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, July 30, 2021

Hitting A Landmark - And Some News!

For a few years now, I have posted fairly regularly about developing the writing process and improving the skills that make us writers. To mark this very special 300th post on this site, I would like to spend a little time discussing a subject tangential to writing that is also very important. In this case, I want to talk about me. More specifically, me as a writer, and what this blog has created and will generate.

I started this blog because the writer's journey fascinated me - and not just my own never-ending adventure, but everyone's story as they pursue that next stage in their writing career. I decided this was important enough to document and write about, exploring it as a way of not only sharing my experiences but also developing my own skills as part of my ongoing process. You'd be surprised how much I have grown merely from writing this blog. (Look at some of the first posts - you'd be amazed.)

So this got me thinking. Here I am, with three-hundred entries discussing my writing, my process, and definitely my life, wondering if there is something greater to this. Then I recalled something often attributed to Carol Burnett. She said that you don't need to sit down with the mission of writing a book. You just need to sit down every day and write one page. After a year, you will have the book. Reflecting upon those words, it dawned upon me - I have been putting together my twice-a-week posts, 600-800 words apiece, since 2018, and now I have the makings of a book. A how-to guide on becoming a writer. It happened, and I didn't even notice it was happening. I just wrote a page then another page and another, and it happened.

Therefore, I am now beginning the process of taking the creme de la creme of these posts and weaving them together into a book of how to become a writer. No title yet, but I will of course keep all my loyal followers posted. This will be quite the elaborate undertaking, and there will be substantial editing to do since print copies don't go well with hyperlinks and the graphics I use might not convert very well. However, it will be happening, and this is where you, my loyal readers, come in handy.

I am very interested in knowing which subjects/aspects appealed to you the most or least, and what posts, if any, resonated with you as a writer or as a person. Obviously, only the best of my 300 posts are going in, and I need some outside input as to what the BEST POSTS actually are. 

So, I openly invite you to comment on this blog comment section, or an IM via the Facebook site, on what appeals to you about this blog and its content. Any kind of contact is okay, but comments are preferred as they invite discussion. Also, share this post if possible as to drum up as much interest as possible and get the most feedback for the eventual book on how to become a writer.

Thank you in advance for your feedback, nd I look forward to sharing another 300 posts with all of you and many more. (And if you have an idea for the book title, throw it in. I am genuinely stuck on that part.)


Monday, July 26, 2021

Being the Critic

Yes, this post is long overdue. I've spent a lot of time talking about what we should and shouldn't look for, and ways to approach criticism. Well, now it's time for us writers to step up and figure out what we need to do if we want to critique properly. It's not as easy as one might think, but it gets easier with practice.

A quick disclaimer: If you do not consider yourself a great writer, this hardly excludes you from critiquing someone's work. Sometimes it actually helps. The important part is that you address what the writer wants and needs, and keep to the point. 

Incidentally, that note just gave away what we all should recognize as the first step of being a critic for someone: Ask them what they want. Do they want ideas and story notes, or are they looking for how you, as a reader, respond to the events? If someone says, "Read this and tell me what you think," then your job as a critic is very simple - just follow orders. You probably won't even need a pen; just read and respond. The important part, however, is that you should get a sense of direction from the writer, and target your thoughts around that point. If they want a broad overview, then ignore the grammar and spelling errors. If they are looking for character development, key in on their growth arcs and not the world-building around it. Be the critic the writer asks for, and better yet, make them ask for a critic.

Also worth noting is during your analysis, feel free to take off your writer's hat. Unless the request is, "How would you write something like this?" you are pretty much free and clear of being a writer for a while. The best input you can provide is usually as a consumer of the written word, and you don't have to be a writer to provide that information. Set aside how you would create the story, and be there for the other person. Think about how they are creating something and whether or not it works for you, the reader, but set aside your own ego.

On that note, I implore you to put aside any personal judgmental considerations. If you are an atheist and the main character is religious, do your best to separate yourself from criticizing that character for not agreeing with you. It's a character - get over it. Unless the writer wants to know how a story matches your religious, political, or social beliefs, you would be best to just set those aside and critique the writing on its own merits. If it helps, say, "I can't say I agree with the character's beliefs..." but then get to a discussion of actual content.

And on a last note, it always helps to be constructive. "This character was one-dimensional," is a legitimate criticism but not very helpful. Rather, a constructive approach would be, "This character needs more opportunity to have depth and substance." If you feel there are specific opportunities to do this, point them out, but don't become the writer. A good critique should be a guidepost to a better story.

Personally, I also find that being a critic is a great cure for writer's block. If I ever get stuck and have no idea what to write, I just read other peoples' works with a critical eye. At some point my mind either says, "I could do that better," and I try writing something better, or I see a technique and say, "That's cool - let me try writing like that."

