WAW: Got the fire?

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.


I totally wrote a post yesterday and due to … internet troubles … I wasn’t able to post it. So here it is.

When I was a kid and teenager, I was obsessed with writing. I stayed up late to write; I woke up early to write. I wrote in school during classes. I wrote every second of every day during summer vacation. I threw a fit when I had to leave the house and go to a party or event or fun day at the beach because it took me away from writing.

It was all I wanted all day, every day.

As an adult, I often wonder what happened to that fire. It wasn’t fickle; it consumed a solid two decades with steady intensity.

So where’d it go? Maybe it’s because it became my job. Maybe I’m just old and distracted and busy. But I know the kid who worked that hard for that long on this one all-consuming thing – well, frankly, she’s pretty disappointed.

Resources:

None. Go build your fires where you can.

 

WAW: Read Everything

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.


I am almost never reading only one book. My current reading list includes a novel, a daily newspaper, a few comic books and a novel in a different language.

I used to get a little down on myself about reading too many things all at once, but I’ve come to realize that’s just what I like to do. It doesn’t confuse or demotivate me and the things I read tend to compliment each other (in my mind). I can’t sit still and watch a movie or TV show while doing nothing else, so why should I expect to do nothing but read a single book?

This will be a short post, but I was thinking about this today, while switching between fiction and journalism during my lunch break. Maybe I’m just a product of my generation, a stereotypical millennial with the attention span of a goldfish. Or maybe, just maybe, it’s fine to read however you happen to read.

Resources:

Some weird and interesting research on this topic:

WAW: Keep Your Promises

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.


One of the things I find the most disappointing and unforgivable when I’m reading is broken promises.

If you watched the rebooted “Battlestar Galactica” show from 2004-2009 you experienced a prime example of broken promises. (Mild spoilers will follow.)

For several seasons, viewers were taunted and lured with mysteries and secrets. We glimpsed snatches of the truth in dream sequences, flashbacks and inexplicable bursts of insight gleaned during routine missions. We learned tidbits and it only made us hungrier for the full picture.

But when that full picture was delivered, it was full of holes. The series finale left many disappointed. And it’s because we trusted the writers and they broke their promises. All the mysteries and hints built up to nothing.

Deliver

We felt disappointed because we believed we were seeing pieces of a large, beautiful tapestry. It turned out to be a crappy blanket full of moth holes.

What we should learn from that is how important it is to keep our promises to readers. It’s like the old advice about the gun on the mantle – “If in the first act you have hung a pistol on the wall, then in the following one it should be fired. Otherwise don’t put it there” (source).

Promising mysteries and secrets and big reveals only works if you keep your promises and deliver.

Resources:

A more detailed explanation of Chekov’s gun.

WAW: When MC = Author

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.


Let me get this out of the way up front: This is going to be more “just my opinion” than most of these posts.

But I really hate when I can tell that your main character is you.

Like, really hate it.

It’s like watching someone masturbate – not the porn star version, a regular person who I’m not dating or into. Kinda gross, mostly boring and totally not why I’m here (yeah yeah some people like it blah blah relax, it’s a joke).

Mary Sue

Mary Sues are a cliche in fanfiction. People take some shit that doesn’t include them and just add themselves in, as though all the fans of that thing were sitting around thinking, “You know what my favorite show was missing? This random ass person I don’t know.”

Books, Too

But, sadly, it’s not just fanfiction. Real deal authors make themselves main characters all the damn time. I can always sniff it out. Like, it has an actual odor to me. Because it’s boring, bad, annoying writing.

Of course there are exceptions etc etc blah blah blah. But as a rule, it isn’t good. Like, not even a little.

Resources:

 

WAW: Is It Real?

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.


Last night, I was, for whatever reason, wondering when stories and characters and fiction become real, if ever.

This doesn’t have much to do with craft

I’m just musing this week.

But, seriously, when does fiction cross over into reality? When does it not matter anymore that, say, Harry Potter isn’t a tangible person? He’s had more impact than many tangible people. So is he real? Does the fact that there are tangible buildings and hats and games and things in the world  with his name on them make a figment of J.K. Rowling’s imagination into a real thing?

