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, June 14, 2024

Overload!

I can honestly say this has been one of the busiest weeks of the year for me - and it ain't even over. I've been taking about 6 hours of online courses every day this week, working through a bunch of at-home tasks, managing a few moments of personal chaos, and doing all of this while maintaining a low-grade fever due to a cold that doesn't know summer is around the corner. Oh - and I've been writing as well.

In my book, this amounts to a pretty full dance card. In fact, I can tell I probably bit off a little more than I could chew for the week when I decided to go to sleep at 8 p.m. one day. It just felt like the right time, since there was nothing more I could possibly do without falling asleep. In hindsight, however, I did notice that the one activity that really took a hit during my busy week was the writing. In fact, having gone over some of Tuesday's writing yesterday, I realized it was suffering because of all the other things I was piling on my plate.

Before anyone else brings it up, I understand that I always say, "Find some time to write every day." I still believe that. However, sometimes the facts on the ground are that the huge amount of responsibilities you have might push your writing down the list a bit. Furthermore, since I was running a bit of a fever, maybe writing was the one thing I could've left off the list. I still chose to do everything, utterly exhausted myself, possibly shook off the cold, and wrote some really bad stuff. Is any of this bad? Did my poor writing cause my writing skills to lose some ground? No, but there was probably a better option to feed the creative side of my brain without going through the strain of writing.

Any guess what the best alternative might be?

Well, when the task of writing might just be a little too straining for you after a hard day's work, the alternative is to read something. Anything, really, but preferably something you've never read before. I do not recommend dusting off that copy of The Iliad you've been meaning to dive into. Rather, I keep a number of anthologies by various authors lying around my bookshelves. Collections of short stories and essays by various authors always gives me a chance to get some reading in without devoting myself to an entire book. I can pull out a copy of my collection of O. Henry, decide I can read about twenty pages, look for a story or stories that add up to that goal, and go to work. If not that, poetry works as well. Or Vonnegut, or King, or any themed anthology (I particularly like, "The Ultimate..." collection by Byron Preiss for getting different takes on subjects like zombies, werewolves, etc.)

The key here is that while you don't necessarily have to write every day if you are just too burned out, it is still beneficial to feed the creative part of your mind. As creatives, that little bit of additional stimulus every day keeps us healthy and active, ready to actually kick our writing into gear when we finally reclaim some energy. And nothing helps recharge the creative batteries like reading. If anything, read something that's not so good then tell yourself, "You know, I am going to write something better than that," and then let the writing begin.      

Monday, June 10, 2024

It's All About Focus

I know I go on about this a little too much, but I wanted to discuss the importance of focus when it comes to writing. Not necessarily the art of staying on topic - though that is important - but rather focusing on the story you want to tell and targeting the very heart of the matter. This is what makes writing a very intimate experience, and the reader feels it as well. The more focused we are on a concept, feeling, or idea, the more the reader experiences what we are talking about.

To demonstrate this, I think about the people I know who want to write about their life. They have a lot of great stories, their life has been a series of wonderful adventures, and they want to commit these to words. Therefore, they set upon the task of writing about their life. It's usually a mess at this point, because writing about a life is viewing things from 35,000 feet - the detail, the focus, is lost. Rather, they talk about their life but we really don't get the intimate experience of knowing who they actually are. We just get the broad strokes, when there is so much more to discover. 

I think a great way to experiment with focus is through a writing exercise. Now, I cannot take credit for this - it was mentioned by a fellow writer in one of my workshops and I thought it was so brilliant that I had to share it. (Plus, she's a regular reader, so she knows who she is.) It's a little elaborate, so work with me. The exercise was first, to draw a floor plan of your childhood home. I know - why is a writer drawing things? This is to activate our memories but to narrow our field and get into the context of what we would write about. The next step (that involves writing) is to pick out one room in that floor plan, and write about one memory from that one room in that house. No wandering around, no talking about all the Christmas celebrations in the family room or all the dinners cooked in that kitchen. One room, one moment, one memory. And... write!

To some, this may sound genuinely boring. Seriously, when there's so much life to write about, why spend all your words at that one moment in that one room? That's the genius of this exercise - writing about that one moment gives us the opportunity to express as much as possible about what made that moment so important; why it stood out after all these years and we decided to write about that one point in time and no other. In that one memory we can communicate more about ourselves than a long discussion about all the family gatherings we had or the color of every wall in the house. 

This is the intimacy that comes with writing about ourselves. If we truly want to write about ourselves and our rich life experiences, we need to make them living things, and we need to give that to the reader. It might just be one memory out of millions, but if we focus on ourselves and everything that comes with that memory, it's a truly expressive experience.

(Thanks again to the writer who shall not be mentioned by name. Expect my response to this writing prompt shortly.)       

Friday, June 7, 2024

Why Am I Reading This?

