All writers have a process that allows them to create. However, the art of "Writing" is often mistaken for that "Process." Hopefully this blog explains the difference, and inspires people to develop their crafts, become writers, or just keep on writing.
Friday, November 30, 2018
The Serious Business of Writing Humor
Monday, November 26, 2018
The Basics of Style
I never tell someone to not try writing in a particular style, but rather I tell them to try everything. Try horror, romance, thrillers, philosophical narrative, and anything else they want to commit to words. This might show the aspiring writer a thing or two about genres, but it will get the person writing enough to find their own voice, and voice informs style.
My father was an artist; his style best described as neo-classical romanticism. When he was a student, he would study Renaissance Era masters and try to be the next Raphael (The Italian artist, not the Ninja Turtle). He would also hound his teachers to offer critiques that could make him more like those great painters. And they refused to grant his wish.
Finally, one of his professors must've just had enough, because he offered a very simple critique. According to my father, the professor said, "You want me to compare your work to Michelangelo? Da Vinci? Then you're horrible. You will never be one of them, nor should you. You don't have the talent to be a Raphael. You do have the talent to be an excellent Pressler, which Raphael never could be. So be that."
What my father took away from that is his real talent and his natural skills were far better suited for something other than becoming another Renaissance painter. However, by studying the great artists, he developed a set of tools that allowed him to work on his personal style once he found it. That personal style served him well for the rest of his career.
When we write, we are strengthening our toolkit. When we stretch out our comfort zone and decide to try writing poetry, free-verse, or whatever, we are adding new tools to our kit. When we combine these two talents, we learn not only how to do things in a different way, but also what we like, what moves us, and what affects other readers.
If your goal is to write a particular way, then by all means try everything you can to develop that specific set of skills. However, never be afraid to go outside that range and find new ways to express yourself. Whether it works or not is not the point. It is a chance to find something new and become a better you, so that when you really latch on to something that works, you have a full set of tools to build something excellent.
Friday, November 23, 2018
Criticism – Our Best Enemy
- Moderation. Taking criticism is like getting a tattoo; sometimes it’s easier to do a bit at a time so we don’t pass out from the pain. Give each lesson a chance to set in before going further
- Be constructive. Offering criticism should be on a positive note. Saying, “This scene was boring,” doesn’t help as much as “this scene needs stronger verbs,” or “the pacing of the action was often broken by description or long dialogue.” And if you receive a criticism of the former kind, ask for some elaboration, or discuss it further so you can find out how to make it better
- Re-explaining rarely helps. A common response to “I didn’t get it” is the writer explaining the scene to that person, hoping that they will “get it.” That doesn’t help, unless that writer plans on going door-to-door, explaining that scene again to every reader. Rather, a writer can learn the most by saying, “Well, this is what I was going for: [brief summary] What was missing?” This starts the discussion mentioned earlier but in a positive direction.
- Opinions are not always criticisms. Here are some opinions: “That character is mean.” “The mood is pretty dark.” “Everything is hyper-sexualized.” There is nothing wrong with offering opinions such as these; they are the reader’s perspective. The problem starts when the recipient of these opinions did not intend to write about a mean person in a dark, sexy world, and takes them as criticisms. This can either degenerate into a useless argument with the writer insisting it’s a light-hearted young adult romance and the reader shaking their head in denial, or it can open the door for some questions: What elements felt dark? What actions were mean? How would you turn down the sexual volume?
Monday, November 19, 2018
The Simple Story of Ultimate Conflict
|Fighting is conflict, but not all conflict is fighting|
Friday, November 16, 2018
What Stan Lee Taught Me About Writing
|Stan Lee, co-creator of the Marvel Universe|
Monday, November 12, 2018
Editing - Advice on the Details
For the writing workshop I run, I am relentless with the editing pen. I will review everyone's copy and mark up all the commas, spelling points, etc., making sure no subject-verb disagreement goes unpunished. And I can guarantee that the writers could no longer see those little things because their focus had been on the written piece - and rightly so. When they are the writer, the best role I can take is as their teacher, editor, and adviser. Conversely, when I am the writer, that detailed edit is best offered by someone else, because I have looked at my work way too much to be an effective editor.
Let technology help whenever possible. Most every word processor has a spellchecker, so let it do the heavy lifting there. More importantly, they often have grammar checkers. This is not as simple as a spellchecker, and a grammar checker can often be wrong. However, they give you a chance to look at a sentence in isolation and examine whether it uses the passive voice, it contains the wrong usage of their/they're/there, or whatever. Easily half of the stupid mistakes can be tracked down through simple, mindless technology, so use it before you drag someone else into your process.
