Sunday, September 29, 2013
Saturday, September 28, 2013
There is a famous quote by Aristotle: “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” I like this idea for many reasons. The first is that it applies to any quality, not just excellence. Malevolence is as much a habit as benevolence. This allows us to realize that we should not be so quick to judge people and to permanently cast them into a certain lot. Everybody makes mistakes or has bad judgment. But the way we think of somebody should be based on what they do consistently. A kind person who has a moment of selfishness is still kind. A jerk who bought you lunch one time is still a jerk.
But its best lesson is at face value. We should strive to do good things regularly, not rest on our laurels. As writers, we should be proud of our portfolios, but we should continue to add to them. If you are what you consistently do, than you are a writer only if you consistently write. And that leads to what I love the most about this quote.
My favorite quote from college was a professor saying, “You’re only a writer on days you write.” It dawned on me today that he was (inadvertently?) channeling Aristotle as he made that claim.
Friday, September 27, 2013
Thursday, September 26, 2013
Too many people struggle with the correcting part. They may be able to identify problem spots, but don't know how to fix it. When authors/editors get stuck like that, they often end up convincing themselves that the passage is good enough. They find ways to justify and rationalize it, and they leave it be. But the real reason they leave it be is that they don't know how to fix it.
If you have a passage that doesn't work, it isn't good enough. If it drew enough of a flag that an editor wanted to correct it, then it's not correct as it stands. Never accept something as being good enough, especially when you know it isn't. Editing is not always easy, even to those for whom it comes naturally. But if you are going to edit, then edit well.
I don't necessarily fault people for thinking this way. Writing is a very personal thing. It's a personal thing for everybody. But I do feel that people aren't quite understanding what I'm trying to explain to them.
First, ask yourself who your audience is. The cheap answer is to say everyone. It's a stupid answer because not everybody has the same tastes and preferences. The lazy answer is to say that your audience is the people who enjoy your work. Well, how are you supposed to distribute your writing to them if you can't come up with a more specific set of descriptions?
For many amateur writers, their true audience is themselves. And that's totally fine. It's ok for your audience to be you. But that still follows the number one rule: you are writing for your audience. What do you enjoy? What kind of writing style is pleasant? What kinds of stories do you like? You should answer those questions so that you end up creating something that you enjoy and respect.
Let me give you an example. I have known many writers who hate their own writing. They look at notebooks from their middle school or high school days and are embarrassed by it. They think that their own writing is bad and they feel bad about it. If that is happening, then it means that they failed to write for their audience.
Sometimes, even what you want as a writer is not the same as what you want as a reader. However, I do believe that what people choose to write is a kind of writing that they also want to read. So if you don't want to read your own writing, if you think your own writing is not good, then get better. Practice and learn and improve so that you can look on your old work with pride.
Tuesday, September 24, 2013
Sunday, September 22, 2013
I feel like some thoughts belong to the moment. Although they were interesting to think about, and may have seemed like something interesting to write about and share, they are ultimately finite and really only existed in that moment where they blinked into existence and then blinked right out of existence. And trying to force those ideas would only create an inferior product.
So if a thought belongs to a moment, enjoy it in that moment, and allow it to remain there.
Keep your notes handy. Put them in places that are unavoidable. And remember to read them. Otherwise, you might as well have not bothered to write them down in the first place.
I don't think there is a way to manipulate yourself into this state, but there are things you can do to help. First of all, don't panic. Accept that not having ideas is as natural as having lots of ideas; you aren't broken if you can't think of something good on demand.Second, pay attention to what stimulates your mind. For example, I always get great ideas when I go to live concerts. Something about sitting still and listening to music (and that I can't distract myself with technology) kicks my brain into creative mode. So learn about yourself and what triggers your thoughts. Anything that puts you into a creative state of mind makes the rest of the process much easier.
Friday, September 20, 2013
Thursday, September 19, 2013
Wednesday, September 18, 2013
Sunday, September 15, 2013
A story can come in any medium. Text, voice, dance, photos, videos, you could even tell a story with cake if you were good enough. Stories are about sharing experiences and feelings. It is a broad skill, but it has fundamental principles like understanding your audience, finding ways to communicate with them, and to make them think and feel what you want.
Writing is a specific medium. It can be used for several reasons, but whatever kind of writing you do, you will need certain principles. You need to have a standard of communication (spelling/punctuation/grammar that you and your audience both understand). You need to know how to employ those to get the desired effect you want. Writing can be dry and sterile, or it can be sensual and emotional, and it can be anything in between. A good writer knows how to create the desired effect.
A good writer should also be a good storyteller. Whether you want to make somebody cry with a personal essay, or you simply want them to understand how to program their DVR, you need to know how to take your reader on the journey and to pick things up along the way.
