I’m putting this blog on hiatus. The purpose, for me, was to get me writing more. I’m not doing that so I’m going to pause this. If I only have a very narrow window of writing energy per day, I don’t want to spend it here.
Writing About Writing: A once-a-week post about some aspect of writing. I’m not an expert; I’m just some guy. Take it with a grain of salt.
Today is Valentine’s Day, a day, in general, I couldn’t give a shit about.
But, TMI, I’m one of those hippies living in an open or poly-amorous relationship. Today, my version of celebrating was to resolve to myself to be a better partner: more open, less jealous, more giving, less possessive. I resolved to share more of what I “have” – and, importantly, to push myself farther away from the idea that “have” any human being. I am fortune to have humans who want to be constant participants in my life (and I in theirs), but I don’t own, and don’t want to own, those humans in any way.
And, since it’s Tuesday, I started thinking about what this means for writing
I went to a writing retreat in 2010 and one of the things that stuck with me from that experience was when our instructors said, “You guys will probably start getting published in chunks. Writers tend to edit each other and rise up together.”
I really love that thought. I think it’s a beautiful idea, this concept that a community of writers is raising each other up and achieving their publication goals together because they are giving to each other as much as they are taking.
Give and Take
My message this week is simple: Be giving. Be generous. Be “poly-amorous” in your writing. You don’t have one writing partner; you have a community. The goal is not to horde resources and success for yourself but to elevate your whole community by giving as much as you take.
So, put simply:
- Read for your community
- Edit for your community
- Give resources and tips and encouragement to your community
- Get feedback from your community
- Take that feedback seriously
Be a good partner to your writing community.
None! Go get some from and give some to your writing community.
I’ve wondered often, especially lately, whether fiction matters, whether it’s worth my time and energy and limited resources to try to create it. I worry about the world I’m living in. I worry that I should direct all of my energy and time toward changing it, leaving no fuel leftover for silly pursuits like fiction writing.
And then I come across something that changes my mind, something that reminds me that fiction is important.
Because fiction can speak truth to power in a way that reaches people, not just in the moment, but over time. Pratchett can illuminate the way our real world works while we feel like we’re escaping it. Hemingway can capture aspects of war that got overlooked by history books and are now preserved only in fiction. Even the most fantastic fiction – Lord of the Rings – can provide a view into humanity that real life misses, distorts or forgets. In the case of Lord of the Rings, it is the toll of war, the reality of the trenches, the lingering horror of what real people witnessed, experienced and could never fully process.
I’ve come all the way around on this issue because of articles like the one recommended here. Fiction is more important than ever. We are living in a time when the news isn’t news, when facts aren’t facts, when no source is trustworthy. And in such a time, I, at least, will be looking to fiction to preserve the truth of this moment in a way nothing else can or will.
Lying seems a particularly relevant topic today, so let’s apply it to writing.
Writers need to know a lot about their characters and the worlds those characters are in, no matter what the genre of the story. But we’re also human.
Something I learned at a workshop once is the art of lying just enough.
You don’t have to know everything about horses. Or dogs or houses or cars or whosiwhats. You just have to know enough.
To know “enough,” you’re going to have to do some research. Lying doesn’t get you completely off the hook. But if you’re good at lying, your research can be focused and concise.
For example, if you’re writing about horses, tossing in a breed name, just a single breed name, implies that you know about a bunch of horse breeds.
Okay, so it’s not actually lying
“Lying” is a little generous here. You do need to know your shit, but you might not need to know as much as you think.
If you were writing about a world that had a lot of volcanoes, it could be overwhelming to realize how much you need to learn. But you don’t actually need to be a geologist. You just need to know enough.
Not a science
Determining what’s enough can be a moving target. There’s no hard and fast rules about this.
My preferred method is to:
- Write the outline
- Research what seems to require research
- Write the draft
- See where the holes are and do some additional research
It’s not a perfect system, but hopefully it’s good enough.
The list is short this time because it’s really going to depend on what you’re researching.
“How much will you have?”
The bartender poured, but said, “Rough weekend?”
She scowled but finished the pour and left Ether with her drink. She swirled the glowing blue liquid. Long didn’t begin to describe it. Eternal, maybe.
She held up the glass. This would help. She shot the liquid back, savoring the burn that trickled through her body. The bartender was at the other end of the counter but had an eye on her. It didn’t matter. In a few minutes the liquid would hit her whole system and the bartender, the bar, the whole weekend would all disappear.
“A lot of requests for Forget Spike this time of year,” a man said.
Ether grunted instead of responding.
“Got a lot to forget?”
“Maybe. But it starts with you.”
The man muttered as he moved away. Even as Ether watched him go she felt the warmth through her whole body and saw him fading to an outline, then a shadow, then nothing. The bar began to drain away around her, like water draining down a sink. She relaxed into the feeling and waited to forget.
At night, the bugs crawled out of the walls. They tickled up her legs and arms and bored into her ears. They buried themselves in her body, using nostrils, mouth and even the corners of her eyes. There they lurked.
Come morning, she was full of bugs. She did not see the small holes they left all over, but when she drank water it spit back out of her from a million tiny punctures.
She panicked, trying to cover the holes with makeup, clothing, putty. Nothing worked. Everything she drank leaked back out. She looked like a lawn sprinkler.
She considered accepting this new body, this new life. But the holes nagged at her. She picked and prodded, trying to figure out how they didn’t kill her while still letting vitality drip from her pores. But every time she thought she discovered their secret, they sealed themselves against her again.
Contemplating the futile struggle before her, she ran.
Paint splattered the field of battle.
“It used to be different,” he said.
“Get your mask on, grandpa,” a child said.
He ignored the kid, pacing onto the field. Trees stood with splashes of pink and purple and orange paint on them. He looked at the gun in his hands. It looked like a toy to him. It was a toy. This was what kids thought was fun these days?
He turned to return to his grandson and froze.
A scraggly white beard covered his face and most of his hair had fallen out, but Yonnie would have recognized that man anywhere from the scar down his cheek and missing left eye.
The two men strode toward each other, forgetting their grandchildren. In arm’s reach, they dropped their toy guns, each pulling out handguns with enough power to shatter the trees the paint now decorated.
“We meet again,” Yonnie said.
“Let’s finish this, old man.”
“Can you aim with one eye?”
“I guess we’ll find out.”