Writing Passion

Ten Easy Steps to Becoming a Better Writer

Do me a favor. Take your hand off the mouse, close your eyes, and breathe in and out. Relax yourself. The internet’s probably got you a little worked up at the moment. It does that to us. That’s how it works. So calm down. Deep breaths. Now take the time to read and appreciate this message. You may not agree with me – so examine why, and share your opinion with me. Your opinion is valuable*.

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Ten Easy Steps to Becoming a Better Writer

 

1. Compare yourself.

To people, this is destructive. You should never compare yourself to another person. You can’t weigh yourself against others, because their scales are different; they’ve had different experiences and opportunities and there’s no fair way to compare two people, so don’t do it. (And as a Christian, to me, this means not to weigh myself by the scales of man, by any of man’s grounds for judgment, and to weigh myself by God’s scales alone.)

And yet, my first instruction is to compare yourself to other writers?”So,” you’re wondering, “has this guy lost his mind?” I will neither confirm nor deny that allegation. I object on the grounds of relevancy.

Yes. I want you to compare yourself to other artists. This is something I do regularly. You get ideas this way. You learn this way. You get challenged this way. You improve this way. It is fair to compare yourself to another artist as long as you’re objective and use a sense of proportion.

If you’re anything like me, you’re so insecure that sometimes, a little complacency is welcome. But that’s no healthier than insecurity. Instead of trying to be satisfied with yourself the way you are, be confident in your way forward. Admit that you’re not perfect, confidently, and see how others are better and how they can teach you and how you can improve. Learn confidently.

Just try it and see for yourself.

 

2. Wait for something.

Writing takes time. All things in life that are worth having are worth waiting for. Nowadays, we forget that. Everything’s a rush. We lose our patience waiting for music to download, if kids even have to wait at all anymore. Who remembers the days when we had to wait half-an-hour at least for one song to download, or for a computer program to install?

Try your patience. Go to the busiest restaurant you know with the slowest service you know, order their most complicated dish, and wait. Go alone. Don’t bring your phone or a book or anything or anyone. Put away your attention deficit disorder. Sit tight and enjoy the wait. Let the world go faster than you, it’s all right, it won’t hurt you. Just reflect.

 

3. Do nothing.

This is just as hard and just as important as waiting for something, but here’s the catch: you don’t have a goal, you don’t have something to look forward to. There is no purpose, no objective, no reason. Life doesn’t need a purpose. Stop acting like a hyperactive child.

I know it can be hard, so very hard, to let yourself do nothing. It’s why when you lie down you’re so tired and yet have trouble sleeping. It’s why you live on coffee. Internet, television, the rat race – our brains are so overstimulated they just–won’t–turn–off. Well, turn it off, all of it, the computer, the TV, the phone. Free yourself from the shackles of the establishment, man. Forget you live in the 21st century. Enjoy some leisure that isn’t prescribed for you.

Go for a walk or a hike, or lie down in the grass (not on a blanket on the grass, but on the grass) and watch the clouds pass, or sit under a tree, or heck, climb a tree! Wherever you go, stay there, for an hour or two or three, and just do nothing, and enjoy it.

 

4. Do everything.

Put everything on hold, and do all of those thongs you’ve been putting on hold for way too long. This isn’t the day to mow the lawn, this is the day to fix those leaky faucets, paint that room, build that shed, and anything else that you’ve been “meaning to get around to.” No napping, no internet or television (those keep coming up!), no shirking. Get to it!

 

5. Goof off like it’s an art form.

Be a kid again, play with your imagination, play with kids; surely you must have a child or sibling or cousin or niece or nephew or grandchild or a friend’s kid under twelve you could babysit for a while. Let them teach you how to recapture the bold, carefree spirit of youth.

 

6. Cry.

Don’t hold it back. Open your wounds. Feel the pain. Love the pain. Access, identify and understand your emotions.

 

7. Write.

To people you haven’t spoken to in a long time. Don’t message them on Facebook or send them an e-mail. Write to them, you sissy. Write them a letter. Write your sweetheart a love letter. Write your parents a thank-you note. Write to your grandmother, a soldier overseas, a retired friend in a rest home who probably doesn’t get much mail. It’s okay that your letter won’t get to them the instant you’re done writing. It’s okay that you won’t get a letter back for a week or more, or ever.

 

8. Write and re-write.

A scene, in your current project, or an abandoned project, or something old and done with and maybe even published. Explore the possibilities. What else could have happened? How else could it have happened? Who else could have been there? What other viewpoints could you use? How could you reframe the exact same events and dialogue to make it read differently? Experiment with plot and prose and form. Just have fun.

 

9. Do something worth writing.

Put your thinking cap on and run a marathon, go spelunking, or go hiking, or maybe mountain biking, bee-hive hiving, deepsea diving, tractor-trailer driving, see the world or see an opera, attend a signing and meet Oprah,

 

* (10.) Share your opinion.

