I now have a Patreon, mostly focused on writing. Here’s a link to my latest post about why you should support it: https://www.patreon.com/posts/three-reasons-to-8367783
It turns out a lot of people, myself included, like to call themselves writers. But the secret to being a writer, as it turns out, isn’t in the name but in the doing.
As a creative person, I find it’s easy to get lost in the notion of creativity. I dream things. I imagine things. I talk about things. But for more often than I would like, I fail to execute on the effort.
This is a common refrain among creative types, I know. There are all kinds of reasons it turns out that way, yes. But none of them change the fact that, if you’re not actually creating, it’s really a waste of time.
Us creative types often forget our creativity is work. It’s a job. It’s one percent ecstasy and ninety-nine percent drudgery, like most other things in life. But that one percent is fuel for our souls, and that’s enough to cover the rest.
So, write, writer! Paint, painter. Compose, composer. Sing, singer. Do what you said you were going to do. And keep doing it.
Or, so you wrote 50,000 words. Now what?
I am being honest when I say how easy NaNoWriMo was for me this year. Of course, saying it was easy is a relative claim, but the fact is that this latest 50,000 words came out with less struggle than I have ever experienced writing anything long or short. I suppose that means I have somehow matured as a writer, but the reality of that notion remains to be seen.
The reason I think that is because the endeavor this latest story represents only begins with the effort of NaNoWriMo. It turns out that, as a writer, I am far more like a painter adding layers to a painting than I am a sculptor carving away stone or clay. What this means is that the story I have now still needs a lot of work to be the kind of story you’d expect to see in a book.
What does that mean? Well, first, I’m going to let it just sit for a bit. That may mean several days or several weeks, but after having expended so much effort, I find that it is good to just let the story age some before I do anything else with it.
Second, I have to compile the writing I’ve done into a readable format. It turns out that I wrote the entire story as notes in Evernote. This is basically that modern equivalent of writing a story on note cards, and it gives me the advantage of being able to easily reorder scenes as I go through my first rewrite process.
Third, I will do my first edit/rewrite. I know a lot of authors like to print out and mark up copies of their rough draft, but as I’ve noted, I tend to write like a painter rather than a sculptor, so my rough draft tends to be a lot more like a very long outline than a true story. Once I’ve completed that rewrite, I will print the story out, read it through, then mark it up.
Fourth, I will take that marked draft and type the whole story back into a new document. Yes, that means I will write the entire story again, using my draft as the source. I know a lot of people wonder why I would expend that much effort, but what I have discovered is that typing the story again forces me to revisit and rethink every single word. It is the best editing tool I have ever encountered for the way I write. Depending on the story–this happens often with short fiction I write–I could end up repeating this process more than once.
Along the way, I may show my efforts to several people or groups of people to get comments on what they think about the story as it progresses. I find that it is good to get those views along the way because other people tend to notice the plot holes I’m ignoring or other issues the story might have for a reader.
Finally, once I’ve edited and rewritten, and tweaked enough, I will take the plunge to try to get the story published. I’ve never reached this step with any long fiction I’ve ever written, and that’s saying something given that I have at least four stories somewhere along the process I describe above.
So, there is a brief outline of what happens after NaNoWriMo. Hopefully, this year’s success will prove as easy to see all the way through as it was to write for the first time.
There is an aspect to science fiction some members of the scientific world seem to have forgotten about: most often, science fiction is speculative fiction. That is, it is not always a story about what is, or even what we imagine could be, but rather a story about what might happen if something was.
I know that last idea is hard for some because science fiction, unfortunately, came to have science in the name. Depending on who you ask, that name came about because its writers wanted to define their fiction as describing a universe bounded by physical laws and to differentiate it from fantasy. Certainly all along, the lines between sci-fi and fantasy have blurred, but I’m not even really talking about those works. Yes, there is even hard science fiction wherein authors chose to constrain themselves within the boundaries of what we believe to be true, and that’s fine.
However, the fact remains that the great body of what comes to be called science fiction isn’t really about science at all. Instead, it’s about imagining a world similar to our own where different rules now apply because we’ve discovered new ones. It’s possible that those rules may be implausible based on our current understanding of science, but that fact does not represent a detraction from the ideas being explored in the work.
Moreover, the demand that science fiction adhere to our current understanding of science undermines one of science fiction’s most powerful benefits: its ability to fire the imagination to see beyond the constraints of what be believe to be the rules to discover rules we did not understand existed before that moment.
To me, the benefit of science fiction’s ability to speculate isn’t to engender a, “That’s not possible,” response so much as it is to bring out, “But what if it is?”
I understand, for scientists who trade in the currency of what we believe to be true now, that kind of speculation can seem counter productive. But for society as a whole, it’s part of the fuel that drives the engine of imagination, innovation, and advancement. Let’s stop putting a limit on what might be possible in works of fiction so that we can find out if those ideas might be possible in fact.
I had a great idea for NaNoWriMo this year, one I conceived of months ago and have thought about a lot since then. Unfortunately, thinking is all I did about it, with the result being that my attempt at writing 50,000 words in 30 days died almost before it began.
There is something of a common problem among writers (and I’m not going to get into the philosophical, psychological, and practical battles here about what defines a writer) in that we often don’t write. We want to write. We think about writing. We talk about writing. Then we don’t actually write.