For those who didn't hear the amazing news, we just had one of the greatest upsets in sports history. The USA Men's cricket team managed to beat Pakistan in group play, making this easily the most unexpected victory in the history of the Cricket World Cup. The US team is hardly a powerhouse, and holds a spot in the tourney mostly because the United States is hosting it this year. However, this victory now places the team atop Group A, and well-positioned to make it to the next round. This victory is an amazing step forward for US cricket enthusiasts, and will be remembered long after the Cricket World Cup wraps up.

Okay - I am wagering that this first paragraph split the room amongst my readers. One group will be, "What are you talking about?" while others will be camped in the "Who cares?" group. As epic as the news is, this blog is really not an elite forum for cricket fans (and neither is this country for that matter). Most of you probably didn't know the US was hosting the Cricket World Cup, and were more focused on cicadas than cricket. 

This is, of course, something we have to consider as writers. If we write something about, say, the USA victory over Pakistan, we need to consider a few things. First, who are we writing this for? If we are writing this for a general audience, we need to approach it from their perspective: people who know virtually nothing about cricket. We have to get them interested without trying to educate them about the sport. Rather, we can approach it from their level, perhaps starting with, "I bet you didn't know the World Cricket Cup was being played in the USA right now. Well, it is, and the entire world got quite a shock when..." This introduces the uninformed reader to the subject in a safe manner, and they are not confused and turned off from the get-go.

Now, if you are approaching an audience of US sports enthusiasts, you are probably still not going to find many cricket fans. However, you now have a different perspective to approach the subject. You can lead with, "The Amazing Mets. The Miracle on Ice. Now we have another moment that defines the great upsets in sports history..." This appeals to a specific interest, drawing in the reader from their place of comfort. The appeal to famous moments in sports is an immediate draw, and the comparison can lead them into the world of cricket.

Of course, if you have an international audience or a bunch of cricket enthusiasts, just jump right in and lead with my opening lines to this post. They get to the point, draw in the cricket fans, and get the discussion rolling. No beating around the bush or building up the background that your audience would already know - it's just a jump-right-in approach that gets to the point. 

In short, when you think about writing a piece for an audience, the first question they will be asking themselves is, "Why am I reading this?" If you know your audience, you need to answer this question and appeal to their interests right up front. Otherwise, they lose interest faster than most of my readers will lose interest in the Cricket World Cup.         

Monday, June 3, 2024

Mid-Year Resolutions

Even after factoring in all the usual springtime festivities, this past month has been a busy one indeed for me. Between the graduations, the birthdays, the unexpected trips and traveling, an epic computer crash, some out-of-the-blue health issues and a flare-up of my favorite bad knee, it's amazing I got anything done this month. And my regular readers might've noticed that I had to cut back to one post a week for a while as I tried to keep up with everything else (apologies for the rerun posts). However, this happens to everyone - especially writers.

Now, I don't want to say I've had writer's block this past month. Far from it - I've been rather productive. However, I haven't been writing the things I've really wanted to write, mostly because I am not sure how to go about them. To me, this is the difference between writer's block and just being very busy - one is the inability to create, the other is not being able to take the time required to place yourself in the creative space required to make those special things come to life. So I haven't been blocked, I have just been in every other place besides my creative one.

And this leads me to the subject: Mid-year resolutions. Now, my regular readers will know I am not exactly a fan of resolutions based on the turn of a calendar page, and most everyone will know that the middle of the year is still a month away. However, this feels like a good time to plan out a few things that I can apply in the second half of the year to help me steer around problems like the ones I have been having over the past month. And I think it will help to start this list now because it's going to take a while to implement.

Firstly - and I recommend this to everyone - I will affix my writing time into a very regular place in the day. This time will be a pretty slack space, preferably right after I eat, where I can just put things together and get things onto the page or simply chase them out of my head. Sounds easy until you try it, so I recommend a half-hour, three days per work week (write on the weekends at your own pace).

Secondly - I will keep my notepad nearby (it's actually my phone, but you get the idea). If I have a burst of creativity, I will take advantage of it. I will write down (or record) any weird idea for a character, a story, a plot twist. It doesn't matter if I wake up at 3 a.m. with thoughts about a homicidal houseplant, I will make sure I commit it to something and look back at it again - probably during my pre-set writing time. 

Thirdly - I will bounce ideas off of other people. Being creative is wonderful, but it can be difficult in isolation. The other week I started bouncing a story idea off of a few friends, and it did wonders for helping me put it together in my own head, where I had been going in circles for too long. Now, it helps to bounce the right ideas off the right people, so choose your targets appropriately. However, in my case, I think I will be more open about these ideas because some just need a little breathing room to flourish.

I am posting these resolutions not to brag about my own goals as a writer, but to offer a little guidance to others who might be looking for a little direction and inspiration, or just a way to get out of their ruts. Everyone can benefit from a little promise-making, so I hope you make some good mid-year resolutions of your own (whenever that mid-year thing actually arrives).