Sunday, October 31, 2010

Before the Big Day

Get psyched about your writing projects. Before the day you are setting out to right your novel or writing exercise that you planned for yourself, process the information you want to see on the page. Drink your favorite coffee or tea, settle down in your favorite writing spot, and just dream for a while. Tomorrow, you are going to write the best or worst thing in history. Who knows how it happens. The key is to be prepared in your processing before it all happens.

Find a Writing Buddy

"Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: "What! You too? I thought I was the only one." 
- C.S. Lewis

Find a writing buddy. There's nothing better than having a good time writing with your favorite literary friend. Writing rarely feels like a task if you write collaboratively. 

Receiving feedback from a person you know that is going to be honest is also important. Choose a writing friend that you know will the truth of what they think about your writing. There's nothing worse than being in the shadows about how your work is valued by others. 

Friday, October 29, 2010

Basing Stories on Characters

"The most important quality you can give your character is the capacity to care."
- Ellen Jackson

The easiest way to write a story is to base it on a character. Mapping out a plot and all its details can be tiresome and less flexible. Characters can create plot, as a storyline relies on the power of its characters. By focusing on character, the human aspect of writing will come out more. If an author delves far enough into a character, the reader who see themselves in them. When we have made this connection with the reader, the book is as interesting as living life itself.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Don't Give Up on Publishing Something You Love

Be persistent with publishers. Even if you have submitted a piece to a magazine and they rejected you, keep sending work to that same magazine every issue after until you get in. The worst that can happen is that the publisher will get slightly irritated at you after a year of sending your submissions every issue, and even that is rare. Publishers appreciate, generally, a writer who strives to become better and better every day.

Many great authors have received rejections for what we now call masterpieces. R.K. Narayan's Swami and Friends, an award-winning classic heralded as one of the greatest novels written in English from an author from India, was rejected by innumerable publishers. But one editor from London believed in Narayan's talent.

It only takes one person to believe in you in the publishing world. Finding that person can be a matter of chance, luck, or persistence.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Have Confidence that You Can Become a Great Writer

"The writer must believe that what he is doing is the most important thing in the world. And he must hold to this illusion even when he knows it is not true."
John Steinbeck 

Believe that you can make it as a writer. If you don't have this confidence, it is will be difficult for you to find the impetus to send work to publishers and continue to keep writing diligently. I have had the fortune of encouragement from many of my friends, teachers, and family. But without these, you still have what you know inside: that you can become a great writer, despite what publishers and colleagues are saying. 

Hold firm to your confidence - not ego - but a self-respect for your potential. 

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Make a Publishing Goal

Make a goal as to how many pieces you want to submit to publishers. For me, my goal is to submit one work of mine to a publisher every week. The more you submit, the less you feel down about rejections. If you submit only one piece per six months, one rejection will sting much more. If many submissions are circulating at the same time, than you can hold on to more hope.

Not only is submitting lots of writing important for your morale as a writer, it is a good feedback system. You get to see what editors and the public enjoy. Usually, a piece that you enjoy will not be the piece that an editor or the public will enjoy. Sometimes a piece that you despise is liked by others very much. 

It may take a while to publish your first piece, but if you keep submitting, it is inevitable that you will be published. After a while, an author builds a momentum. After a few years of submitting your work to publishers on a regular basis, you may have work being published every week or two weeks. 

You Don't Always Have to Act Like a Writer to Be One

Above is a documentary about Leonardo da Vinci, the complete genius. We can't all be a da Vinci, but we can aspire to have his balance and curiosity in knowledge.

Writers love the writing life - or maybe they don't. Either way, acting like a writer all the time can be tiring. Writing can get tiring. Wanting your writing to be perfect can be tiring.

As a writer, it is better to be an eclectic personality. Study many other subjects: science, history, agriculture, botany, even mathematics. Besides being a writer, I am also an accomplished musician and theoretical mathematician. These subjects have added to my writing immensely - and have made me more sane.

To be a healthy writer, study many other academic areas besides writing. All the other fields you have studied will come pouring in your writing as character descriptions, scene details, metaphor and associations not possible without knowing many different subjects simultaneously.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Being Unsure Can Be a Key to Success

"Sometimes a sideways view is most penetrating."
- Edward Tenner

Read Tenner's article in the Atlantic, Write What You Don't Know

Write about things you have no idea about. We don't always have to be an authority on what we are writing. We can discover knowledge in the process of writing. I think Socrates had it right: that we know everything already, that it is common sense, it's all there - we just need to be hinted at it. 