It's not difficult once you get used to it. Kind of like writing a blog, and you'd be surprised how that evolves from simple commentary to something much greater (my explanation comes this Friday).    

Monday, July 19, 2021

The Critics We Don't Need

In my last post, I went on - perhaps too much - about how we can benefit from getting our work critiqued. More to the point, I discussed how to approach a potential critic in a way that gets you the feedback you need to grow and improve your work. In short, we need to ask what we are looking for in terms of feedback so the process can go quickly and efficiently. This time, I am going to offer the flipside of this discussion, and offer a few gentle warnings about the criticism that usually won't help us.

Don't get me wrong - most every form of criticism has some valuable seed of knowledge buried within it. As I often say, if someone's critique is, "This sucks," my first job is to ask how it could suck less - that's where I find a little space to possibly grow. If the person can't give an answer other than that, I note it and move on. Usually there's more discussion than that, but the point is there can be a good takeaway from most everything. The important part is to determine whether it is worth your time and effort to interrogate the critic to find that elusive seed.

Here are some of the critic situations that I have found to be the least helpful to my growth as a writer. There are many types out there, but these in particular tend to show up on my radar the most often. This is not to say that they don't have anything to contribute, but often it is not worth my time:

"Let me tell you about a story I wrote." This, to me, is a troubling beginning to any critique because the critic immediately takes the subject away from its main point - my work. These can be a long walk across a lot of territory just to get across a simple point, and often they do not demonstrate how to fix my writing. I have on a few occasions noted the critic's full explanation, and realized everything between "Let me tell you," and "so my point is" could be omitted entirely while making the same point. (by the way - if you are that kind of critic, the best way to fix this habit is to offer your advice in terms of your subject's story, not your own.)

"Your point is wrong." Ohhh, I hate this one. This kind of critique often comes up with essays, but it can happen whenever a character has a particular perspective or frame of mind that the critic disagrees with. Let's be political and say your character believes in socialism. A criticism of, "Socialism is bad" is not helpful at all to a writer. In fact, it demonstrates that the critic is not separating the writing from the content, and that they might not be the right person to review this work. A good critic can read something and judge the presentation even if they do not believe in the character's motives. Read American Psycho to understand that you don't have to agree with the main character to appreciate the writing.

Let me write this for you. Sometimes people can't help themselves, and I have been guilty of this as well. Someone writes a humorous piece but you feel they've missed a lot of opportunities for levity. The last thing they need is for you to throw some punchlines at them or recommend a funny scenario. A proper critique would be along the lines of recommending they expand on the humor, find more opportunities, and really experiment with the possibilities until it feels right. If they are happy with the humor the way it is, then so be it. A good critic offers advice knowing it might not be taken. A good writer listens to what people say even though they may never use it.

I am sure you can think of other kinds of feedback that just doesn't help in the slightest. When you hear it, you know it. The only advice I can offer in this case is that when you do hear useless advice, just make sure you are not the one talking.

Friday, July 16, 2021

Everyone's A Critic - Find the One You Need

When I first started writing, I never realized just how many people could have very elaborate opinions about anything I created. I would offer a little poem or short story to someone to get some feedback, and their response would be longer than my piece of work. It was quite the revelation, but as I soon discovered, not a lot of it was helpful. 

First, you will have to accept that not everyone is good at constructive feedback. A lot of people will offer you their opinion, which is a start, but a lot of those opinions end there - a simple, "it was okay" is only helpful if they can explain what the turn-ons and turn-offs were, how they felt as they turned the page, and so on. Otherwise, it's a nice appetizer, but hardly the sustenance we need as writers.

And of course there are the people who will offer you a very deep, engaged discussion on how they would've written it. Of course this can be informative, but the fact of the matter is that you are the writer and they should not be taking the opportunity to pour out their ideas onto your work. To those critics, I often say, "Thanks anyway."

The point I am getting at is simple: When you want some kind of feedback on a piece, it is best to start by knowing just what kind of feedback you are looking for, then seeking it. This pursuit can fall into a lot of different categories, so I will flesh out a few of the broader concepts then let you find the kind of critique you need for a piece.

(Note: a critic is different than an editor. Look at my post, The Editor Checklist, for information on that subject.)

What's wrong with my story? When we write something that just doesn't feel like it works (whatever that may be), we need to find someone who is willing to read, process, and tell you if the story thread is continuous and sensible, if the twists work, and how it fits as a whole. The critic who will tell you whether or not they like it isn't very helpful in this case because you, the writer, are feeling off about it. Maybe you are just off the mark or overly critical, but in this case you need a critic who is willing to discuss any and all shortcomings. A tough one to find indeed.

