Why I Write

This post is for a writing challenge in a blog that I subscribe to. Normal programming will return next week.

I thought that limiting this topic to 1000 words was going to be difficult so I decided to talk about the top three reasons I write: 1) It clears my conscience, 2) it keeps me sane, and 3) it forces me to do things I normally wouldn’t.

For me, writing is expressing my opinion in an open way. I don’t hide scribblings in a notebook like a lunatic, I blog and share it whenever possible. This keeps my conscience clear because, like I always tell friends who bitch about things to me, “don’t complain if you’re not going to do something about it”. Writing is what I do best and putting my thoughts down on paper is the most effective way for me to convey ideas to the largest number of people. By doing this on a regular basis, I clarify my thoughts and avoid the jumble of conflicting ideas that cause me anguish.

While my friends may argue to the contrary, sanity has always been important to me.  Our world is full of social and familial pressures in addition to the stress of daily life. Writing allows me to distill all these things, make sense of them, and put order to the chaos that is the inside of my head. Without this outlet, I’m sure my insomnia would be a lot worse and you’d all know my name from a road-rage incident.

It also keeps me sane by allowing for different points of view. A friend recently asked me if the main character in my current story was me. Aside from the fact that I’m not that interesting, my ego isn’t big enough for that. More importantly, the characters need to represent different perspectives, especially ones NOT like mine in order to highlight the things I feel are important by drawing distinctions. While I may disagree with what a character says, I need to understand their motivations in order to effectively make my point. This, more than anything, is a sanity check because it forces me to allow views counter to my own to exist.

Lastly, writing is the best way I know to make me do things that I don’t really want to do. For example, I’m very poorly read. I have a Cliff’s Notes memory for books that serves me well for trivia, but remembering themes and passages isn’t gonna happen. I want to read, I really do. There’s a stack of unread New Yorker magazines on my piano from 15 years ago as testament. However, ever since I committed myself to writing seriously, I renewed my subscription and have been a regular reader of their fiction. I may not finish every piece but I’m making time to expose myself to a wide range of styles.

Another thing that I don’t especially like to do is pay attention to undesirable people. I tend to ignore them and push them to the periphery in the hope that they will just go away. It’s not that I enjoy people more these days, it’s just that I understand how important observation is to my craft. By watching these miscreants and noting their mannerisms, I will be able to recreate them in characters I use in my stories. Honestly, this hasn’t made me more social, but it has expanded my vision regarding the world around me.  The same applies to undesirable conditions in the world. Police brutality, genocide, homelessness, and hunger are always on the front page. They always bothered me, but as a writer, I want to know more about why. I want to know who is involved and what their motivations are. When I drive past indigent people living on the sidewalk, I want to know what kind of people they are and what characteristics they possess.

I’ve reached the end of my list and I barely have over 600 words. Oh well, that’s the over-achiever in me thinking that I had more to say than I really do. Then again, this points out another good reason why I write. The thoughts that float around in my head all seem like great ideas. As I’m taking my nightly walk, phrases and conversations play out in what seem like an endless stream of brilliant prose. Then, when I finally make it to the keyboard and actually put the words onto the screen, some are good, some are boring, and some are downright stupid. What is important is that I actually do the writing and not just think about doing it.

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Time to Start

It only took 2 weeks but the desk is cleared and I finally have a place to sit and do my work. As promised,  here is the proof.

desk pic
As I’ve related, it’s important to have a physical place to do the actual writing. A place to apit out the words that eventually will become the story. I don’t imagine that I’ll do much creative thinking here but that’s alright. I just need a place away from the bustle of daily life, in a separate room from the evil television,  where I can bang out the text.

So now, with no excuses, I begin that task of completing what I started. Here  goes nothing.

Confessions of a Lazy Reader

I’m a really bad reader. No, I know what words and sentences look like but I just haven’t read nearly as many books as I would have liked. If I had, then maybe I wouldn’t have had to do a Google search to discover how many lines of everyday speech come from Shakespeare. I was looking at a list the other day and was amazed at how many common phrases trace their roots back to the Bard. For example, “greek to me”, “love is blind”, “heart of gold”, and “break the ice” to name a few.

When I’m writing, I do try to craft phrases but sometimes it seems contrived. I want to say something in a way that is unique, but I certainly want to avoid being labeled as trying too hard to impress. Oh well, I guess that’s just the game I’m playing. Or maybe I could say “just the air I’m breathing” or “just the hill I’m climbing”. You get the point.

I really wanted to post a photo of my clean desk here but that task has yet to come to pass. It will soon, I promise.

However, I did have a revelation the other day that almost justifies not starting the actual writing. My original story was going to span 2 years. But then I realized that my sprawling epic wasn’t about sailing across the ocean or crossing the prairie where weeks or months could elapse between chapters. In the world we live in (or more accurately the near future of my story), modern technology makes communication virtually instantaneous and it was going to be downright impossible to maintain characters in believable situations.

In writing, I’m normally a measure once, cut 100 times kind of guy. I start the process and edit out huge chunks of text to get to where I want to be in the end. For a short story, I guess this still works, but for what I have going, planning better is going to be more productive. While I would have rather have started writing, I can see now that the extra time I’ve had to ruminate is going to pay off. I reduced the time-span of the story to about 12 months and now I can have ongoing character situations that don’t run the risk of becoming disjointed.

For those of you reading this, I’m going to ask again for your input regarding gadgets in the near future. C’mon guys, I need your help. Think about features that you would like to see on your phone or in social media.

As s usual, if you like this, please click the follow link on this page or share it on Facebook. So far, NOBODY has so be the first!

Two in a Row

One of the most difficult things about writing is making the time. I’ve been reading a lot about how other authors do it and there seems to be consensus that setting aside a specific period of time each day, in the same place, is the best method. Then again, there have been many writers who squeezed in their scribbling whenever and wherever they could.