The footnote is the tenth step. Sharing your opinion with me (or anyone, here or anywhere else), opening a debate with friends and discussing views, will make you a better writer. If you can be calm and objective, express yourself clearly and efficiently, and overcome the fear of speaking up, you’ve contributed in three ways to your development as a writer.

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Categories: Writing Passion | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

Writing a Perfectly Imperfect World

I’ve worked with a lot of young writers. I’ve been one myself for a long time. And the big question people ask me all the time–or at least, they probably would if anybody actually asked me questions about writing, instead of acting all awkward as if I’m going to put everything they say into a book–is this: What’s the most common mistake you see young writers make?

It’s a mistake that comes from fear. I’ve talked a little before about how harmful fear is to a writer. Maybe not enough, but a little. It can lead to big mistakes. Exhibit A?

This is a mistake I’ve seen young writers make time and time again. It’s something I’ve made many times, and sometimes, continue to make myself. It’s a mistake I see everybody, not just artists, make. It’s the fear of being brutally honest.

Let’s be specific. What I’m talking about is writers who write about a world that’s so pristine and perfect that it can’t be the imperfect world we actually live in. I’m also talking about the writers who write about a world that’s way too dark to be the world we actually live in.

There’s certainly a market for both. One the one side we have cozies and romances, and on the other we have thrillers and horror. These are all genres that thrive on a lopsided perspective of the world spun for effect, not honesty.

If you’ve read my blog before, you’ll have heard me say this many times: it’s about balance. Like everything else in writing and in life there’s a balance to be found here.

Let’s get into this.

The World Isn’t Perfect

Life isn’t all sunshine and daisies. Even if you’ve lived a privileged, sheltered life (which I’m blessed enough to say I have), you know the world is still a hard and terrible place.

Bad things happen. People do bad things and bad things happen to people. People lie and steal and rape and kill. People are selfish, arrogant, prejudiced, greedy, promiscuous; they want what they want and they’ll do a lot to get it. The world is full of pain and hate.

People do unspeakable things, and depending on your belief system, there are certain taboos you think should be left unspoken. But most of the above things aren’t among them. You’ll make more people queasy with profanity and sex than with violence. I like the way George R.R. Martin puts it:

“I can describe an axe entering a human skull in great explicit detail and no one will blink twice at it. I provide a similar description, just as detailed, of a [let’s just say a sexual act; honesty has its place, and we’re getting to that. – Caleb], and I get letters about it and people swearing off. To my mind this is kind of frustrating, it’s madness.” – George R.R. Martin

Cut off heads, limbs, kill and kill and kill, fill your pages with all the blood and gore you want, but sex, that’s a no-no. Why is this? Similarly, why is a man in his underwear funny, but a woman showing too much skin has everybody up in arms? (I’m not touching these, not with a fifty foot pole; I’ll leave them to you. These are some heady questions and I hope you find some good answers.)

People want to avoid the uncomfortable and the controversial. As a writer sometimes it’s natural to want to do the same. Plenty of writers try too hard to sugarcoat the world.

That’s because we want a perfect world; reading about a perfect world makes reading an escape. Readers want to be transported to somewhere happier than the life they’re stuck with. But it’s just a lie.

The World Isn’t All Sh*t

On the other hand, some writers fill every page with gory violence, explicit sex, and profanity after profanity. And you know why? It sells–movies, television, and books of course, it’s everywhere now. Because it sells. This is the stuff we were told was wrong when we were young. We were forbidden to see it. It’s what our culture tried to sweep under the rug, and that feeling of getting what we shouldn’t have is a wonderful feeling. “Guilty pleasures” are all pleasure; there’s no guilt, that’s just excitement.

It’s sensational. Because these things are taboo, we feel like we’re doing something wrong when nobody’s looking. That’s thrilling.

On the one hand, it’s still a form of escapism; it’s not painting a perfect world, it’s painting a world that indulges all our darkest and most chaotic impulses.

On the other hand, you get the world that’s so dark and twisted and disgustingly wrong that it makes readers feel better about their own world. Readers like to be transported somewhere more miserable than the world they live in so they can feel better about it. “Maybe I hate my job or I’m lonely, but at least I didn’t lose my arm and my city didn’t blow up and my family didn’t die and I didn’t find the charred remains of my wife’s–oh holy **** that’s just wrong. I feel so good now.”

It’s like masochism I guess. And once again, it’s a lie.

The Balance

So here I think we’ve divined the secret: The best writers are the ones who aren’t afraid to get dirty in the process of doing their job properly, but they’re just as relieved as their readers when they can get home and take a nice clean shower. That’s the balance.

The best writers are honest. That has to be the one thing a writer is most concerned with. They have to deal with themselves, their characters, and their world honestly. They owe it to the reader to tell the truth–well, sort of. It’s still fiction, a made-up story; but the best made-up worlds connect to the real world in an honest way that reveals some kind of truth.

“The web of our life is of a mingled yarn, good and ill together.” That was Shakespeare who said that. Because life isn’t heaven and it’s not hell. It’s a balance. The good. The bad. The best. The worst. Readers want perfect worlds and messed up worlds alternatively, because that’s what life is like. Sometimes it’s perfect and sometimes it’s messed up.