A good storyteller may not need to be a good writer specifically, but they do need to be good at whatever medium they choose to use. If a storyteller knows the journey that the audience should take, but doesn't know how to actually create that journey, then it is still ineffective.
The ingredients are not the recipe. This is just as true for writing. Knowing a book's genre doesn't tell you what will happen in it. Knowing a book's premise doesn't explain the experience of meeting its characters. Knowing the plot itself still does not convey the voice of the author actually telling you the story.
In a world full of reviews and synopses, it is easy to think that getting the short-hand version of a story is good enough, but in actuality, it will never be the same as experiencing the original.
Saturday, September 14, 2013
Thursday, September 12, 2013
When I was in college, taking Professional Writing classes, I got criticized a lot. In fact, one of the best parts of the program was being forced to write constantly and receiving legitimate feedback, both positive and negative, on most of what I wrote, whether I liked it or not. That is why I have thick skin. It was through these repeated experiences that I learned the deeper lesson, which is that you must be able to separate yourself from your writing.
No matter how much you define yourself as a writer, no matter how much heart and soul and passion you put into your work, that doesn't magically make it good. It doesn't magically make other people have to like it. And most importantly, it doesn't make you a lesser person if people don't like it. It is something you created, but it is not the sole definition of who you are.
Still though, if you don't stay in practice, you can lose sight of that lesson. And no matter how often you repeat the words, you can still find yourself getting caught up in that silliness all over again. Again, today was really rough for me. I can take criticism, but at a certain point, it just feels like I'm being beaten.
Nonetheless, and this is what matters most, I got through it. I'm alive and well. I did not receive any physical injuries, nor did I get any emotional scars. And best of all, I am a better writer for it. Already, my brain is far more aware of style and voice and which verbiage is exciting and which is dull. If I keep getting criticized, I'll be back in my prime.
Wednesday, September 11, 2013
Some people are naturally jocular; they crack jokes and laugh out loud all the time. For such a character to be smiling is a common sight. But if you see a man that has always worn a frown and barely ever talked laughing out loud, it would be incredibly surprising.
Now, being surprising just means that it was unexpected. So far, our only point of reference is that this man is always dour, and now he's not. However, imagine if we knew more about this man. What if he never laughed because his wife had died and he felt guilty about it? If the audience knows that, then to see this man laughing is not only surprising, but now it is poignant because it is a symbol to show that the man has gotten past his grief.
Always be aware of what you are telling to your audience, and what you are showing them. The more they understand about your characters and settings, the more you are able to do incredibly powerful things with very small and subtle scenes. And that is where the most incredible writing can be done.
Tuesday, September 10, 2013
When I heard this line, it rekindled an old thought I've tackled with from time to time. We're all dying. It is a strange thing, though. Most people don't have any idea when it might be. It could be tomorrow, or it could be 40 years from now. But everybody assumes it will be in 40 years (or longer). It's probably the only way some people can go on living, by ignoring their mortality, by procrastinating on accepting their lives as finite. And that is what makes it such a dramatic setting to give a character a specific amount of time to live.
When somebody knows they will die in 6 months, they suddenly feel this rush to accept their mortality and have the experiences they always dreamed of. But that's actually a weird thing. Why are people putting off their dreams? Why are they not dealing with the reality of life being painfully short, whether we live for 4 years or 100?
As people without an ETA for death, we see a person that has 6 months to live and we think that they aren't going to make it. And all the while, they are completely oblivious to the fact that they aren't going to make it either, because "making it" seems to mean not dying.
So why do I bring this up? It's because the reality is that everybody here is going to die. What really matters is what you choose to do with that time that you do have. It's as true for you and me as it is for the characters we write and read about. If birth and death are the first and last pages of the story that is our lives, then no matter how many chapters there are, that book will end. Try to make those pages in between worth reading.
Monday, September 9, 2013
Sunday, September 8, 2013
Because they mean different things.
Yes, like and love mean different things, but the point is, who determines what a word actually does mean?
Society determines it. Words already have meanings when we're born.
That's a fair point, but it's not entirely accurate. There are two examples of this. The first is that, if you track the history of language, you will find that some words have very drastically changed their meanings over the years, so words can change meaning, despite what they meant when you were born.
The second example is the word "love". There is a saying, "If you ask one hundred people for their definition of love, you will get one hundred different responses." This word has different meanings for different people. And, in fact, each person tends to have several meanings for that word. When people say "I love my mom", they do not mean it in the same way as when they say "I love lasagna."
So what does this mean? It means that we give power to words. It means that, although there are social influences, every individual person decides what a word means in general, and that the interpretation of a word can change based on the context of its use (who said it, why it was said, how it was said, etc.). As a writer, always be aware that the words you put down may convey what you intend, but if the reader interprets your words differently, your message may still be lost. Be very careful and very clear with your words and you will keep such happenings to a minimum.