I decided that at least for me (for now), fiction is effectively real. Meaning, Harry Potter doesn’t need to be a human I can touch because he still has an impact on my reality.

Why Bother?

Reasonable question. I was thinking about it in the context of things I’ve written and created, fictions that will likely never see the light of day but which have had huge impacts on my real life. Do those things matter? Are those things real? They’ll never be Harry Potter, so does that mean they aren’t real at all? Or are there degrees of realness and they’re just at the low end of the scale?

I suppose I think that fictions I’ve created are as real for me as Harry Potter is for other people. They’ve hugely impacted my life, even though they live only in my own head.

Your Real Matters

I think what’s real for me matters for me. What’s real for you matters for you. Whether or not those things are tangible – or even whether they’re real for anyone else – doesn’t matter as much, or perhaps at all.

What I’m trying to say is, no matter what level of skill or recognition you’ve obtained, your fiction is important, if only because it matters to you. So don’t belittle yourself or what you create. It matters, at least to you.

Resources:

None. Just had some weird thoughts to share 🙂

WAW: I Don’t Know What to Write

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.


This one hits close to home.

I don’t know what to write.

I don’t know where to go with the story I’m working on. I don’t know what to make this post about. I literally wrote about nothing yesterday.

What To Do When You’ve Got Nothing

Sometimes, this just happens. Life, stress, distraction. Whatever it is, it dries up the writing well, leaving nothing but dust.

My preferred method of dealing with the drought is to just punch my way through it. Write anyway. Write crap.Who cares? At best, you’ll get something surprisingly good. At worst, you’ll get more than nothing.

But I Have No Ideas

Then write this stuff:

  • Lists
  • Stream of consciousness
  • Someone else’s story/book/poem (copying others’ work – not to publish, but to learn – is a real thing)

It’s still more than nothing.

Resources:

WAW: How To Read For Someone

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.


Not too long ago, I encouraged everyone to read for each other. But today I want to talk about how to read for each other.

Three Steps

This is going to be a simple version. I’m talking about my general ideology, not specifics.

For me, there are three big steps: Bad, Good, Homework.

The Bad

My first job is to find what’s wrong. Plain and simple. If you aren’t finding what’s wrong, you’re doing the person a disservice. If you aren’t vigilant, if you aren’t catching those typos and extra commas and poorly worded phrases, you aren’t helping anyone. Find the problems. Call them out.

The Good

But you aren’t only looking for problems. While you’re diligently hunting commas, also hunt for gems. Find what’s good in the work and note that just as vigilantly as you noted any errors.

Homework

This is the important part.

You have some bad. You have some good. My philosophy, at this point, is to make them work together.

None of us are perfect writers. None of us aren’t still learning and working. But if someone early on in the process had absolutely dumped on us, we may not have gotten to where we are now. I never want to do that to someone. I feel that part of my job, when I read for someone, is to tell them what they’re good at, what their strengths are, what they absolutely must NOT delete or edit.

Their Strengths Will Fix Their Errors

Something I try to do every time, and something I really believe can empower a writer, is telling them how their strengths can help them address their errors.

So let’s say that someone writes amazing dialogue, but their characters are boring and flat. I may then say:

Your characters fell flat for me. I just didn’t feel much dimension to them. But your dialogue was amazing. It was so natural I swore I was just listening to my friends talking naturally. I think you could develop your characters through your dialogue to give them more dimension and make them feel more real.

Everything will always, of course, depend on the specifics of the piece and person and situation. But the important part is to:

  1. Tell them what needs fixing
  2. Tell them what doesn’t need fixing
  3. Suggest how what works can fix what’s broken

I really believe this approach can make writers feel empowered and energized rather than deflated and hopeless. I’d never want my read to make someone feel like they should abandon their writing. But I do want them to walk away thinking, “I’ve got this. I know what’s wrong and what I’m good at and I’m gonna crush this project.”

Resources:

None! Go read for someone and see what you can do to make them feel awesome about their own writing.