Say that I have a character that I am writing with that is barely known to me. I have a vague idea of how the character's personality operates, but not really how it fits in the big picture or the ins and outs of their behavior. While I write the story, the character will naturally evolve and present itself. As writers, it is sometimes helpful to be surprised by our own writing. This way, our writing is never tiresome or dull, the story we are writing is continually fascinating. 

If you are a writer that loves to have everything researched and plotted before you put pen to paper, then choosing a topic you are unfamiliar with is a great way to learn about new information and ways of writing. I recently wanted to write a novel that would be based on pre-independent Afghanistan. I barely know anything about ancient Afghan history, but it intrigued me and caught my interest. If I carried on with my desire to write that novel (I am now focusing on a YA novel instead), I would have research a lot - but I would expose myself to another perspective. If we write only what we know, we are severely limiting our potential to write varied and compelling stories. 

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Talk About Your Writing to Others

"We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them." 
- Albert Einstein

Knowledge, especially creative knowledge, is a collective thing. To understand your work, it is essential to talk about it to others. Besides important feedback on what other people enjoy and do not enjoy about your work, by explaining your work to others, you get a better picture of what you are actually doing.

Speaking to others about your work is like freewriting. You explain and find new ideas with a low filter of editing. You're just letting it out - and sometimes, you say something that is exactly what your story, poem, or article needs.

Interacting with others can put a new spin on your set ideas of what your piece was about and where it can go. Conversations can stir up something that you would never dream or imagine. Those bits of information can charge your writing with something more than yourself (yourself who, let's admit it, is limited to being itself).

Friday, October 22, 2010

Arbitrary Writing Office

The classic idea of a writer is a person who shuts themself (dictionaries don't like "themself," but I do) off from society - and when they join society it is only to give a reading or join in intellectual parties. There are writers like that - no doubt - but the majority of writers like to mix it up. 

Instead of staying inside your room to write, why not travel to a nice cafe, library, or park: I'm in Starbucks right now, editing this post. Sometimes the act of moving aids your writing as well. Taking a bus or train can prove to be productive for writing. Not only do you get interesting characters right in front of you, you get a real slideshow of landscapes and scenes going across you all the time.

A home or personal room has its benefits, but writing solely in that environment can inhibit writer's block and well, lack of being human. We are social race - unless you think writer's are a separate race, I think getting outside is a good idea.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Slog Until You Rock

"I love being a writer. What I can't stand is the paperwork." 
- Peter De Vries

"Easy reading is damn hard writing." 
- Nathaniel Hawthorne

Writing is the most difficult task I know. It is also the most enjoyable. But there will be days and maybe even months when all we do is slog through lines, chapters, whole novels. I am mostly talking about editing (in my case) and when we can't hit that inspiration button just right. As writers, we have accept that writing can be imaginably difficult. When we accept this, the writing process comes more into focus. 

Presently, I am working on editing the first novel I wrote. Though I enjoy the story, characters, its concept, I can't get over how tiresome it is to make every line to what I want - or at least what I can do with it. It is like swimming through the Dead Sea. But I know I have to do it if I have any chance of publishing it. Without this crucial edit, the novel would be no more than some frantic scribblings, with an occasional wonder.

So, for all you sloggers out there - remember this hint: "Those who slog, rock." I just made that up right now. But it is true. That has been the secret of all good writer's and anyone successful for that matter. 

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Study of Writing from Different Places and Styles

"A good style simply doesn’t form unless you absorb half a dozen topflight authors every
- F Scott Fitzgerald

There is a danger in only writing our own work and not reading the work of other writers. We can get trapped in our limited vocabulary and ideas. Though we need not imitate the writing of other authors, it is healthy for writers to understand what other styles are possible. Through reading of other styles, we can pick and choose what we enjoy, incorporating it in our own writing. 

Reading vastly is important as well. If we only have read literature where  from a country where English is the primary language, then we are missing out on a whole other universe of material. To read literature from many different countries carries cultures with it. These cultural aspects can be useful when writing stories and poetry. The more complete we are as a writer, the more interesting and engaging we will be to our readers. 

