Tuesday, January 31, 2012

I Talk Too Much

When I have free reign to speak, I speak too much. I always feel the need to overexplain, to describe something in several ways, just to make sure that everybody gets it as thoroughly as possible.

I hope that it at least sounds good when I do it, but even if it did, I still am upset that I am not concise. I should be able to say something in one way that people will understand, and also be confident that everybody will understand it without needing more examples or analogies. Fortunately, I am much better with planned writing.

I talk too much. But I write just enough.

Monday, January 30, 2012

The Measure Of A Year

Last Wednesday was Cheff Salad's 3-year anniversary. In classic fashion, I thought about it that day, but forgot to mention it until several days later. Tonight, though, I am in the mood to talk about it.

Anniversaries are odd to me. I've never cared much about my own birthday, for example. I always held the Jay Sherman philosophy: "What are you so happy about? All he did was not die."

Lately, though, I have found the measure of a year to be an interesting one. It is a long time, and yet it flies by. So very much can happen, both in general and specifically to you. The days and weeks all blur together, and yet you may be a completely different person than you were a year before.

With Cheff Salad, being a daily activity, they certainly do all run together. Because of that, anniversaries are lovely contemplation points. Take a moment to stop and look behind you. Think about what you were doing, what you were thinking, what you were writing about. Where have you come from? Where are you going? Where are you now?

Tonight, having written down and pondered these thoughts, I have had a realization. I still don't find anniversaries something to celebrate. Cheff Salad is still active after 3 years. Sure, it took work and effort and dedication, but I love this thing. Anything that I want to survive, I will make sure it survives. It may be impressive to others, but to me, I simply wouldn't have it any other way.

Anniversaries should be spent in contemplation and appreciation.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

I Trust You

Lately, I have not always drawn the parallel between my life lessons and my writing lessons. It's because I trust you. I trust you to see the connection. If you have been a long-time reader, you can usually see where I'm going. If you are new, you can learn from going through the archives. If you assume that every post has a writing lesson in it, I trust you will see what it is. And if you simply don't see what I'm getting at, I trust you to ask me what the lesson is.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Thoughts On Outside Influences

So, I am reading The Zombie Survival Guide, and I am loving it. It is a tremendous book, thoroughly planned and executed. As I was reading it today, I started to think about the concept of a very realistic field guide based on a fictional subject. What if I wrote field guides for some of my own larger fantasy worlds?

And there was the inspiration. If I could make a field guide for my large-scale worlds, played totally straight, it would both give me excellent understanding of the finer points as well as give me ways to implement it in stories themselves (which, it occurs to me now, happens with World War Z).

I probably could have come up with this idea at some point. However, this idea came sooner because I was reading somebody else's book.

When I was younger, I really opposed the idea of gaining ideas or inspirations from reading people's stories. I felt like it was either cheating or stealing. Nowadays, I realize that theft is not in the idea but the execution. Writing a field guide isn't theft. Writing a zombie survival guide would be.

Outside influences can speed up the creative process. If I never read The Zombie Survival Guide, I could have come up with a fictional field guide idea on my own and never thought of myself as a thief. So why should I feel bad if reading somebody else's field guide made me think about doing one of my own faster?

Friday, January 27, 2012

You're Not Special

I have heard a lot of life stories from a lot of people. And if there is one thing I am reasonably sure of, it's that you're not special.

Everybody has the same experiences. We all have the same general fears. We all have the same secret desires that we never tell anybody.

And do you know why you think that you're special? It's because you never tell anybody these things. You're too afraid or embarrassed to talk about your shameful secrets, so you never discover that almost everybody has shameful secrets, and that most people have the same ones.

When something is new to you, you feel special, even if it is something that everybody else has already experienced. (This is notoriously visible in new relationships.) If it happens to you, don't feel too bad. After all, it happens to most of us.

The one nice thing is that not being special can be a real positive.

I believe that anybody can be a good writer. Anybody can be creative. Some people may do it more easily than others, but anybody can learn how to do it and how to get better at it. Ultimately, it comes down to diligence, first to study, second to practice, and third to reflect (which is arguably studying, too, but studying yourself).