Just to Clarify

I said already: Some people can be entirely successful writing about a lopsided world. Middle Earth sure didn’t look much like home. You can bet Lewis Caroll never used profanity. And Stephen King didn’t achieve success by writing about sunshine and daisies. And you don’t win a Pulitzer unless you write a pretty lifelike story that takes the bad with the good to make something great.

Point is, every writer is different. We all have certain strengths and certain weaknesses. Some writers are better at writing something more sugarcoated while some are better at cursing. Writers like me might do an especially good job writing cozies and children’s fantasy, but for heaven’s sake pray we never try to try our hands at horror.

However, I will also say this: I think any writer can be brutally honest if they train themselves to overcome the fear of telling it straight. We all have something to hide. And we can all learn to let it out frankly; that’s when we’ll have something great on our hands, friends.

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What about you? What do you struggle to write about honestly? Open up!

Categories: Writing Passion | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Aristotle Shares His 7 Writing Tips

Okay, I have  a confession to make:  Aristotle never compiled a list of rules for creative writing. If you didn’t realize it by now, Aristotle lived in the 4th century BC, which was a significantly long, long time before “first novels” like The Tale of Genji (1010) or Don Quixote (1605) – and I don’t think there’s any debating that it’s impossible for anyone to foretell the rules of the literary art by 1300 years, even a man as brilliant as Aristotle.

. . . Or is it? Is it, really?

In reality, these are Aristotle’s “Seven Golden Rules of Storytelling.” They’re meant to apply to the visual arts of storytelling; in particular, Greek theatre. But as a writer, I’m always translating advice on any art into a context that fits my own; and I discovered that Aristotle’s rules actually translate into surprisingly accurate and well-rounded elements of writing.

1. Plot

Plot means different things depending on who you ask. We could have interesting discussions just looking for the nature of plot. Some say a story is nothing without it. Some (take Stephen King) “distrust” it. But we’re all agreed that it’s a thing, and that all proper fiction has some form of it – and typically, it’s your first step to a story.

The plot is the “what” of a story. If you’re writing, you’re bound to write about something happening; that’s your plot.

2. Character

Now that you have a plot, you need characters to populate it. No writer will tell you different.  Characters are people, and there’s no story without a) a person to tell it (you), and b) people to live in it. There’s simply no getting around this one. And I don’t know about you, but I like it that way.

3. Theme

Why are you writing your story? Why is the story happening? Why are the characters doing what they’re doing? That’s your theme, honey.

This is another place where writers don’t always agree. Some say Yes, every story has a theme, if you don’t have one you’re missing something; some say No, don’t do the thing, that’s gimmick not story. Most writers (and I can include myself here) will tell you something in between: every story has a theme, yes, but every theme doesn’t have a story. If you start with a theme, it will become your gimmick. If you tack on a theme, it will become your gimmick. If you let the theme grow organically in your story in whatever nooks and crannies it chooses, you’re doing something right.

4. Dialogue

Talk is cheap . . . except when it’s not, because it’s one of your most valuable tools as a writer. Verbal communication is thousands of years in the making, please of all the mistakes you may make do not butcher it by making your characters talk like rocks. They can talk like rockers – or aristocrats or scientists or cockneys or rednecks – but please please please remember they have to talk like human beings.

So far so good. Everything obviously applies to writing. We have four elements no story can go without. Now let’s see what else Aristotle has to share . . .

5. Chorus

In the Greek theatre, the chorus was the part where the actors came out to sing and dance, and to perorate on the nature of the play’s moral. It was a kind of commentary, description, or exposition; and I don’t know what kind of grades you got in your elementary school spelling tests, but to me that clearly spells P-R-O-S-E. This is the only place where writing itself intersects with Greek theatre.

Good plot, bad plot, no plot, you can still have a story; good prose, bad prose, but there has to be prose to be a story. (Unless you’re Paul Fournel. But have you ever heard of him? There might be a reason for that. It’s this: You’re not French and you’ll never be as cool as the French.)

So don’t stint here. You have a compelling plot, complex characters, theme, strong dialogue; it all falls apart if you can’t write it down and do a good job of it. You have to write words good.

6. Decor

You’ve seen a stage: it’s a big platform, usually made of wood, with great big curtains and arcane mysteries behind them. But when you watch a performance, you don’t see the stage; you see the library in a British country villa, or the streets of New York, or the Opera Populaire. Thanks to the decor, you don’t see a stage: you see a setting.

Your story needs to happen somewhere. It could be on Main Street in a rural Minnesooota town, or it could be on Mars. It just needs to be somewhere you can get excited about traveling to, so you can be the tour guide to make your reader excited about being there.

7. Spectacle

I’ll tell you what. I’ve given this one some thought, and I’ve interpreted it in my own way; but I’m not entirely sure about this one. What I’d like you to do is learn a little about the spectacle, the opsis in Greek theatre, for yourself. Make your own interpretations, figure out what you think it means for literature, and then come back for my opinion. Go ahead. I’ll wait.

