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The Importance Of Adventure

As writers, we are privileged to be able to create our own adventures on the pages before us. Want to take a camel ride across the Sahara? Have a car chase down the unrealistically empty streets of New York City? Join a triskadekaphobic group of dwarves on a search for lost treasure? All you have to do is pull up a Word document and you’re set! 

However, this becomes a problem when our writing takes the place of adventure, when real life experiences start taking a backseat to written ones. When we start justifying the lack of excitement in our own lives by saying that we’ve created a rich and exotic existence on paper, there is something wrong.

In his blog, Warnimont says:

“There is a valuable area that tends to go overlooked while developing an effective writing platform: experience. When I say experience, I don’t necessarily mean writing experience or schooling, rather personal experiences that make life enjoyable, while making you more cultured and strengthening your writing inspiration.”

You don’t necessarily need to do THIS . . .

If we fail to get out of the house and actually live, not only are we cheating ourselves out of the adventures we crave (and therefore write about), we are cheating our readers out of vivid and honest stories as well. If you do not experience the rush of adrenaline, feel the wind in your hair and the cramp in your side, smell the tarmac burning under the hot sun, and taste the salt of your own sweat running down your face, how can you relate a breathless, seat-of-the-pants chase to readers who expect and deserve nothing less?

“Getting away from your computer and experiencing the world around you is an important factor in becoming a great writer since credibility is built through these experiences. Also, you are given the opportunity to have some fun!”

Not only is this beneficial to your writing – getting out of your chair and engaging in activities can also reduce the risks of becoming trapped in a sedentary lifestyle – an issue that every writer has to deal with. Living most of your life in a sitting position is, believe it or not, something that can substantially shorten your life. Here are just a couple of the risks that people who live sedentary lifestyles face.

How do I go out and have adventures?

True, it’s not as easy as Hollywood makes it seem. Adventures are shy things, and don’t just stand there on the side of the road with their thumbs out, waiting to be picked up. You have to go out and make them. And no, I’m not talking about finding a ring of power to destroy, or applying to a secret agency, or holding up a bank (please do not hold up any banks!)

You can have small adventures anywhere – and then expand on those small adventures to make them something worthy to be written about. For example, in this article on How To Be Adventurous , one of the suggestions is to

You get the idea

Put a new twist on the same old thing. Come into your house through your window instead of your front door.”

This is a good way to start. See how it really feels to come through a window, and then go and write about exactly how you were scared the pane was going to close on you, or how you had to remove the screen first and then figure out how to put it back on once you were inside, or how the window was too high to reach so you had to drag a garden bench over to give you a boost. You might even want to incorporate the looks of alarm your neighbors were giving you, and how you had to explain that yes, you did live there, you were just trying to be adventurous. It will add credibility to your writing, and make it easier for you to write about, because you no longer have to sit there and agonize over what it might feel like.

Here are some other ideas on how to be adventurous:

  • Borrow a shopping cart from a store parking lot, fill it with something strange (like books or apples), and roll it along the highway.
  • Go on a setting hunt. Take a camera and drive around to places you’ve never been, looking for good ideas for settings. Get out of the car, take pictures from different angles, but be subtle about it so that no one thinks you’re casing the place.
  • Walk to a place you would usually drive to.
  • Make a picnic lunch and go somewhere green – preferably somewhere that is new and relatively secluded.
  • Wait for the next rain storm, bundle up, get your iPod out, and blast some epic movie soundtrack while you walk in the rain.
  • Hitchhike somewhere.
  • Dress in something ridiculous and go to work like that.
  • Talk to strangers, ask them their life stories.

You get the idea. Adventures are everywhere, if you look. And any one of these things could potentially be developed into fodder for your next novel. 

 A few last notes:

  1. The first step is to get outside of your comfort zone. If you’re still in it, you’re not on an adventure yet.
  2. If you’re feeling less than motivated, imagine if your favorite fictional hero or heroine had said “I’m sorry, I can’t be bothered.”
  3. Never do anything unsafe or illegal!
  4. That being said, don’t be afraid to do things that are stupid or take risks (within certain limits)
  5. DON’T FORGET TO BRING A NOTEBOOK ALONG WITH YOU! You will need to jot down things right away to avoid losing them.
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Posted by on March 18, 2013 in Writing

 

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Writing For Fun, Not Profit

 blog_publishing3Your parent/best friend/significant other looks up from the manuscript of your latest chapter. They sigh in appreciation, nod their head several times, and then utter the dreaded words:

“This is great, honey . . . When are you planning on publishing?”