Good writing doesn't require anything special, which is good because you're not special.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Random Abilities

As I get home from work today, my friend calls me. After shooting the breeze, she asks me for my opinion on how to implement a statistical procedure for her job. Without getting too technical, I was able to help her solve her problem by saying that the statistical formulae used for large numbers are viable with a minimum sample size of thirty.

I have no idea why my friend asked for my opinion on statistics, aside from me being a generic nerd. I am not in a math-related job. I never studied it in college. In fact, the only statistics I ever studied were in my junior year of high school.

Quite frankly, she got damn lucky. Of the entire year of statistics that I took 8 years ago, I remember two things: the smallest sample size for the large formula is 30, and the average IQ score is 100 points, with a 15 point standard deviation.

There is no reason that I should remember those things. They're random and useless to me, but they stuck in my head. I should have every reason to believe that I will never need to know or make use of those things for the entirety of my life. But here I am, on January 25th, 2012, having just made use of my random, useless knowledge.

This kind of thing is common. If you live long enough, the odds that you will come across a situation where your random abilities (whether they be retained knowledge or physical feats) will be useful get better and better.

In writing, this is a tricky subject. The more eclectic a person's talents are, the more it seems like the author pulled it out of his ass. This is compounded when the situation is increasingly dire. My knowledge of statistics should never be able to save a person's life. But it could make one situation more convenient on some random day.

I like to believe that all of my characters have some random abilities, and that in any given story, the day that their particular ability is useful may or may not come. If it does come, it may or may not be particularly useful. It is the kind of fact that I as the author know, but my readers may not if it doesn't come up. But that doesn't matter. What matters is that, if I can identify a random ability in my characters and identify how and why they have it, then they must have a background and some depth to them.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Small Talk

I hate idle chatter, but I don't mind small talk. To me, the two are very different.

Idle chatter is what happens when you have nothing to say. You move your lips, speak words, but none of it matters. Like I said yesterday, it is the bland, petty minutia of people's lives.

Small talk, on the other hand, is real talking, but about smaller things. When I hang out with my friends and we aren't talking about global politics or long-term life goals, we still have good conversations, but about less important things.

Conversations in small talk include subjects like: best uncommon combination of pizza toppings, which superhero we'd rather be, what the best fusion of animals would be, what nation has the coolest flag, and why bitches be trippin'.

The great thing about small talk is that, in one sense, it is totally meaningless. The answers to these questions are good for a laugh at best, and are a decent way to kill time at worst. But in another sense, they reveal so very much about the people.

The questions that somebody chooses to ask reflect the things that they care about. The answers that they have are either preplanned or are gut reactions, both of which reveal more about the person. Small talk is an excellent, laid-back way to learn about people, as well as get some laughs and kill some time.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Have Something To Say

I hate idle chatter. I would rather sit in silence. I would rather be alone. I would rather watch a not-particularly-good movie and complain about it for the entire two-and-a-half hours than have to deal with listening to the bland, petty minutia of people's lives.

I operate under the belief that all information serves a purpose. If I don't need it, then I won't be told it. So when people start talking about their lives, I assume there is a point to it. Until they ask me a question or otherwise seek my advice, the only response I have is "ok."

Don't talk if you don't have something to say. And I mean "say" in the sense of "talks the least, but says most". Otherwise, you're just mindlessly rambling. It's the same reason I advise being succinct in writing.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Shared Understanding

Everyone should have dinner with my parents. It's an experience all its own. It starts with talking to each of them as individuals, because they may be totally unlike what you would expect. Then you realize that these two people are married to each other. And finally, you realize that these are the people who raised me, and that I have become the person I am because of them.

Once you have had dinner with my parents, you and I will have a shared understanding. We both know these people, what it's like to be in their presence, the things they know, the things they talk about, and it will allow us to communicate more easily. I will never have to explain certain aspects about my parents because you have already witnessed them.

The writer/reader relationship heavily depends on shared understandings. If people are not on the same level, communication will be flawed. If you write about something that somebody doesn't understand, they will be confused. If you try to explain a subject that the reader already understands, they will be bored.