. . . Ready? You want to know how I interpret the opsis? I think it’s just this:

Action!

I hope you don’t feel cheated. But I’m serious; just hear me out. I really think this is the most pivotal of all the seven rules.

The action is what the reader really wants. Whether they’re reading James Patterson or Charles Dickens, readers crave action. It’s the difference between fiction and nonfiction: nonfiction tells about something that happened; fiction shows something happen. Characters have to do something. Plot is what happens; action is the happening. I think Chekhov says it best:

“Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.” -Anton Chekhov*

Nonfiction will tell you the moon is shining, and when the moon shines and why. Good fiction will tell you what the moonlight revealed, what the moon meant to the person seeing it shine, what the lovers did in the moonlight, and what they learned in the moonlight.

 

* Supposedly, Chekhov never actually said this. You probably noticed the similarity to a quote credited to Mark Twain. It seems that somebody took Chekhov’s words and rearranged them to sound like Twain’s (supposed) words.

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What do you think? Do Aristotle’s commandments apply to writing? What was your interpretation of the seventh rule?

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5 Things I’ve Been Up To (or, 5 Things Every Writer Should Do)

Dear readers,

I’m back . . . again! I’ve been accidentally on hiatus, trying to avoid the internet, and keeping myself busy with other pursuits (and procrastinating, maybe there was some procrastinating involved). But today I decided it was time to get my rear in gear and get back into blogging (again!).

And in celebration of my return – and I know that you’re celebrating, of course you missed me more than you can say – I’m going to share some of what I did while I was absent, and tell you what a few of the things I did taught me about writing:

Photo Credit: Audringje via Compfight cc  (altered)

Photo Credit: Audringje via Compfight cc (altered)

1. Write a Novel. If you haven’t already, you should. And with NaNoWriMo coming up again next month, there’s no better time to get that great idea down on paper.

That’s what I’ve been working on lately; my fourth novel, and a little on my fifth, and a lot on my sixth, and here and there on my ninth and seventeenth and thirty-eighth. (No, if you’re wondering, I don’t have them planned out quite that accurately. My methods are a little more on-the-fly.) My next novel won’t be about Leo Westmacott and the gang, but they will be back, don’t worry. As for what it is about . . . I’ll keep you posted, but I’m not going to talk about it too much just now, as it’s still got a long way to go before being published. But I’ll tell you this: It’s about a golem, there are a few Judaists involved, and it’s set in Spain.

2. Write with a workshop. It shouldn’t be hard to find one in your area, whether you live in New York City or some podunk town nobody’s ever heard of. (Even if you live in Monowi, Nebraska – which of course you don’t, unless I’m talking to Elsie, in which case I would be honored – or somewhere similar.) And if you can’t find one, you could always start one yourself.

Or, for the antisocial types who want to write from the comfort of their own homes, I would recommend either A, you get some guts because it’s important to be fearless in writing and ready to go out and show the world what you’ve got, or B, find a group online. There are plenty of online writing communites you can get in on, sometimes in the most unexpected places, so don’t be afraid to look around.

Personally, I don’t trust those online workshops that ask for a few hundred dollars in return for a chance to listen to some “author” who’s never even polished a bestseller’s shoes talk about what he thinks makes a good story, so I’d avoid those if I were you. But if you feel differently, there are plenty of those around.

And if nothing else, you could always start up an online community yourself. (Which, I confess, is what happened to me a couple years ago, although it was only part choice and mostly chance.)

For the past few months I’ve been writing another anthology with the Ambage, my informal online writer’s workshop. This anthology our theme is crime fiction, and we’re a couple weeks, maybe another month from publishing. I’ll let you know as soon as it’s available.

(By the way, if you think you’re up for an improfessional workshop full of close-knit writers who get together to produce short story anthologies once or twice a year, you’re welcome to join us! We’re always eager for fresh meat – uh, blood – uh, talent.)

3. Try out other forms of storytelling. Poetry, songwriting, screenwriting, playwriting, comic writing – they’re essentially similar to the prose we’re used to, and yet very different in execution, and they all have important lessons to teach us about writing and telling stories. Even entirely different forms of art, like music or painting, are worth exploring.

Lately I’ve been experimenting with a little poetry, playwriting, and songwriting – even some comic strip writing.

4. Read. This is a given. Read, read, read. Always read. Read with every spare moment you have to yourself. It’s relaxing, it’ll make you a smarter, nice, more attractive, generally better person, and it’ll teach you all the essential things you need to know about writing and then some and then some on top of the then-some.

One of the things I finally got around to reading over the winter was Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass. Masterpieces, don’t you think? I can’t believe I waited this long – these books were written for me. (You know what I mean, right? When a book touches you deeply, which is what any good book is written to do, then logically, it was written for you.) I’ve been inspired, so much so that I’ve started turning some old ideas for surrealist, literary nonsense stories into words.

That’s one of the best things about reading. It’ll give you ideas – plenty of ideas.