They explain that the publishing market is looking for young blood, and the longer you wait, the older you get and the less sensational your book will be. You can only be a prodigee for so long. They tell you that your work is good enough that if you would just commit, do a couple revisions and a little research, within a few weeks, you’ll be signing a book contract. Not only that, you’ll be making money!

“Agents?” they say. “You don’t need an agent!”

“Query letters?” they say. “A simple: ‘Hello, would you publish my book please?’ should suffice.”

“Editors?” they say. “They’re just there to make sure you put your semi-colons in the right places.”

To them, the publishing game works like it does in Graham Greene’s world:

‘”I’ve read your novel,” he said. “We’d like to publish it. Would it be possible for you to look in here at eleven?”

Except it doesn’t. And we writers know it.

Why all the rush to get published NOW? The concept of needing time to perfect the writing craft does not seem to be something people can grasp. If you’ve strung together enough sentences to fill up a novel-length manuscript, regardless of tact or talent, it’s time to get in the publishing game.blog_publishing1

My advice:

Don’t let people badger or bully you into throwing your newborn book into the cold hard lap of the corporate business world. If you don’t feel ready, then you aren’t ready. Write for fun. Write for self-fulfillment. You’ve got time. If you’re any good now, you’ll only get better.

Granted, maybe publishing houses are putting out a lot of books by young adults, but how many are they putting out by mature, fully-grown authors? And really, I realize that the novella you wrote when you were fifteen – the one about the talking warrior tadpoles? – won you first prize in a scholastic achievement competition, but do you really want that hanging over your head when you’re trying to pitch a crime thriller or a biography twenty years later?

Murder In The Dead Of Night by Jane Doe, award-winning author of The Hoppity Legend of Tadpole Pond.

 
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Posted by on February 19, 2013 in Writing

 

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How To Read Books Without Going Crazy

Reading not only improves writing and knowledge but gives you an idea of the craft! It is important to read good books and retain them. You cannot absorb new ideas, improve vocabulary or writing unless you read.” (The Writing Pages)

You will put down most of these before you hit twenty pages.

This is wonderful advice, and I could not agree more with the sentiment. But tell me if you have experienced a similar dilemma:

You go to the library, looking for “good books” (not to study for writerly purposes but simply to enjoy). You get a couple novels that look very promising, and check them out. When you get home, you crack open the first volume with excitement. Halfway through chapter one, however, your enthusiasm has gone down several notches. You start picking the narrative apart.

Maybe poor sentence structure is making it difficult to read:

Putting clauses at the beginnings of sentences, the writer’s word order is unnecessarily complicated, or maybe the writer enjoys including multiple commas, or incorporating multi-syllable words to exaggerate his or her verbose and undeniably loquacious lexicon, or maybe they are too many run-on sentences that just won’t stop until you’re completely lost and can’t even remember where the sentence began or what the point was . . .

Maybe there is too much description and not enough dialogue:

The forest was beautiful in the afternoon, the paths speckled with sunlight and shadow that were constantly moving and swirling in complex patterns. The trees towered overhead, moss clinging to the branches, which were swaying in the gentle western breeze that flowed across their leafy heads like a caressing hand. It was almost eerily silent, the only sounds the creake of the trees and the rustle of underbrush as the squirrels and birds forraged for food. There was the sound of a distant river babbling as well . . . etc. etc.

Maybe there is too much meaningless dialogue:

“Hello.”

“Hey.”

“How are you?”

“Good, how are you?”

“Not bad. It looks like rain.”

“It rained yesterday.”

“I know. My newspaper is still damp.”

“What paper are you subscribed to?”

“The Times. How about you?”

Maybe the plot is awkwardly handled, giving you obnxious “nudge, nudge, wink, wink” attempts at foreshadowing that clue you in not only to the plot but also to the fact that the writer thinks you are too stupid to figure anything out on your own:

This is an understatement.

 Mr. Jones almost took his gun with him. But he decided against it. There was no need to bring it. “It’s not like the mobster to whom I owe money and who I cannot pay would send his thugs out after me TODAY. I only need to walk down three or four dark abandoned alleys on my way to the office . . .”

Or maybe the characters just have no life of their own and are two-dimensional and cliched:

John Smith was tall, dark, and handsome. From his classy sense of fashion, one would never have guessed that he was actually a starving artist who spent his days on the streets of New York City. And despite his moody, brooding exterior, he was actually a romantic at heart who was looking for love.