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Forgetting to Move More than Just Your Story?

Poet's Walk, Central Park. Photography by Henri Silberman.

I know writer's can believe themselves to be nonathletic or just plain lazy. But casual exercise, like walking, on a daily basis is very important. Besides being good for your health physically, it provides intellectual freshness as well. Sometimes, when we are stuck with an idea or want to brainstorm a plot, taking a walk is a marvelous way to ponder over concepts. Walking can be a great way to forget about your writing, too. Sometimes writer's need to time to think of nothing at all - to let their mind rest from the pull of their stories.

Here is a famous essay by Thoreau on the subject of walking for your inspiration:

Make Monthly Goals

Writing can be unrewarding for a long periods of time. That is why making goals is important. In completing monthly goals, we know we are getting something done. Also, it focuses our attention on what is important to us at the time. One month might be directed at completing a poetry book, another month might be centered on writing an entire film script.

Don't be discouraged if your goals are not coming along as your ideal would make you believe they would. Be satisfied that you did your best, and that in fact, you did get a lot of work done in a certain area of your work that you otherwise would not have. Without goals, many writer's not only write less, but they are scrambled in their concentration, rarely ever completing something to its finish.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Writer's Block and Sleep

John Cleese Explaining the Creative Process

Sometimes the best way to remove writer's block is to sleep. I've experienced many instances where I am writing a poem or a short story and my creative inspiration falls flat - but I sleep and wake up to work on the same piece, and writing comes easily. It is not a failsafe technique - no writing technique is - but it can aid us significantly in getting past those moments that stop our flow.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Absolute Persistence

I like myself better when I'm writing regularly. 
- Willie Nelson

We all have heard of hard work and the daily practice of writing. But even if we put in our daily work and keep a tight focus on our writing (not being scattered-brain about how we write), how much production time do we actually invest in our practice? Sadly, becoming an accomplished writer takes more than putting pen to paper a little bit each day. It takes hours, many hours per day to achieve your goal.

Set a fixed amount of time to write every day. For me, it is four hours a day on weekdays and two hours a day on weekend days. It doesn't matter to me if it is two in the morning and I still have two hours to write. I will finish my writing time. But if I absolutely can't afford that, then I add the time I didn't complete on the next day. 

Each set time will be different for each writer, but make sure it fits your goals and you are not skimping on your potential. If you are an unbelievably awesome writer and think you only need two hours a day, go ahead. But then again, wouldn't you be even better on four hours a day? 
Being disciplined is not a choice for a writer - it is the difference between a habit and a career. So choose wisely.  

FYI: Here is a great blog post with a more in-depth view of this topic:

Friday, October 15, 2010

Feeling Instead of Thinking

"Don't think. Thinking is the enemy of creativity. It's self-conscious, and anything self-conscious is lousy. You can't try to do things. You simply must do things."
- Ray Bradbury

I guess I'm on a Ray Bradbury streak. That guy can inspire a stone to be wind. 

The quote above illustrates the true attitude of a writer. If we meddle too much with our thinking during the writing process, we miss inspiration in its act of glory. We are shutting off the wells to our creativity. This is because writing is more about feeling, than thinking.

Like music, one can tell when something doesn't sound right. Unless you are tone-deaf. And there are tone-deaf writers. But not only is that rare, but it is entirely possible to overcome that barrier. 

So, instead of thinking about your writing, listen to your writing. How does it feel when you say it out loud? Feeling in this case is not emotional, but a sense of innate judgement as to what contains beauty or not. 

Your aesthetic radar is as natural as your ear. You just need to start listening - truly listening. 

                       P.S. This book looks interesting --->

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Planning in Story Writing

Some of the greatest books were written without an outline. In fact, some author's specialize in not knowing where they are going. Ray Bradbury is a good example. In an interview (provided below - a must watch for any writer), he explained that he wrote all his stories without having a clue of where they would be taking him. Ray would focus on character rather than story, allowing the plot to unfold on its own.

My first novel was that way: I had a general idea of what the story was and what the characters would be, but I did not formally plan anything. Instead of dredging through the literary process, this style brings about an excitement and unexpected joy from writing. You'll be surprised at the beauty of your spontaneity!

Here is the interview I was talking about (it is a bit long, but TOTALLY worth it):