Does this story work? Have you ever written a heart-wrenching short story then wondered if it will move anyone other than you? Do you question whether your horror story will scare anyone other than yourself? This is where you simply need a gut reaction from your reader. Their critique should be as simple as, "That made me sad," "That was a creepy story," or "Meh." After that, you can have a little Q&A to dig into the details, but that point is up to you. This critic serves merely as an external opinion, which can be valuable if the writer has been looking at the same story for too long.

What's right with my story? This may sound like a weird question to ask a critic, but it can be important for us as writers. Sometimes, writing can bog us down to where we are doubting our every word, and we just need a little lift. Getting someone to read our piece and give us some positive (not constructive) feedback can be uplifting and energizing. As long as the critic understands what you are looking for ahead of time, this can be a very beneficial endeavor.

There are a few other types I will discuss later, but think about these three categories before you seek input from an outside source. Figure out which serves you best, then track them down and get a few good words from them. It will pay off in the long-run. 


Monday, July 5, 2021

So You Want To Be A Writer?

"I want to be a writer but I don't know how to start."

I see this a lot on writing pages - people are ready to jump in and write the Great American Novel, but they just don't know how to take that bold first step. It's not easy - the mere thought of writing a 70,000-word novel can be overwhelming, especially if such a thing is about twenty times larger than anything you've ever written previously. So, how does one start?

Glad you asked.

I am going to offer three pieces of advice on how to get started, and I am going to do them in sort of a reverse order. Instead of offering advice in the order from beginner to intermediate to advanced, I am going to switch it up and start with my pro advice first, then work backward. If you find yourself not ready for the first piece, read forward to the next one, and then to the last one. Somewhere along this line, there is the perfect spot for you to start your journey as a writer.

- Just start writing. This is not a very easy step, but it gets the momentum going. Make yourself a promise that anything you write can be rewritten, and that none of your words are perfect at this point. Everything is a work in progress, so for now you are just committing to the process of creating. Start at the chronological beginning of the story and have your character look at where they are now. Open with, "Sam looked around the room, spending a moment to take everything in." Then describe the room, then have Sam do something. Not the most engaging beginning, but you promised yourself you can rewrite that if necessary. You have set things in motion. You have officially started your journey.

Not ready for that yet? Try this:

- Read some stories as a writer. Normally when we read, we do so as a reader enjoying someone's story. However, when we read as a writer, we study the beginning. "What is important about the opening line?" "How is the description important to the scene?" "How does the writer present the important elements of the story?" Try reading something you are already familiar with, but as a writer. Look at the pieces of the story and how they come together. Think about the story you want to write, and how its individual pieces should fit. Look at how the writer moves their story forward and imagine how your story could follow a similar path. Once you read a couple of stories as a writer, you will be ready for that step of "Just start writing."

No? Still not feeling it? Sounds like you need this as a first step:

- Tell yourself the story you want to write. Yes, tell yourself the story the way someone would tell you a story at a bar or around a campfire. If you are not ready to write and you do not see how your story fits into how other stories play out, you probably need to get a better feel for the story you want to tell. Why is it important? What makes it stand out? What gives it that special appeal? Tell yourself the story as if a stranger it explaining it to you, and start filling in all the pieces. Even play the role of someone asking, "Why did that character take that step?" or "How did they know that would happen?" This will allow you to fully understand your story. Once you know that part, then read a few stories as a writer to match your steps to theirs, and you will be ready for writing.

And here's the big step everyone needs to realize:

- There's no reason why you can't do this. If you are reading this, it means you are literate and want to do this task. The only thing holding you back is your own doubts. Discover those doubts, fight with them, overcome them, then march through the steps. I guarantee you will end up with the story you want.

(no promises about what the editors will say)

Friday, July 2, 2021

Some Words Worth Reading

This is not exactly my usual post. Rather, it is a reminder of just what words can do when we put them to a good and proper use. Sometimes it is easy to forget just how much strength the written word has when we think about it strictly in the confines of our novels and poems. However, words make a difference. They move people, they shape minds, and in some cases, they form nations.

Below is something worth reading once a year, just to remember what things are all about. The text does not translate perfectly, it sounds kind of antiquated, and to say the least it is not exactly politically correct. However, these words made a difference. They changed the world. Let's take a moment to read them, then remember just what power words can have.

In Congress, July 4, 1776

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America, When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.--Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.

He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.

He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.

He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.

He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.

He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.

He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.

He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.

He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.

He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:

For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:

For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:

For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:

For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:

For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:

For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences

For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:

For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:

For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.

He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.

He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.

He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.

He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our Brittish brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.