Finding an outside editor is not an easy task, and should be approached with an open mind. If it is someone close to you, establish ground rules about what you are looking for. More importantly, keep an open mind and try to not factor in the existing relationship. Tell them you want advice on grammar, punctuation, etc., and keep an open mind. None of their corrections are mandatory, but whatever they notice should be approached with an open mind. After all, they are a fresh-eyed reader of your work, so if they think a sentence is clumsy, that is what any reader might think. Don't try to explain it to them unless you plan on explaining the sentence to everyone who reads it. Rather, consider whether a little reshaping delivers the message better. This is what their role provides, so take advantage of it.
If you hire an editor, all the better. Lay out what you want from the editor, set a price, and go through the situation beforehand, then let them do their thing. However, be prepared for a brutal review. At this step, you will feel that your story will only need a few commas or maybe a semicolon. The truth will likely be very harsh, and that's just fine. If a manuscript comes back soaked in red ink, think of each correction as a chance to learn something. Critique is brutal, but often critical to growth.
When I first started writing professionally, I kept a stack of my edited copy next to my computer, with all the red ink facing up so I always saw it. The pile grew over the years, this huge stack of shame; a permanent record of every mistake I typed. But whenever I needed a little affirmation, I would look through the stack. The papers on the bottom were thick with corrections, but as I flipped through the pages, the corrections became fewer and further apart. The simple mistakes no longer appeared, the complex problems did not show up as much. This pile of errors was now evidence not of my problems, but of my education as an editor.
As you progress as a writer, your talents as an editor will evolve naturally. You will develop a habit regarding the Oxford comma, your use of the passive voice will fade, and your writing will become tighter and more efficient. But to reach that point, the most important part is not constantly editing. First and foremost, you need to be a writer. You need to write, review, and rewrite. Don't worry about where the comma goes, that will come in time. Be a writer, and let an editor help you with the rest.
Friday, November 9, 2018
Editing – The Next Step
Monday, November 5, 2018
Editing - How to Learn From Your Writing
There are a few schools of thought about how to edit your work, so I will start with my personal process. First and foremost, I never do my editing in the place where I do my writing. Sound weird? Maybe superstitious? It might. However, just as it helps to have a regular time and place to do your writing, there should be a pattern for when you put on your editor hat, and they should be different. The theory behind this is that when you get into a routine for your editing, your mind switches into editor mode rather than writing mode, and you can think critically rather than creatively. It becomes easier to look over your own work and fix it rather than create more of it.
My creative space is seated in front of my laptop, usually within a social environment like a Starbucks (I know it's a stereotype, but it works). This stirs up my creativity; it helps me create my world, my dialogue, my characters. However, when I become an editor, everything changes. I do not edit on my laptop, but rather on printed copy with a pen. I am usually seated in a quiet place, preferably with scotch on the rocks (time and place permitting). I developed this habit over the years, and once I get into that environment, I become an editor. When the laptop comes out, my creative side jumps up like Pavlov's dog hearing a bell.
And here's why it is important.
The biggest part of editing our own work has nothing to do with commas and grammar, or the proper spelling of "occurrence." Anyone can do the grammar part. As the author, your first edit has to be with the big-picture issues. Does your story develop properly? Are the character's actions a reasonable response to events? Do characters have independent voices and distinct personalities? Is the pacing appropriate for that stage of the story? Most importantly, are the messages you wish to convey explained effectively? These are things that you know better than anyone else, so it is your biggest responsibility to address these issues.
Many people suggest that the best way to approach this is to step away from your finished work for a while - a few weeks to a couple of months for a full manuscript - and perhaps have someone else read it, preferably someone who can be open and critical. Having a family member such as a parent read it is nice, but unless your goal is to have your manuscript pinned up on the refrigerator, you might want to find someone who you trust can be critical. Let them read it, and tell them to throw every question that comes to mind at you. And listen. Workshop the piece if possible, and take in as much feedback as possible.
Not all feedback is valuable, but all feedback should at least be considered. If someone says they didn't understand a particular relation, look at that part and see if it needs to be clarified. If some feedback says that a particular character was not likable, think about whether that character needs to be more likable or maybe they are just fine being their annoying self. Be open to every comment at least to some degree. If the first comment is, "This sucks," then at least consider whether or not it needs to suck less. In short, be open to everything but know that you don't have to accept anything.
This big-scale edit might require a lot of rewriting, moving sections around, deleting conversations and narratives, or whole sections of your beautiful words. This is fine - they served their purpose and their sacrifice is for the good of the manuscript. The larger story will benefit from this, as the broad arcs of the story will be sharpened, refined, and carry the reader along.
And once you get that done, you are ready for the next stage of editing - which is still not the grammar part.
Friday, November 2, 2018
Writer’s Block Revisited
- I have nothing to write!
- I have so much stuff to write!
- Should I write that?