This is why it matters who your intended audience is. This is why you can't please everybody. Different people share different understandings. You have to pick the group of people that does or does not know about a subject, and write in a way that best communicates with them.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Have A Good Time

I woke up this morning and went to work. I was productive, got my work done, and spent my free time reading a good book (in this case, my autographed copy of The Zombie Survival Guide). After work, I went to my friend's house, where several people had fun, played some games, watched a movie, and generally enjoyed ourselves.

One might argue that I was a bad writer. I didn't write anything (aside from tonight's post). I did some reading, which is commendable, but that's about it. I didn't solve any problems. I didn't discuss philosophies. I didn't really further any writerly pursuits.

One might argue that the people who would call me a bad writer can shove it. I have read, I am writing, and I have gained experiences. I have absorbed the personality traits of people who are very different from me. I have been exposed to things I would otherwise have not exposed myself to. And most importantly, I had a good time.

Mental health is important. If you aren't happy, you get stagnant. And getting stagnant means you have nothing new to say. And if that happens to you, then why are you bothering to write?

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Imitations Always Fall Flat

Very often, amateur writers try to imitate another author's style. They may do it because they are impressed by that author or truly enjoy that style of writing. And while it is good to learn from others, I will warn you against trying to copy a style outright.

Imitations always fall flat. When people imitate, it means they are trying to use a style without a true understanding of how that style works. If you want to sound like another author, you need to do more than just imitate it - you need to study and break down and analyze it. You need to know the words used, the way they're put together, even the subjects that would be written about.

Because it would take so very much time and effort to try to sound like somebody else, I will generally tell people to not bother. It is a worthwhile endeavor to study writing styles, but only to understand what is possible to do with words. The best person to try to sound like is yourself.

Friday, January 20, 2012


I learned the word 'inordinate' in 7th grade. I loved that word. It was a marvelous way to say "a lot". I'm sure I used it through high school, but at some point, it fell out of my daily vocabulary. I heard it used at work today and was struck with a wave of nostalgia and general fondness for the word.

Part of me hopes that I pick it up again, that it starts becoming part of my daily usage. Part of me is worried that it will not happen.

Although 'inordinate' is a great word to me, it is uncommon. People can figure out what it means in context, but it is so rare that it would likely confuse most readers. That is what causes the conflict. Just because I know the word and I like it does not mean that it is the best choice to use if it means nothing to other people.

One thing to note, though, is that there will be a time when I find myself in a situation that the only word that accurately describes my thought is 'inordinate'. And when that situation arises, I will use the word with no qualms.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Faith And Science

"Have some faith that you aren't the only person who thinks it's good (even if they think so for different reasons than you)." That was the closing line of yesterday's post. It's true, but only the first stage of the process.

Faith is belief without proof. When you are starting out, you need this. You need to be able to write, to finish your projects, and to share it with others. You need to believe that you can succeed tremendously, even without any proof. If you can't do this, then you will not have the courage to put yourself to the test.

But faith alone is dangerous. It's traveling blind. That is where science takes over.

Consider your initial writings as experiments. They are you trying something out because you had a thought you wanted to explore. Actually writing something is gathering data. Showing it to others is peer review.

Through these experiments and feedback, you can improve your writing. But without the initial courage, you might not have experimented in the first place.

You need faith and science. They work hand-in-hand. Don't let one overpower the other, but don't let one fade away, either.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Nobody Reads My Work Like Me

Nobody reads my work like me. When I read my old posts, I always "get it". The words make sense. The thoughts are clear. The progression is natural. That's because they're in my tone. They're what's natural to me.

People sometimes react to my words exactly like I do. But that doesn't mean they experienced it the same as me.

Sometimes I will have forgotten so much about a particular work that it's like I'm reading a stranger's writing. But no stranger writes in exactly my tone.

No matter what, it is always a unique experience to read your own work. Have some faith that you aren't the only person who thinks it's good (even if they think so for different reasons than you).