For the past year or so, this has been my shortcoming in the extreme. I actually really do love writing. I crave it, to be honest. I feel more complete when I am writing. Then for a variety of reasons, I don’t actually write.
My caution, then, and my encouragement for all of us flailing writers out there is to not let another November sneak up on us with a years worth of wishing about writing without any writing actually having been done. I’m not saying it will be easy or that it will be good, but if you’re like me, you need to do it.
I know it’s a while until November, but experience says it’s never really too early for one to get ready for National Novel Writing Month. For those who might have missed it, NaNoWriMo is an event put on by the Office of Letters and Light that encourages people to write 50,000 words in 30 days in an effort to encourage people to write. It’s a lot more difficult than it might sound, it turns out.
I’ve attempted NaNoWriMo six times starting in 2007 and achieved the 50k word goal in 2010. In fact, achieving that goal in 2010 reinforced for me something I’ve come to realize and have tried to avoid since I started taking writing classes in 2006: I’m not a novelist.
Instead, what I have discovered is that I am a short storiest. A really short storiest. In fact, I’ve found my comfort zone lies at around 2500 words, and writing 10k works feels like trying to move the earth. Why does that matter? Because if one wants to succeed as a writer, the best way to do so is to write to one’s strengths.
Of course, success in writing is relative. Another thing I’ve realized along the way is that my long-time dream of being a successful, published writer is probably just that: a dream. Some might find that sad, but what I’ve realized along the way is that I write because I have to get this stuff out of my head. If someone else likes it, I’m glad, but I like not having these ideas slowly drive me insane even more.
So, what does that mean for NaNoWriMo 2015? Basically, cheating. My plan is to write a thematic anthology of stories, more or less 30 stories in 30 days all centered around a single topic. For me, it’s the best of both worlds: I try to write 50k words in 30 days, but I do it by writing 2700ish word short stories everyday for 30 days.
I’m looking forward to the challenge. And to the relief. More will follow…
If you are a writer in the Daytonish, Ohio area and are looking to interact with other writers, especially for the purpose of critique and honing your writing skills, you should consider checking out the Western Ohio Writers Association. They meet on the first Thursday of every month at the Fairborn Community Center. The meetings (granted I’ve attended but one) seem to be focused on genuine critique and feedback. I plan to attend the next meeting in February. You can also find the group on Facebook.
I have failed at NaNoWriMo 2011, yet as harsh as that might sound, I consider such a failure a great success. Why celebrate failure? Because sometimes we have to fail to learn to succeed.
For me, this year was an attempt to explore the process of writing rather than to write. What I discovered over the past 26 days is that I very much do have a process when it comes to writing, and when I follow that process, it’s magic. When I don’t, I’m destined to fail.
I won’t bore you with the details of what I’ve discovered about how I write simply because I believe that process is unique to every writer. But, now I know more about mine, and because I do, I have a greater chance at succeeding in the future.
The takeaway from this is that it is as important to know how we write as it is to know how to write. We can read a hundred books and go to a hundred workshops, but until we stop and understand what works for us as individuals, we cannot succeed.
So, find out about yourself. It’ll help you and it will definitely help your writing.
Writing has to be one of the most agonizing undertakings anyone can set his mind to, especially since so many people do not consider it a “real” job. That real job question is important because it factors into the reason that so many talented writers find themselves writing in the wee hours of the morning or night, on their lunch breaks, or at other most inopportune times in between their efforts to feed, clothe, and shelter themselves.
I’m not saying that writers should be getting handouts, yet I cannot help but notice that the creative enterprise in the United States suffers from a clear lack of public support, even from people who know and condone what creative people are doing. Whether someone is building the next social media giant, useful technology, the next great work of art, or the great American novel, the public romance is of creative people living in creative slums clawing their way toward fantastic success by the sheer force of their own will.
A lot of great ideas die that way.
If I am not saying that creative people should be getting handouts, what am I saying? Well, frankly, I’m saying they should be getting support. For example, 15 days into NaNoWriMo, the Office of Letters and Light has only raised $431,982.51 of its $1.1 million goal to help writers young and old realize their creative gifts through events like NaNoWriMo and Script Frenzy. While the laudable organization Kickstarter has raised millions for start-up creative ideas, it should be raising billions.
Before the 20th century, it was a common thing for people to support the work of creative people–not just writers or artists, but engineers, inventors, and entrepreneurs of all kinds–in their efforts to create with things as simple as encouragement and as significant as room and board and financial support. We’ve lost that ideal as a society, both in the United States and in the West in general, and so creativity is dying a slow, painful death.
I am not telling anyone they have to do anything, but I am asking everyone to consider something. Think about the things you enjoy, your favorite television shows, movies, books, magazines, works of art, buildings, or whatever. Now, ask yourself how any of them could exist if you do not support their existence. Now, consider how your next favorite thing can possibly come into existence without some kind of support. Do you see a place for yourself in that consideration?
PS: You can be one of the people who makes a difference, and you’ll get a benefit out of it too. If you want to read the final product of my NaNoWriMo 2011 effort, you can help make that happen by donating to NaNoWriMo and the Office of Letters and Light through my fundraising page. If I reach $250, I will post what I wrote for NaNoWriMo on December 1st, and if I reach $500, I will also post an expanded version of my preview story January 1st.