5. Take up new interests. I can’t emphasize this enough: artists are just people who know how to live and how to express life, and insatiable curiosity and a sense of discovery are essential to living. You never know what you could do that might be fodder for your next story. Skydiving? Bear wrestling? Extreme ironing? Or maybe keep it local – go out to the theatre or take up running or go birdwatching. You never know if you might like something until you’ve tried.

And if you’re the extreme introvert who doesn’t even want to step outside, I have an idea for you, too: STEP OUTSIDE AND SEE WHAT YOU’RE MISSING. But a more sensitive suggestion would be – go researching! Just find a topic you’d like to learn more about and start reading everything you can find on the subject: blogs, wikipedia articles, any material you might happen to have on your bookshelf, and anything you can find at your library (or on your Kindle).

Bonus. Blog! Personally, I sometimes see blogging as a distraction. But let’s face facts: if you’re a writer, what you do is write, and blogging is writing. Maybe it’s not the same kind of writing you’re used to – and that’s why it’s important! It’s just another form of storytelling, and I’ve already told you what I think about challenging yourself to experiment with different forms of storytelling. Blogging also gives you the unique opportunity to have direct communication with your readers, and there’s a lot to learn from that.

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So what have you been up to lately? Do you have any habits that help you keep your writerly mojo fuelled?

Categories: Writing Passion | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Blogging F.O.R. a Reason: Getting Back Into Blogging

Photo Credit: horizontal.integration via Compfight cc (altered)

Photo Credit: horizontal.integration via Compfight cc (altered)

Time to come clean about my five-month hiatus and what caused it.

I’m lazy.

All right, it’s not quite that simple. Ultimately, that’s the answer, but it’s more involved than it sounds. Let’s delve into this, and we’ll call it . . .

Blogging F.O.R. a Reason: Getting Back Into Blogging

Because people like to remember things this way, and because it works, you guessed it, F.O.R. is an acronym for remembering the three elements of my new blogging mantra.

(It might also have been the FORD system for introverts who aren’t comfortable bringing up dreams with strangers, and if that was your guess, it wasn’t a bad one. Even though it was wrong. Shame on you.)

And yes, I just came up with that acronym on the spot and oh-aren’t-I-clever (never as clever as I like to think).

F is F.O.R. Fear

Laziness. What is it? It’s a fear, I think. Some might say a fear of hard work, but I believe it goes deeper than that. I believe laziness is the fear of failure.

Don’t try and you can’t fail, right? That’s how it feels sometimes. Blogging (or writing of any kind) can feel futile sometimes because it’s almost like writing a message in a bottle. For one thing, the bottle might just sink. Or it might end up in the hands of somebody who has no use for the message. The chances are really incredibly slim that your message will reach someone who can use it.

You’re afraid of those who don’t want your message, the ones who don’t know how to use it and will scoff at you for throwing it into the sea. When you think of these people, you can just hear them: Keep your message to yourself. Nobody wants to hear it. Nobody will listen to you.

So you don’t throw the message. Instead, you just stay stranded on your little island, alone, stationary. You’re not going anywhere, but at least you didn’t stick your neck out and fail, right?

Wrong.

I’m sure you’ve heard it said: If you try, you might not succeed, but if you don’t try, you can’t possibly succeed. Well, believe it. It’s true.

It can be tough to put yourself out there and tell the world what you’re thinking. You’re always wondering if anybody will listen or if anybody will care. You don’t have the answers. You’re always doubting.

The first step is recognizing what you’re afraid of and why. The second step is remembering why you ever started blogging in the first place.

O is F.O.R. Objective

Surely you had a reason to start a blog? Of course you did. You had something you wanted to say. You had a message you wanted heard.

No, wait, sorry. You have something you need to say. You have a message that should be heard.

If you keep it to yourself, it won’t be. You have to put it out there.

Take me, for instance. I have a message that should be heard, but until today, I forgot what it was. I had to read the Who Am I? section of my own blog to answer that titular question. This is what I discovered:

“I write because it is my passion. I write as an act of religious devotion. I write because I want this world to be a better place.”

Because I want this world to be a better place. Because I want to search and understand myself and to encourage others to do the same and help them in that effort. Isn’t that worth sticking my neck out for?

Chances are that something like 99% of the people who find my blog, won’t care what I have to say. They won’t listen and they might misunderstand me. Sure. It happens.

But I write for that one out of a hundred, that 1% who will hear my message and will care. Because no matter how many people there are out there who won’t give a flying fart, there’s always the 1% who will be touched by what you have to say.

I discovered that recently when I received an email from some one who’d read a comment I posted on an article across the internet. They googled my name and found my blog, and my email, and got in touch with me to tell me they appreciated what I said in that comment.

I posted that comment a couple of months ago, and I almost didn’t post it at all, because I wasn’t sure I wanted to stick my neck out. But I did, because I felt what I had to say needed to be said. And somebody found my comment, and it meant something to them, enough that they sought me out to tell me so.

And just think: if they hadn’t sought me out, if they hadn’t stuck their neck out, it might have been months more before I found the courage to blog again.