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Cruel vs. Just

I hate stories about revenge. It's not that I don't care for revenge (quite the opposite, actually). I simply hate the way it is handled. Every story follows the same route.

Person 1 has a tragedy befall them. Generally, a loved one (spouse, close friend, family member) gets murdered. Person 1 then embarks on a quest to kill the Murderer. At some point during this quest, Person 2 (another individual very close to Person 1) says not to follow through; killing the murderer won't bring back the loved one. The climax of the story has the Murderer pinned down by Person 1 (classically with a gun to the head or Murderer barely hanging on to a crumbling cliff edge), with Person 2 reiterating that revenge is not the answer.

There are two things I hate about this scenario (aside from how often it is done with no variation). The first is that the ending of the story completely contradicts the words of Person 2. Every story ends in one of two ways: the Murderer changes sides or otherwise gives valuable information which allows Persons 1 and/or 2 to remove a greater evil (taking out the leader of the gang or crippling the Empire's primary stronghold), or the Murderer remains evil, but still manages to die (either by falling off the cliff or being left crippled in a harsh environment) or be captured by authorities.

So now we have Person 2, who is supposed to be the voice of reason, saying that revenge is bad, that the Murderer shouldn't be murdered, but the story then makes the Murderer die or otherwise be severely punished. So what the hell is the lesson here?

The lesson here, actually, is the second thing that I hate about this scenario: Person 2 is wrong! Person 2 always says that killing the Murderer won't make you feel better because it won't bring the loved one back. Person 2 does not understand revenge. The world is cruel. Bad things happen in it. This is a fact of life that all humans are tested on. The primary way that we humans cope with our cruel world is with the belief that it is just.

Every society has The Golden Rule. It comes in many names and has many nuances, but in general, what we do to others, we should receive. Those who do good should be rewarded. Those who destroy should be destroyed. This is justice. Without it, we cannot mentally survive. Our brains will die and we will become mindless animals.

The point of revenge is to bring justice to cruelty. That is precisely why Person 2 is wrong and why, if Person 1 follows that advice, the Murderer still dies.

The only thing Person 2 truly does is create enough conflict/drama as to make the revenge quest a worthwhile story. That is why I hate revenge stories. There are only two ways to do them and they both suck.

As always, I challenge you to prove me wrong. I challenge you to find the revenge story that isn't a cliche, one that finds a new alternative, and I challenge you to make that story and shove it everyone's faces (especially mine because I could totally go for a satisfying revenge story).

Monday, January 16, 2012

I Should Become Unnecessary

I fulfill three roles in people's lives: creator, educator, and facilitator. As a creator, I make stuff up. As an educator, I teach. As a facilitator, I help people accomplish things. And in those roles, I should eventually become unnecessary.

Primarily, this is because I am a teacher. I love knowledge and I love giving knowledge to others. But once I have taught people what I know, they have no more need for my teaching.

With facilitating, it works similarly to teaching. I like to help people get things done, but once they've accomplished their goal, I am no longer needed. Some people might come back if they need help with a new project, but if I teach them how to accomplish their goals as I facilitate them, then they won't need to come back.

In creativity, I could potentially always have more to add to people's lives. But eventually I will have used my ideas or have fallen into a style. It may be good, but it may become predictable. And if you have truly absorbed my all-encompassing central ideas, then you can move on to a new creator's mind.

What keeps me going are two things: First, I have not become completely unnecessary to anybody yet (no matter how hard I've tried). Second, even if what I can give to you is finite, there continue to be more people for whom it is new and useful.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Writer's Association

At college, I belonged to the Cortland Writers Association. I found it incredibly hilarious that nobody knew how to spell it. Or, more accurately, nobody knew the proper grammar of it.

Very often it was written as Cortland Writer's Association or Cortland Writers' Association (both of which are wrong). What made it so funny was that the answer was so obvious if people would just sit down and think about what these variations mean. The first one is laughably wrong because "writer's" is singular, so that would be the association of the single Cortland writer. Though, I admit that f it was accurate, it would also be incredibly sad.

The latter one is arguably accurate. It indicates an organization which is owned by Cortland writers. And, in a sense, CWA was that. The one problem is simply that there is a far better alternative.

