Friday, October 17, 2014

Learning Writing

Last week, I was contacted by a company known as Webucator, which is celebrating Computer Education Month by asking various bloggers to write about teaching their craft.  It’s a project known as Teach Your Talent.  I’ve been thinking about it for several days, and I’ve reached one conclusion.

There’s no real way to teach writing.  There’s no real way to measure if you’ve learned how to write or not.  What’s the measurement?  How do you know if you’re experienced or still learning?

If you’re learning how to use C++, wouldn’t you know if you’ve learned it if you write a program that actually works?  If you’re learning the piano, you can measure your achievements by the difficulty of the song you’re playing. 

But with writing?  What’s the goal?

Is it writing that first novel?  Publishing a short story?  Getting your first rejection?  Publishing anything?  Seeing your book in the front window of a bookstore?  Getting on the bestseller’s list?  Having your book adapted into a movie? 

I know of several bestsellers that others have criticized as poor writers.  Their prose is torn apart and their stories reduced to mockery.  It’s a very subjective field.  Nothing ever stays the same.  Different genres bounce in and out of popularity, readers that once loved a certain writing style now hate them. 

So if I were to give advice to a new writer, here’s what I would say:

1.       Don’t focus on the end result.  Writing is going to be hard.  Just because you write one good novel, it doesn’t mean that everything’s going to be hunky-dory.  J.K. Rowling wrote a series that send the entire world into a frenzy, and when she tried to publish under a pseudonym, she barely made a ripple.  Along the same lines, DON’T write for trends.  By the time you write and publish, the trend will have moved on.  Write what interests you.

2.       If you really want to improve, give and receive critiques.  I can’t even stress how important this is.  I spent years working on my craft.  I’d edited, revised and rewritten my novel five or six times and I was convinced that I’d gotten it as perfect as it was going to get.  My first beta partner tore apart the first chapter and left me in tears.  There’s two things you can do at that point.  Either give up, or prove them wrong.  I can’t tell you how grateful I am that her words, though harsh, made me want to try again.  I rewrote the chapter and was astounded by the change.  Same thing with giving critiques.  I’ve had people tell me something in a critique (ex: less telling, more showing) but it didn’t make any sense until I read someone else’s piece and realized what it meant.  Seeing someone else’s work will help you realize what your own is missing – either in a good way or the bad.

3.       Find some good writing buddies.  Writing is so much more rewarding when you have a writing group.  Whether you meet in person, online or anything in-between, knowing that you’re not alone will always pull you forward.  If someone in your group succeeds, you’ll see that it’s possible.  If someone fails, they have a natural net to buoy them up.  Next month is NaNoWriMo, and each region meets in person to celebrate and write together.  Go sign up!

4.       Write every day.  Like anything else, if you don’t practice, you will lose it.  That’s not a threat, it’s just the truth.  The best way to improve and learn how to write is to write.

 How about the rest of you?  Any good advice for someone thinking about picking up that pen for the first time?

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Finding the Drive

So I have a secret.  I haven’t written.  In almost 2 months.  It’s not that I didn’t plan on it, or that I didn’t have any projects going.  In fact, I was working on a major rewrite of my Blue WIP. 
It’s so easy to take a day off, maybe two.  Then two days stretch into a week, and a week becomes a month. 

At first, it was torture, knowing that I needed to write, wanting to write, but not having the time.  But as the weeks passed, it became easier to justify the time off.  I found other things to do, shows to watch, people to hang out with, even stuff to do at work to keep me too busy to write.

Two nights ago, as I was talking to my husband about NaNoWriMo, he mentioned that I would really struggle because of how long I’d gone without writing.  I decided to use the rest of the month of October to build up my writing strength. 

Though easier said than done.

Last night, I struggled to rewrite a scene.  It took me almost 2 hours, which for me, is nowhere near par.  It took me almost an hour just to start.  I reread the sections I’d already finished, worked through what I wanted to write, even forced myself to start and restart several times. 

Tonight again, I’m going to work on a new scene.  There’s a whole new section that I need to add, and I’m hoping that writing from a blank page will help me find the drive and excitement again. 

Either way, I know what’s going to help me to write.  It’s writing.  I have to write daily until I find that drive, that desire that makes me want to never stop.  The fuel for writing is writing.  How crazy is that?

What do you do when you get in a writing slump?

Monday, October 6, 2014



See this new badge? 

That’s right!  I have the privilege of being one of the Co-MLs in my region – in its brand new, inaugural year. 

I can’t even tell you how excited I am for NaNoWriMo.  Last year was an absolute blast.  I really wish I hadn’t taken so much time to actually participate.  I’d heard about it for years, and I’d always wondered what it would be like…but I never had the courage to actually try.

The greatest advantage to NaNoWriMo is the community.  Have you ever heard that writing is a lonely profession?  That’s because it can be.  I mean…other than the imaginary people that traipse around our heads.  I was a lone writer for years, all through high school and through college.  I never went out to find anyone else who had the same interests or who knew what I was going through.
Then I started following some writing blogs, which led to finding writing communities.  I stayed on the outside, on the fringe.  It took me way too long to actually participate in any of the communities though. 

Then I joined NaNoWriMo.  That was the first writing group I’d ever been in where I had face to face interactions with other writers.  And it wasn’t just people who were like me, there were teenagers, college students, mothers, and fathers – every kind of person imaginable.  But there was something that connected all of us and made us into a united group. 

Writing can be a lonely profession, but that doesn’t mean that it has to be.  Any of you thinking about participating in NaNoWriMo?  Do it!  Even if you don’t make the 50,000, there’s a benefit of finding others in your area that will encourage you to continue writing.

So what are you waiting for?  Let me know if you want to be writing buddies!

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Using Real Life

The other night, hubby wanted to go out and eat to celebrate his first day of school.  While we were eating, the staff sang happy birthday to a guy who’d arrived with several of his friends.  Right when they finished, another group announced that they were there to celebrate a birthday too –- a group of girls.  The staff and her friends sang to her, making sure that their volume and enthusiasm exceeded that of the guy’s birthday song.

As we were watching the dueling birthdays, my husband leaned over to me and said, “Wouldn’t it be a cool story if after dinner they talked and then connected?  Years from now, that could be the story of how they met?”

I agreed that it would be quite a story, and then I started thinking about the NaNoWriMo story that I’m working on for November.  I hadn’t quite figured out how my two main characters, a husband and wife, meet.  As I thought about it more, I realized that my husband had given me a perfect backstory for my characters.

Makes me wonder what would have happened if we hadn’t gone out to dinner that night.  What kind of alternate story would my characters be experiencing in November?  It’s great to be in my own brain, coming up with characters, situations and even settings, but there are moments that living in the world and watching real people can give even more insight.

Have any of you used real life inspiration recently?