I took a vacation day tomorrow and I’m going to make an effort to clear my desk and prepare it for the task ahead. Of course, I’ve said this before so I’m hoping that making this public commitment motivates me to actually get it done. If so, I think the writing can actually begin earnest.

Aside from the physical writing, making time to think is another chore. If you’re sitting at home, it’s easy to get distracted by just about anything from laundry to playing with the cat. I’ve found that the 2 places I do my best thinking are in the shower or when I’m walking. This has a good weekend for me and I’ve actually gotten out for a walk Saturday and Sunday night. There’s something about being out in the open (especially at night) that gets the mental gears going. Tonight, I came up with some back-story for my characters. I also thought I’d share something with you and ask for your help at the same time.

My story takes place 30 years in the future. Can any of you help me by suggesting changes that you think might take place between now and then? Things like transportation, technology. or even social mores. If you can, please leave it in the comments. Oh yeah, don’t forget to click the follow link.

Thanks!

End of Week 1

So far, this week has been a total washout as far as “real” writing was concerned. It’s amazing how much time the daily routine can take. One thing leads to another and the next thing you know, it’s bedtime. But that doesn’t mean that I haven’t been progressing… at least that’s what I’m telling myself.

During inspired moments, I’ve been doing internet searches to assist me with naming my characters. For me, this is a big deal because 1) I hate doing it and it obviously isn’t important to me because I can never remember people’s names, 2) I’m not Charles Dickens and I don’t have and caricatures in my story, and 3) I’ve been hemming and hawing about the names for weeks.

Why torture myself over names? Oddly enough, people who aren’t me actually care about names. When they read a story, certain names are evocative in either their meaning or even the way they roll off the tongue. I’m no literature professor and haven’t read enough books to fill a small bookshelf so I can’t spit out examples. However, I do know that this concept exists. So, as a serious writer, I want to be sure that these proper nouns that will occur frequently in my story do more than just serve as a pointer to reference which character is speaking.

I have also been refining my themes. More accurately, I’m culling. When I started out, I had all these ideas that I wanted to address but, in the cold hard light of day, I now see that too many themes generally results in too little attention to each one. I was basically writing the recipe for thin gruel. To fix this, I took an ax to the list and settled on 2 major themes and 2 character-driven minor themes. From there, I started writing several paragraphs on each. The key word here is started. I’m not done. But this is critical for me because I can’t start writing until I know that each scene and every character exchange is advancing my themes.

This post has taken me about an hour to complete and put on the site. I could have spent it working on the story but this blog is part of what I signed up for.

REMINDER: If you like this, please click the “follow” link to the right of this. If enough of you do, I won’t have to put up a Facebook alert every time I finish a post.

Thanks

In the Beginning

When I first had the idea to blog about my writing, the idea seemed crazy even to me. Why would I want to spend more time writing when I already didn’t have enough time as it is? (Or is that was?) Why expend the effort when I was just going to have to do more writing for my actual project?

One of the most difficult aspects of serious writing (and I call it serious because I’m serious about it) is that it requires a lot of time actually writing to maintain your chops. This might seems obvious but, for me, the really time consuming part is working out all the details of the story so that I have a basis to begin writing. I spend so much time cogitating and planning that I don’t do as much actual writing as I would like or is good for me. Sure, I constantly scribble (figuratively) notes but this isn’t real writing. It isn’t subject-adverb-verb-directed-object writing where the flow and meter are important. Basically, it is a shopping list.

Then I realized that a good way to get some regular mental exercise would be to blog about the process of completing my project. From it I get (and I promise you that I went back and changed this number several times) 5 benefits:
  1. Talking (like in my head) about the process forces me to confront roadblocks and at least come up with a plausible solution that I can write down.
  2. Regular writing helps to remove the kinks that sometimes come when I can’t find the right phrasing.
  3. By committing publicly to my project, I’ll be forced to actually make progress because I can’t bull shit my way out of it if I say that I’m working on some issue.
  4. When the project is finally done, I’ll have a great source of material that I can review to try and be better on the next project.
  5. When I’m researching stuff on the internet and find really strange stuff, I have an outlet. For example, I was looking at a site for writers and bloggers and I found one typoe and a grammatical error after looking at 4 pages!
  6. Who knows, someone with great ideas and no idea how to get them down on paper might read it and be inspired to actually do something.
Today, I’m working on the story timeline. For a short story, this wouldn’t be necessary but my story spans 2 years. I need to keep track of what is going on in the world, nationally, locally, and with my characters. I’ve broken it down into months with roughly correlate to chapters. I’ve tried to create a snapshot of the month so that I can be sure that everyone in the story is on the same page; figuratively. This process started 2 months ago and is about 70% complete. That estimate is probably high given that I’m still adding things to what I thought was done. I’m shooting for a completed 12 months before I start any real writing.
I’ve also been working on my character portraits. I have 3 main characters and a handful of minor ones. When I first started, this was kind of an after thought or a nice-to-have. However, I can see now that I’ll never get started until I have each of the major characters fully fleshed out. Worse yet, these are just notes that I’m going to have to review and rework to make them coherent, even to me.
Lastly, I’ve been working on themes. When I first started, I had all these ideas that I wanted to cram into the story. Then I started looking at them and realized two important things: 1) my themes were incredibly vague and 2) nobody is going to be able to follow storylines for more than one or two themes. So I’ve spent the last few days culling and refining them and looking for information about how to do that. I found some good advice (and I promise to start keeping track for future reference) about NOT summing it into a single word (love, war, death) and avoid making it a question like “what is the meaning of life?”. What I think works is something like life as a vampire sucks or life is not for the timid. Those aren’t great themes but you get the idea.