The Cortland Writers Association (with no apostrophes) is an association comprised of Cortland writers, which is exactly what the organization is, which is exactly why that is the actual name of the group.

I bring this up because it is not an isolated incident, but a structure in English. I see musicians clubs and artists groups. None of them should have apostrophes, but you do see them, especially when amateurs write them out.

Learn this construction so you don't have to question yourself the next time you come across it. But if you do come across a similarly puzzling situation, sit down and think about it logically. English may not make a ton of sense, but most things can be logically deduced when you have a big enough base of knowledge to draw from (and this particular example does not need much at all).

Saturday, January 14, 2012

The Risk Of Lending

I have the books of people I will never see again. They also have some of mine. Not that it would be terribly difficult for either of us to replace them, but our books have a sentimental value to them. They are "our" books and not somebody else's.

Nobody stole the other person's book. We simply said that we would return it next time we saw each other, and then that didn't happen.

This is the risk you take when you lend your things to others. As soon as it is not in your possession, there is a chance, no matter how unlikely, that you will never see it again.

If you are not willing to take that risk, don't lend your things out.

Friday, January 13, 2012

The Right Realization At The Right Time

I had my third death dream last night. More accurately, I should call it my third doomsday dream: that's one where not only do I die, but the entire world is destroyed. Considering that I am one who almost never remembers dreams, it is significant.

What worries me about this most recent one was not that I had it, but how well I took it. The first doomsday dream I had, I could feel the fear. No matter how much I tried to let go and relax, I was not relaxed. I was bracing for impact. Last night, I wouldn't say that I welcomed it, but I wasn't afraid.

Mortality is horrifying. It is the #2 fear amongst people after public speaking. It's the kind of subject we ignore and resist until we are lying on our deathbeds and have no other choice but to face it and accept it.

A person in his twenties has no business contemplating his own mortality.

But, I have, both in my waking hours and in my sleep. And, apparently, in both realms, I have made peace with that.

This is not something I'm happy about. There's a reason people don't think about it until they're about to die. First of all, it adds way more drama to stories. Second, and more importantly, once you accept it, you give up.

It's hard to care about life when you have already accepted your death. You get up and you do your thing, not because you want to do it, but because you don't particularly want to die from complacency.

Eventually, though, one makes a second realization, which is that if you aren't going to end your life, you might as well do something you like in the mean time. Enjoy yourself. Enjoy your friends and family. Being miserable is no way to live. (Personally, though, it took me way longer to figure that out than you'd expect.)

What's the point of all of this? The point is that we all have certain realizations in life. Some come at certain points, usually after some powerful experience. We all learn about love, about heartbreak, about independence, about friendship, about death. We don't learn them in the same order, nor at the same time periods in our lives, and that causes differences in outlooks (which sometimes make people incompatible and sometimes makes them the best of friends).

As a writer, your stories are based on your outlook. I could never write the way I did 15 years ago (hell, not even 5 years ago[hell, not even 1 year ago]) because my experiences have completely changed my outlook.

As a character, stories take a standard progression. We meet a character who has a given outlook (which usually defines the character and is palpably dubious). The character goes through some experiences which the character reflects on and then changes their outlook.

It's a classic for good reason: it works. But I always challenge you to break unwritten rules. Consider a character who has had a realization prematurely. How does that affect them? How do they affect the people around them? Who do they associate with? What can happen to them in the story? Do they "unlearn" their lesson? Do they find some even deeper lesson beyond it? Do they simply not change and live their life that way? Does it simply not change their life that much?

There is much fertile ground to explore.

Thursday, January 12, 2012


I love lore. Every series that I find particularly compelling has a grand lore to it. So very much has happened before the stories ever take place and you get bits and pieces of it as the story is told. The story itself, even if it is small and linear, then becomes part of the collected lore.

But personally, I enjoy large scale stories. I don't want things to be so big that I can't keep things straight, but I want enough things going on that the lore of the actual stories is significantly large even without knowing any of the history.