Whatever the reason (and these are only a few), you find yourself putting the book down a few chapters in. And this process is repeated with the next book and the next and the next. The worst part is you are no longer surprised by this form of literary betrayal. In fact, you have begun to expect it and when you find a book that actually grabs you, it is a pleasant surprise.

Why is this? After all, these poor excuses for fiction got published and are obviously selling, so is it just us? Well, yes. I honestly believe it is. We are writers. We are extremely critical (and extremely competitive) of each other, especially when one of us is published and the other one is not.

Not only this: we have had it drilled into us by our parents, teachers, and/or mentors that if we want to write well, we need to read “good books”, study and analyze them, draw lessons from them.

The blog Write To Done says:

Break down the books you read . . . Why did the writer make the choices she made? How did she create the characters and convey their qualities? How did she start the book and lay out the plot? How is the theme of the book conveyed throughout the book.

This is all well and good. But this has been so ingrained in us that we cannot simply read “for pleasure” anymore. Reading is no longer a leisure activity. By habit, we are constantly analyzing, comparing, evaluating. And the problem is that nintey percent of the time, these pursuits leave us wincing instead of nodding in appreciation.

So what do we do?

Someday we can hope to aspire to this

We just keep telling ourselves: “I am NOT going to learn anything from this book. This book has a right to be dumb, because it is not here to teach me anything.”

Just because a book has been published does not put it in a position of authority, the same way that everyone who graduates from college is not immediately qualified for a teaching position. Once we are aware of our inherent assumption that we are going to learn something from a book, we can decide to ignore it. Yes, be aware that it is poorly written, but be willing to look past that. In essence, I am telling you to force yourself to read for pleasure.

It will take practice, but with commitment and determination, I am certain that we can learn to blind ourselves to the inadequate skill of the majority of the literary world and begin to appreciate poor fiction once again.  (Just be sure to not pick up any of their bad habits.)

 
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Posted by on February 11, 2013 in Writing

 

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The Midnight Disease

I have a confession to make: I suffer from hypergraphia, a disorder otherwise known as the Midnight Disease. No, it is not life-threatening. Nor does it challenge me in carrying on my everday life. But it is a very real brain abnormality. And – really – it explains a lot about me.

Hypergraphia: The driving compulsion to write; the overwhelming urge to write. Those affected by it may

  • faithfully keep a journal of everyday activities
  • write in the margins of books they are reading
  • feel the need to record conversations they overhear
  • scribble notes on their arms
  • be driven to write on a napkin or toilet paper if nothing else is available

Does any of this sound painfully familiar? You might be suffering from the same thing. But do not fear! You are in the company of some of the greatest literary minds in history, including: Edgar Allen Poe, Joyce Carol Oates, Fyodor Dostoevsky, and Stephen King.

Does this look a little too familiar?

Does this look a little too familiar?

Alice Flaherty is a neurologist at Massachusetts General Hospital who “writ[es] on medical and other matters with the intention of demystifying mysteries of the medical realm and making understandable the bio-medical view of life”. After publishing the book “The Midnight Disease”, she was interviewed by several different writers regarding her theories on hypergraphia.

For Flaherty, “writing, and not being able to write when you want to, come from interactions between and changes in specific areas of the brain. The muse, in other words, is merely a matter of making the right brain connections.”

“‘It’s likely that writing and other creative work involve a push-pull interaction between the frontal and temporal lobes,’ Flaherty speculates. If the temporal lobe activity holds sway, a writer may turn out 600 (possibly incoherent) pages. If the temporal lobes are restrained by frontal lobe changes, the result might be pinched and timid.”

Sometimes, in the middle of a crisis, I find that my urge to write becomes very strong. Getting whatever I’m feeling down on paper offers a sort of relief. This is also representative of hypergraphia: “Pain, suffering, and frustration also stimulate floods of words and images. ‘People may pour out their feelings as a cry for help,’ Flaherty notes. ‘Many of my patients start writing as a response to their illnesses.'”

But most times,

“Hypergraphia stems from an internal drive, from a love of the work, not from external influences like money, fame, or spirituality …. I feel joy when I’m writing well. I have my bad days … But in the end, the joy of finding even one good verb makes it all worthwhile.” – Alice Flaherty

 
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Posted by on February 7, 2013 in Writing

 

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