice. You will simply discover that one day when you realize yours is different from others.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Trash Bad Ideas

I very often write about whatever thoughts are on my mind. I write my draft, often doing only minor editing as I write, then post it without even giving it a once over (hence spelling errors and such). Despite all of this, I do have some semblance of quality control.

Tonight, I had an idea while I was out, so I wrote it down with my pen and paper (hence why they always come with me when I leave the house). But as I wrote my idea down, the arguments began. I took the other side and questioned all of the statements and assertions I put down.

Now, arguing with myself is standard operating procedure. If I don't fight my argument, I don't know that it's right. Tonight, I poked so many holes in my idea that I crossed the whole thing out. Underneath it, I wrote, "Trash bad ideas: I do have some quality control." And that is why I wrote this post tonight.

A thought: Bad ideas are not worthless. Were it not for the experience I had with the bad idea, I would not have had the good idea for today's post.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Lie Like A Fly With A Booger In Its Eye

In a very old episode of The Simpsons, there is a scene at the school where a girl says, "You lie like a fly with a booger in its eye!" It's funny. It's also kind of catchy. In fact, it's so catchy that I still remember it to this day.

I said it in a conversation today, at which point I noticed something I never considered before: 'lie', 'fly', and 'eye' all rhyme, but all use different letters to make the rhyming sound.

This is a perfect example of whether you want your writing read or heard. When you speak it, it rhymes and is catchy and amusing. When you read it, it comes off weird and gross (not to mention nonsensical).

Sometimes I have a turn of phrase or a good dialogue, but I realize that it is only funny when spoken (if you come up with as many puns as I do, it's a fairly common occurrence). It's not pleasant, but when I'm in that situation, I simply have to let it go. There is no way to force it without lowering the quality of your writing.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

I Changed My Subhead Again

Below "Cheff Salad" it currently reads, "Education and encouragement, in writing and in life." (I say this not because I think you didn't read it, but for those reading the archives in the future and my subhead being changed once again.)

On one hand, I could say that my focus keeps changing, so I change continue to change my subhead to reflect that.

On the other hand, I could say that my focus has not changed, but I am finding more accurate words to describe what it is.

On a third hand, I could say that I got bored or sick of my then subhead and decided to change it to something more palatable.

But, I don't have that many hands, so I'm going to assume it's a little bit from all of them.

I would go on to explain it, but I would like to think that it speaks for itself. If I'm wrong, let me know and I'll go ahead and explain it.

Monday, November 7, 2011

I Don't Know What You'll Get

I'm a pretty calm and collected dude, but I'm also fairly unstable. Let's be real: everybody is fairly unstable; this is not rare or surprising. Common though it may be, it is a good fact to be aware of.

When I wake up, I have no idea what mood I'm going to be in (well, I'm always grumpy in the morning, but after I really wake up). When I have a conversation with somebody, I don't know if I'm going to be very serious or if I'll be a total smartass (or if I'll be completely indifferent).

When I get an idea for a story, I don't know if it's going to be a comedy or a drama. I find that out when I'm writing it.

I sometimes entertain the idea of doing improv (comedy, poetry, or anything else). I generally dismiss it, though, because I know I'm not stable. If I go to a comedy club and improv a totally dramatic scene, people won't be too happy.

However, I really do find this to be a potentially beneficial quality. It means I'm diverse. I have a wide range. I won't be pigeon-holed. And even if I do tend to have my own predictable style, it is harder to predict which one of my styles I'm going to use.

I find it very important to keep things different and changing. In that sense, it's kind of nice that even my own reactions are a surprise to me. I am also aware, though, that I must be careful what situations I put myself in. And when I am in a situation where only one kind of response is acceptable, I use all my effort to hold back all of the unacceptable responses that come to mind.

Writing, though, is freedom. You just let it all come out. Make sense of it later. I don't know what you'll get. You don't know what you'll get, either. But no matter what, when you are putting words together, you will end up with something.

Sunday, November 6, 2011


When I'm ending a conversation with somebody, more often than not, I'll say "Peace." It's my favorite way to say goodbye.

"Peace" is a commonly known and accepted farewell. Because of that, it is readily received. But that is only half of the story.

Like so many other words and phrases, people usually don't think about them. They all have meanings, though. And "peace" isn't too difficult to figure out.

I really wish peace upon people. We all have struggles, difficulties, stresses. I would like for people to be able to handle those stresses and let go of their frustrations. I want people to be at peace, even if only momentarily.

Although I say it casually, I take care to say it when somebody is obviously on the frazzled side. If somebody comes to me and they're in a great mood, I don't need to wish peace upon them (though I still might).

People may not think about my intentions, but they can still be affected by them. Just hearing or reading the word "peace" may reach them subconsciously. It may spark them to start thinking about the word, thinking about the concept, realizing that it may be something they want.

And maybe nothing will happen. I don't know. Nothing is guaranteed, especially when it comes to humans and subtlety.

Still, this is why word choice matters. The difference between 'goodbye', 'farewell', 'peace', 'later', 'see you later', 'see ya later', 'catch ya later' and all the other phrases we have just for this one instance of human interaction (or cessation thereof) are minute, but still exist. Those are the fine points of your writing. They are the finishing touches (even though you may do it in your first draft or at the very end of your final polishing stage).

They are how you build atmosphere without looking like you're trying to build atmosphere (an incredibly handy skill for the succinct writer). You may do this with conscious effort or you may do it naturally. In either case, be aware of it.