This is why I tend to like serial works. A story may be shorter because it's episodic, but it adds up very quickly and then you look back and realize you have created an amazing universe. And that is something to be proud of.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

All-Encompassing Central Idea Revisited

I found myself thinking about the all-encompassing central idea: that one concept that you always write about, no matter the specifics. I realized that it is deeper than what I originally thought.

Originally, I thought my idea was two sides with conflicting ideals. As such, my original advice was to try writing about a different subject. Well, I've tried writing about different subjects, but my writing is still the same.

As it turns out, my all-encompassing central idea is sustainability. Everything I write about is concerned with maintaining a norm (or the results that come from not being sustainable).

When you have two groups living together, they must have some history. They were living together just fine for a while, but then something happened. Suddenly, they can no longer continue living the way they had. There was a sustainable situation, but it collapsed.

The same principle affects all of my stories. Even if it is about a single person living in the present day. It's somebody who either has a standard way of life that gets screwed up, or it's about somebody who is seeking a sustainable way of life.

I can't even imagine a story that is not about some form of sustainability. And that is why it is my all-encompassing central idea. It is not about the main story I tell; it's about the concept being found in every thing I write. It's about the fact that even when I try to avoid it, I still write about it unconsciously.

And if you can't avoid it, then learn how to do it the best way you possibly can.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

They're Not All Winners

Writing is a rigorous activity. Good writing takes a lot of mental energy, willpower, fortitude, and all those other words that either make you feel strong or terrified. But just because you expend a lot of energy does not mean that you have made good writing.

Ideas: they're not all winners. Some of them will never be as good as others. It may not be readily apparent, but there are a few good checks to use.

Bad ideas take a lot longer to get off the ground. That does not mean that every good idea starts off easily, but better ideas tend to grow smoothly, even if they have a rocky start.

Bad ideas take more energy per line. I do not mean that it takes longer to write out a bad idea. I truly mean that for every line you write, you are spending more mental energy than you would for a good idea.

Bad ideas need to be changed more. All ideas change or evolve as you work with them, but bad ideas require a lot more to make them palatable.

If I am working on an idea or have started writing on one, but I am just not feeling good about it, I check for those warning signs. If it looks to me like the idea is a dud, then I let it go. There's no harm and no bad feelings. It's just something that has to be done.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Your Idol Has An Idol

I see myself as a pretty cool dude, but I don't think of myself as particularly exceptional. I simply know a lot of the rules of English, along with a good chunk of words, and I know when something doesn't sound good to my ears.

And yet, there are people who look up to me. It comes as a surprise, but I do not turn people away. They aren't wrong to look up to me. I have positive qualities, such as my dedication and my simple-yet-effective style of writing.

Still, though, I am just a person. I do some things well and other things I need to work on.

I think this is a healthy attitude to have for ourselves, but it is also healthy to have that attitude toward others. We're all just people. We may have idols, but our idols have idols too. You are more like the person that you look up to than you realize.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Make It Watchable

I can sometimes use the same advice for writing that I do for life (this should come as no surprise to any regular readers, or anybody who read my tagline). But today I got to do so in a more direct way.

We live in an audio/visual society. Most stories are told as movies or television shows. As such, the easiest way to approach a story conceptually is to think of yourself as a movie director.

When I talk with an author who tells me her story sucks, I ask her, "If this was a movie, what would happen?" I like this question because most people get it. Popular stories are often contrived. You can guess what's going to happen next pretty accurately. Even if you're wrong, the fact that you could guess an entire ending means you know how to construct a story (and a classic one at that).

From the question comes the challenge: "You're the director of this movie. Make it watchable." Even if the writer doesn't have the answer readily available, she now has a challenge to work on, a focus and structure. She can think about movies she's seen, what ones are similar to hers, what happened in them, how she can borrow from or go in the complete opposite direction of them.

As it turns out, when somebody tells you that their life sucks, the exact same tactic works. Life is often like a movie (in theory because movies try to reflect life, but probably because humans are so attracted to drama). So you can ask what would probably happen if their life was a movie. And from there, you can challenge them to be the director. They can now do all the same pondering, but now, instead of taking control of their characters, they're taking control of themselves.