They reminded me why I do what I do. This is your invitation to remember why you’ve read this far into my article. Remind yourself why you started blogging.

R is F.O.R. Resolution

When the idea for this article hit me, I almost said, Nah, I’ll write it later. Tomorrow. Tomorrow’ll be a good day. I’ll do it then.

No. I won’t. I knew I wouldn’t.

It’s now or it’s never. No matter what your objective is, it’s nothing but an empty good intention until you act on it. You have to take action. You have to resolve to blog.

Maybe your New Year’s resolution was to start a blog or to post every week or every day. By now, you’ve probably failed that resolution. Try again. Maybe you want to abandon it. Don’t.

Think of what’s at stake. Your voice risks going unheard. Your message might never reach the person it could touch and inspire. If you don’t take action, nobody will ever hear what you have to say.

So go. Go! Sit down at your typewriter and bleed. Cry if you don’t want to do it. Shake if you’re afraid. Just don’t let anything stop you. Never forget why you’re in that chair typing away on that keyboard.

You’re blogging for a reason.

Get Into Blogging

I assume, if you’ve read this far, you have a blog, had a blog, or intend to start a blog. If you do, great, keep it up; if you had one, get back into it, or start a new one if that’s your inclination; if you intend to start one, yes, God yes, go do it.

You need to be heard.

Just remember: Never fear. Focus on your objective. Resolve to take action. Fear, Objective, Resolve, because you’re blogging F.O.R. a reason.

And it’s a pretty good reason, isn’t it?
Do you have a message you want to share with the world? Go share it.

Do you have a message you want to share with me? Comment below, or contact me.

Categories: Imagining a Better World, Writing Passion | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

The Artist and the Scientist, and the Secret of Balancing Them

There are many sides to writing. It can’t be confined. Some call it an art; some call it a science. So which is it?

Writing requires creativity and vision. You’ll need open eyes to look at the world, to see what it looks like on the face of it, to see what it looks like underneath, and to see what it looks like inside of yourself. An artist could sit in their yard for a lifetime and never run out of stories to write, because all around them everything they see has a thousand aspects, and a million ideas inside it. You need to be able to look at things from all these different angles. Sometimes, writing requires some degree of omnipotence to keep an eye on all the thoughts coming together—and sometimes you just pull back and let them flow into place.

Writing requires dimension and precision. You have to know what you’re writing about, and how; you need to understand the subject and how to effectively approach it and describe it. You need to know what you’re seeing and how to get it down on paper according to your vision, to use that vision to its fullest potential. You need to know how to produce an effect. A scientist could sit in their yard for a lifetime and never run out of subjects to categorize and monitor, because they could identify every tree and weed and bug and bird and spend the rest of their lives recording their lifecycles and the changes wrought in them by the seasons and the years.

The fact is, writing is both an art and a science. You’ll need balance—more than anything. You’ll need to know when to think and when to feel. You’ll need to understand when to let your tender, sentimental nature take over, and when to be cold and calculating. Give yourself over completely to the artist and you’ll end up with chaos—yield to the scientific side and you’ll end up with sterile, insipid chaff.

Basically, you have to be pretty schizophrenic. But it knew that, didn’t it, precious? Yesss . . . we knews it, precious, we did . . .

The Scientist

This is the part of you that was taught in schoolrooms to bleed literature dry of every nebulous interpretation of meaning that they can fabricate. This is the part that tends to function as a spellcheck while you’re writing, or critiques your plot, and probably it’s the one muttering, “This is crap, this is crap,” while you’re trying to write. If you’re experiencing writers’ block, you can count on it that the soulless, unfeeling scientist in you is to blame.

It can get be a hindrance at times, can’t it? Unfortunately, you still need it. Believe it or not, you do need a little logic and rationality when you’re writing, and the scientific part of you keeps that in check. By the traditional myth of brain lateralization, this would be the left brain; reason and critical thinking, all the technical and scientific aspects of the writing process.

The Artist

You know when you’ve come to that exciting part, and a little voice is going, “Oh boy! oh boy! oh boy!” while you’re writing? Yup, this is that voice. And when you’re killing a character or letting them find true love at last, the artist is inside you, crying. This is the one that’s putting the scientist’s stores of knowledge to good use, hitting on unlikely combinations and putting them together like a jigsaw puzzle. This is the little genius in you, the one that flies into a frenzy and writes like mad when you finally break through that creative block. The artist is the one who appreciates the beauty in things.

Unlike the scientist, the artist isn’t taught. This part of you isn’t developed in the schoolroom, unless your mind is wandering from the lesson. Typically, this part is developed in the woods, or on a busy city street, or other places where you’re “alone,” that is, away from the distractions of your everyday life. The artist is an autodidact; it learns. Nobody can teach you to be an artist. Really, being an artist is something you’re born into. But I do believe that there’s an artist in all of us: it’s just developed sooner in some than others. If you can discover that part of yourself, open yourself to it, free the artist within and let them learn, let yourself dream, then you can learn any art you’re called to. Even if it’s not something traditionally viewed as an art—if you bring creativity into it, anthing can be an art.