Saturday, November 5, 2011

Genuine Human Response

I am reading a friend's unpublished novel. I have been deplorably slow in reading through a scant 200 pages. One day, I told my friend this and explained why. Part of it is that the unplanned parts of life got in the way, but more of it was that the book wasn't my cup of tea. Not a genre I cared for, etc.

Although I was told that I didn't have to keep reading, I knew I was going to. First of all, I said I was. Second, I like to read my friends' writings - the opportunity is not so frequent and I want to see what they have to say. Third, I have learned from experience with other friends' writings that I could totally have a story pegged wrong and get blown away if I kept reading. And I had to know if that would happen.

Tonight, I continued reading, and I got blown away.

One of the things that bothered me was that the cast was high school students and listening to high school problems is so ridiculous. But as I read one of those ridiculous situations, the paragraph that followed was the protagonist's reaction. And that reaction was powerful.

To an outsider looking in, relationships and all related drama sound like melodrama. But to the person experiencing it, it is their entire world. My friend expertly captured that. She used just the right words that caught my attention and made me feel. She described the reaction like a real human would react, like I myself would probably react. I had to keep going.

As I continued reading, real drama happened. Things got serious. They got exciting. I literally only stopped reading because it was 3 AM and I couldn't keep my eyes open.

Some of this was the author's doing. She made some crazy stuff happen that shook things up. But what was most compelling was the characters. They were real. I couldn't stop myself from thinking about how well people's thoughts and actions were like my own or like people I knew.

I speak often of our characters and the effort that we should put in to convey their reality. I sometimes forget what it is like to be a reader experiencing that (I read too much nonfiction nowadays, so prose fiction is special).

No matter how silly a situation may seem to you, the people in it see it as quite serious. As such, they have a genuine human reaction to it. That's what makes a story powerful.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Don't Reveal Your Secrets

I can sense the irony immediately reading the title of this post and realizing that this is a blog on writing, where I am purposefully revealing all of my secrets. Let me explain.

I was talking with a friend tonight and bantering. I made some comment to which my friend said, "That was funny!" Meanwhile, I was just dumbfounded. I didn't tell a joke. I simply made a comment like I would in any normal situation.

All I could say was, "Of course it was. I wasn't trying to be funny."

Flash forward two hours and I'm standing in the shower thinking, why did I admit that?! I could have just kept my mouth shut and looked brilliant.

That's when I thought about the saying that "a magician never reveals his secrets." And I felt like the kind of guy who does a trick and immediately shouts out, "Here's how I did it!"

Sometimes the audience just needs the experience. They don't need to know what's going on behind the scenes. Sometimes you get really excited about all of the inner workings. If you made them, you are very proud of them. And you want to share that pride by telling people. But not everybody will have the same appreciation.

Keep a little mystery involved. Let people wonder about you. Make it be a special thing when you reveal some unknown fact about your stories or your process. It makes you look better and it can make your work more enjoyable.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Double Posts, Single Subject

My rule here is one post per day. If I miss a day, no matter what the reason, I post two on the second day (or three on the third day if I miss two in a row). The point is that it evens out.

Although I hate to miss an update, some things are beyond my control. There is a bright side to it, though. I can make a double update on a single subject. Recently, I did a double post on voice. One was about your writer's voice, and the other was about your spoken voice.

They easily could stand alone, and I could have written them one day apart like usual, but since I had them and since I was going to do two posts, it seemed like a good idea to put them together. That way you could read these different facets of a subject at the same time.

Maybe not every cloud has a silver lining, but you can often make positive outcomes from negative situations. It also means there is never an excuse to stop writing, nor is there an excuse to feel bad about missing your update. Just means you have to keep it up.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Preconceived Notions

I call myself a scientist. I care about facts more than anything else. Without facts, the world is a horrifying mass of confusion. And the only way to acquire facts is though research, experimentation, and analyzing results. Generally, this process is known as the scientific method

I have been taught the scientific method throughout my schooling. It is always described the same way and it always bothers the crap out of me. The first step is always "Make a hypothesis." Hypotheses are stupid and worthless. In fact, they're worse than that; they're detrimental.

'Hypothesis' is a fancy term for 'preconceived notion' (which, admittedly, is also a fairly fancy term). In short, you walk into an experiment expecting a certain result. But when you do that, you start to see things in a way that supports your hypothesis. Basically, if you want to see a certain outcome bad enough, you will find that outcome.

Much writing is experimental. The point of an experiment is to find answers, so begin it by asking questions. What would happen if these two different people were in close quarters for an extended period of time? What would happen if a person with particular personality traits was placed in an unfamiliar setting?

You may have some thoughts come to you of possible results. These are preconceived notions. But they are thoughts, not assertions. Let them be and do your writing to find out what actually happens. Then you will be a proud scientist and probably a decent writer.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

I'm Not Talking About You

I wax philosophical. It's what I do. I will start talking in generalities because some particular concept is on my mind.

Now, regardless of what may have stimulated those thoughts, once I'm talking in generalities, I am not talking about you.

The point of generalities is that they can apply to countless people and situations. They are designed to make people think, to look around them and to look within.

What I may be saying could directly apply to you. It could make you feel very strongly that I am hinting or nudging. Ultimately, though, that's not the case. It isn't my style.

In a sense, you should think like generalities are aimed toward you (because you sould think about how they apply to you and your life), but act like they are not. You get all of the benefit with none of the pain.