Sometimes, I think that telling stories is the least impressive aspect of being a writer (though it can still be damn impressive by its own right). Changing people's lives is what it's about for me (ideally for the better). Using all of my skills and techniques to affect the real world, rather than fictional worlds makes me feel worthwhile.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Comments Welcome

When I found out that I could add the equivalent to the Facebook Like button to Cheff Salad, I was pretty excited. Not many people actually comment on my posts, but I wanted to invite people to share a reaction that didn't require the time and effort of typing out a full response.

I'm now getting such responses pretty regularly, which is nice. The point of sharing my writing is to affect other human beings. Seeing regular traffic supports that, and having people click on those buttons makes me confident that not all of my traffic is from bots trying to sell me something.

Still, I am curious about you. What do you agree with me about when you click that button? Absolutely everything? One particular point? Was it simply the story from my life that you also experienced?

What about my post did you disagree with enough to click that button? Was everything I said wrong, or just my final conclusion? Are you upset, or do you merely disagree? What should I have changed for you to agree instead?

Were you actually laughing out loud when you clicked on LOL? Did I actually say something funny? Was the whole thing amusing or just one particular line? Or did you just click it because the first two options didn't really fit (or was it just because you thought it so funny that it was even a possibility to choose)?

Your comments are welcome. They are not needed or demanded, but they are welcome. I am as interested in you, my readers, as you are in me. But not too interested. I don't want to seem creepy and scare you away.

Friday, January 6, 2012

It's Not The Same If I Know You

I'm an awesome editor. I can do very high-concept work (helping to develop a story and its structure),
very fine-tuned work (tweaking things at a sentence level, along with superb proofreading), and everything in between.

The longer I work with some one, the closer the connection gets with them. I get a feel for their style and what they want out of me. Ironically, this connection can sometimes make editing more difficult.

In fiction stories, the mix of reality and fantasy is not well-blended. When I know the author, I know which stories are from real life. I know which philosophies and which viewpoints are the ones the author lives by. It creates a disconnect from the fantasy world. I keep being ripped away from the characters because I see their puppet strings and the author tugging on them from above.

There is not much you can do here but suck it up and deal with it. Be aware that it is going to be weird and, when that feeling strikes you, just take it like a professional and keep doing your job.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Gray Matters

I find myself to be incredibly frustrating sometimes because I am so across the board. I have serious, deep, thought-provoking conversations (and monologues), but I also make childish jokes. I am incredibly focused, but can be very easily distracted. I write stories for children and I write stories that should never be read by children.

I was thinking about Cheff Salad today and thought about my archives. There is a lot to read through. Every now and then, I entertain the idea of making a print version of the blog: either a collection of all the posts or a selected posts, maybe grouped by subject.

I then started thinking about how valuable it might be to young writers, especially children. There is a lot of advice and thoughts about life as well as writing. But then I thought about how many random posts have random profanity in it, which would make it kind of impossible to market to kids.

That is the difficulty, though. The things I find interesting, and the things I want to make, are not easily defined. They do not fit into any of the predesigned boxes. They are neither black nor white, but some gray matter, bits and pieces of all the possibilities.

Still, I think it's a good thing. If I was making something that could be so easily labeled, then how am I standing out? Aren't the best things you encounter extremely difficult to describe? I think there's a reason for that.

You're Stronger Than This

I really hate driving. The only good thing about it is that I'm usually alone and listening to music. Still, any time I drive a long trip, I feel like I should be doing something better with my time.

What compounds the problem is that as soon as I get on the road, I feel tired. No matter how well-rested I am, as soon as I hit a long stretch of road, I get sleepy and want to close my eyes.

I know it's all crap, though. If I'm rested, then I don't need to sleep. It is simply my mind trying to trick itself in order to prevent me from doing something I really don't like doing.

Still, if I'm making a long trip, it's for an important reason. At that point, I have to just shout to myself, "You're stronger than this." I know that it's a mental trick and I just need to use my mental power to overcome it.