How to Balance Them

If you’re up against writers’ block, a good way to get around it—and a good way, in general, to avoid it—is to stop thinking and start feeling; suppress the scientist, and let your artist free. Just write—let the scientist take over in revision.

At least, that’s what people say.

Me, I don’t believe in it. Sure, it works, but that’s not a solution—it’s avoiding the problem. It’s the easy way out, and for a lot of people, that’s great. So yeah, if you want the easy way out of it, there you go. More power to you. Off with you, go write something.

But you want to know the secret? I do have one up my sleeve here. I’ve already said that writing is both an art and a science; well, I can reduce it to just one word. Writing is a discipline.

That’s right. Being a writer is like being a Jedi. Or, you know, a master of the martial arts. You have to be in touch with the techniques; but also with the spirit of the thing. But above all else, writing is about balance. Letting the two sides take turns at dominance isn’t balance. Balance isn’t fifty-fifty, it’s hundred-hundred. Give free reign to both sides, give them both power and control, and let them work together. This can only be achieved through practice, determination, and discipline.

You’re just a writer. I am too, and I may not be a master, but I believe this: To become a master of my art, I have to become something higher than human, something that transcends the everyday. I have to become an artist, a free-thinker; I have to dare to look at the world in ways no one else will, ways they’ll tell me aren’t there. Sometimes, I have to look like a lunatic. But inside, I have to be a monk: I have to find a way to work with both my mind and heart.

What do you think? Am I a genius, a philosopher, an artist—or a lunatic?

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The Secret to Beating Writer’s Block for Good

When I was writing my last novel, I met with an obstacle I hadn’t encountered with any of my previous books. It was a feeling of insufficiency that left me too petrified to write.

This is a serious problem that most writers will understand. Sometimes, maybe most of the time, what we call “writer’s block” is essentially just the fear of failure dressed up until we can’t recognize it away.

Photo Credit: horizontal.integration via Compfight cc (altered)

Photo Credit: horizontal.integration via Compfight cc (altered)

Of course, that’s something I’d dealt with before, it wasn’t entirely new–but it had never been as bad as it was then. In this case, the difference was that this novel in particular dealt with a lot of personal emotions, and a lot of story and heart was based on the spiritual experiences of a person I care very much about. I felt like that was a lot to live up to, and I began to be afraid I couldn’t pull it off.

Every writer deals with inspirational blocks like this, usually emotional. Oftentimes they’re a feeling of insufficiency, a fear of failure. Some resolve this problem by allowing themselves to write as badly as they need to. As long as they’re writing, right? And then they can make it all better in revision. Some people say this releases them and lets them write more freely. But I disagree with the whole idea for a lot of reasons.

My main problem with telling yourself you can write poorly is that it’s like saying you can build a house out of cardboard and then paint it to make it look like it’s brick. How much pride do you really have in your work if you’re willing do to a slipshod job and later make it look like you didn’t?

When writer’s block comes around writers have two choices: to write poorly and let themselves fail “for now,” or to write well. So I chose to well and I got through my block. I didn’t weasel my way around it. I forced myself straight through it.

I’m not saying it works 100% of the time, and even when I chose to “write well” I didn’t always. But just the choice to work my hardest, and to accept that it was okay that it was hard, freed me and gave me the strength to keep going. Honestly, some of my best work came out in moments like these. In the worst of times I was willing to do my best, and that meant I was really making the effort for my art.

 

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What about you? How do you deal with writer’s block? Are you in favor of the “write badly now, revise later” method, or do you use a method more like mine, or do you have a completely different method of your own? Please share!

Categories: Writing Passion | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Read This Now — No Excuses

Stephen McCranie

Click. Read. You’ll be happy that you did.

 

Click on the image, follow the link, read. No excuses. No distractions. No delays. Do it now and read. I don’t care if you’re a writer or an artist or a human being. Go read this, even if you’re a Martian. Everyone needs to read this.

Read it. Now. Why are you still here?

 

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10 Tips for Finding the Best Way for Your Story to End

Dear writers,

It’s one of the hardest questions we have to ask ourselves in life: Where will it all end?

As writers, we have a lot more control over things, and that includes where and how to stop. Unfortunately, endings are still hard—sometimes the hardest part of a story. Here are some tips that may help you if you’re struggling with an ending you don’t like, or just not sure where your story is going:

  1. Plan the ending first. Get it working right away so you have direction.
  2. If you’re getting close to an end you don’t have and you’re at a loss, go back to the beginning—review your story, gather ideas, get a sense of where it’s leading, and then follow it.
  3. It’s more important that your ending be fitting than happy. (And remember that goes for unhappy endings too.) It can still twist, but the unexpected can’t be the impossible. The best twist is the one you feel you should have seen coming.
  4. The purpose of an ending is to simplify—it’s the moment when you bring light to the darkness, when all becomes clear. You can still have cliffhangers and leave your readers with questions and something to think about, but if you leave an overcomplicated, unexplained tangle of confusion, it’s no good
  5. That said, don’t be afraid of making it big and bold. If it gets out of hand, keep writing anyway—you can always go back and pull it back as necessary.
  6. Ask yourself: Should this have ended already? Am I ending too early? When should it end?
  7. You’re allowed to have more than one ending.
  8. The resolution should involve the characters. If the ending owes too much to an outside force, it’s likely to leave readers disappointed. If we’ve been walking in a character’s (or characters’) shoes, feeling what they feel and dreaming their dreams, we don’t want to see someone else end their story for them.
  9. It was never all a dream. Don’t toy with your reader’s emotions like that. No matter how brilliant you might think the twist is, 99% of the time it’s not.
  10. A lot of build-up needs a lot of resolution. You need to know when to stop, but you also need to know how to suit an ending to the story it’s concluding. A long or complicated story with a lot at stake needs a lot of ending.

 

Are these strict rules? Of course not. A great writer can break any rule. You can get away with anything as long as you do it imaginatively, and as long as you’re sure you can pull it off. But these tips will help you to avoid, prevent, or justify the sins of a bad ending.

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What are you ending right now?

Categories: Writing Passion | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

Give and Thou Shalt Receive: But What Do You Have to Give?

Dear writers,

 

The key to success in this world is generosity. It stands to reason, it’s common sense, and if you don’t know it, learn it: The more you give, the more you receive. If you’re a writer or a blogger or just any other kind of breather, then you’re alive, and that means you have something to give. But one of my personal struggles has been wondering, What do I have to give?

I have stories. Yeah, I love to write stories, and I love to give them to the world, and they’re fun to blog sometimes, but the truth is this: That’s not enough. I’m not going to get thousands of followers who buy my books by blogging short stories.

If I want to receive followers, I have to give something meaningful to them, earn their trust and make them feel that reading my books will be worth their time, and then I will receive more readers to whom I will be able to give the stories I have to tell: it’s a win-win in the end, but it’s a lot of work for me on the way. I know that, that’s what I signed up for and that’s why I’m here.

But what can I offer you, and all the people out there, that would be meaningful, that would earn your trust and respect? That’s the question. That’s the question you might be struggling with, too:

 

What Do You Have to Give?

Photo Credit: Powerhouse Museum via Compfight cc (altered)

Photo Credit: Powerhouse Museum via Compfight cc (altered)

You’re just a writer. You’ve led a simple, unexciting, unassuming life. That’s probably why you’re a writer. You’re not a specialist in life coaching or social media marketing, you haven’t traveled all over the world or gone through traumatic near-fatal experiences. You’re just—you.

You don’t have to be you when you write. That’s why you’re a writer. When you write, you can transcend your own life. When you’re blogging, you have to draw from your own life and your own experiences, and heck . . . what do you really know?

We’ve actually mentioned an answer twice now. “That’s why you’re a writer.”

Right? You know what makes you a writer. You know what inspires you. You know what makes you who you are. You know the dark, secret places of your own heart. You know human emotion because you’re a human and you’ve felt emotion

You know the truth about yourself. But your readers don’t.

 

What Do Your Readers Need?

That’s the important thing to remember here. It’s not about you. It’s about them.

What they need from you is you. Just—you. Plain, simple, unexciting, unassuming, you. Not the expert knowledge you wish you had, they don’t need that. They just need the real you.

They need the truth. They need to know who you are inside. I don’t give a cow’s belch for a writer’s alphabet-soup degrees or their professional expertise. They’re artists, and what real readers want to know is them.

Real readers want to know who you are.

You might be afraid of opening yourself up: don’t be. You tell the truth behind the mask of fiction; take the mask off, take courage, and be honest. Your readers will respect you for it.

You might be afraid of wasting your reader’s time with your sob stories: don’t be. Some readers won’t care, it’s true. So they’ll move on. But there are others who won’t. There are others who will be touched.

Because you’ve lived your life, and that’s the story you have to tell. That’s what will inspire people. Maybe you’ve gone through a situation similar to theirs, and you have some practical wisdom to impart, or maybe a message of hope. Maybe it’s just the words “you’re not alone.”

And that’s just it. You’re not alone. Whatever you’ve gone through—and everyone has gone through something—someone else is going through right now and thinking they’re the only one. They’re waiting for you to show them that they’re not. They’re waiting for you to tell them they’re not alone, that others have been through this and that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.

That’s what writing about. It’s about telling a story so someone somewhere, someday, will read it and say, “Look what they did. Look what they knew. Look what they learned. They went through exactly what I’m going through now. They lived.” And in that there’s hope; in the knowledge that someone before us went through life and survived it.

Look back on your life to a time when you were crying out to someone and there was no answer. Reach out to that person now and answer them. You may be surprised how many people are waiting to hear your voice.

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Do you have an important story to share with the world? Have you recently shared one on your blog or written a book about it? Share with me, do a little plugging!

Categories: Imagining a Better World, Writing Passion | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

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