This is not unlike writing. It's a difficult process. Starting a project is incredibly difficult for some people. And for the other people, that difficulty is in finishing a project. In either case, you will eventually hit a mental roadblock. You will lose your desire or energy, no matter how much you had when you reached that point.

In that situation, you have to do the same thing: tell yourself that you're stronger than this,that you know you have the ability, the energy, and everything else you need to succeed. You may not have the desire, but you do have the willpower.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Cater To A Selected Audience

In my previous post, I talked about how your audience needs their own set of skills to be able to decode and interpret what you as a communicator send to them. This is true, but I left out one other aspect. You generally don't send out a message to the whole world.

First off, yes, I totally grasp the irony that I just said you don't send a message to the whole world on my blog, where anyone on earth can read it. But this blog is not written for everyone. I write this blog for writers. It is of benefit to people who are curious, who think about life and the world around them. It uses a certain vocabulary that people are either going to need to know or need to learn in order to understand what I'm saying.

The way I write here is not the way I talk (at least, not exactly). More importantly, it's not the way I talk to everybody. Some people get simpler language and easier thoughts. Some people get flowery language and others get it blunt. Some people get vast dialogue and others get a few answers. And within all of those extremes, some people get everything in between.

You have to cater to a selected audience. Choose the kind of person (or in one-on-one communication, a single person) you want to receive your message and communicate in a way that they will be best able to interpret accurately. Word choice is a top priority, but also get a feeling for how they see the world, what facts they are already aware of and what things would need to be explained. Make your communication be as smooth as possible. The fewer bumps along the path, the more likely your message will remain in tact when it reaches its destination.

Skill On Both Sides

I love to believe that I am a master communicator, able to get anybody to think or feel however I want them to by sheer use of my words, but the reality is that it's not the case. And frankly, I don't believe such a thing is even possible.

Communication is a tricky subject. It takes skill on both sides: presenter and receiver. We have to be able to have a thought, convert it into some sort of sharable medium, send it to another person, and have them decode it. Having a shared language is a handy medium, and the ability to speak and to write it is equally useful. But even with that major gap closed, there are still a lot of issues.

Thoughts are not just concrete images. They can be actions. They can be transitions. They can be chains of causes and effects. On top of all that, thoughts also have feelings attached. There are emotions, beliefs, values. If a person does not already share those, they also need to be communicated, along with the primary idea.

I often talk about choosing your words. You need to do it carefully. Choosing a particular synonym, a particular phrase, or stating a fact in a particular viewpoint, all will affect the exact message you are transmitting.

But no matter how well-made your message is, it is up to the receiver to decode and understand it. If they do not have the skill to catch your subtle nuances or interpret your inflections, then they are falling on deaf ears. They may get the gist of what you're saying. They may even get a majority of what you're saying. But they will not feel and understand it 100% the same as it was in your head.

It is a little sad and can be very frustrating, knowing that nothing will be understood exactly as you meant it, but it's out of your hands. As a communicator, your job is to present the information as best as you possibly can. And trust me, that is a big enough task by itself.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Replay Value

There are two very different ways tog experience a story: the first time you read it, and every other time. There is nothing like that first time with a story. You literally do not know what will happen next. After that first time, you will never experience it that way again, specifically because you do know what happens next.

The important question to ask is then: is the story worth a subsequent run through?

In video games, they use the term "replay value". You may play through the game in 8 hours, but is it worth playing again? Is it still fun? Is there still more to do? Or do people go through it once and decide that was enough?

Many stories, whether they print or movie or any other medium, I go through once and it's enough. They were nice little romps, but once you know how it ends, there's nothing much left. The experience was ok, but not remarkable. If it happened to be in front of me and I had nothing better to do, I wouldn't mind going through it again (after all, I didn't hate it), but I wouldn't go out of my way to do that.

Replay value matters to me. I never want my writing to be considered throwaway. Even if I make a new one every day, and even if not every one is a glimmering beacon of excellence, I want people to be able to go back, read through my archive, and be moved by what I wrote all over again.

Periodically, I do read an old post or two, and I do see value in them. That gives me hope that other people see such hope, too.