I want to reiterate: The Path to Becoming a Writer

9 03 2010

I feel like I need to return to the wisdom of earlier posts and talk about ewoks… I mean rules. Let’s distill the wisdom into a powerful brown liquor of writerly insight… delicious insight.

Before I do that I want to visit a question a reader, Mr. Matt S. asked me. What would I enjoy more- partying with the ewoks a la post Jedi victory, or whoop it up in Bespin with Lando. Here is my answer:

In answering your question, two distinct answers come to mind, one historical, the other current. In my youth, before my realization that the ewoks were really just the cocaine addled fantasy of a spent George Lucas, I would have said cloud city, but it would have taken some thought. Now my answer is a little more mature. I would go to the Enterprise E (sovereign class) and booted up a ‘party with Lando in cloud city’ program on the post borg designed holodeck and viola: why don’t girls like me?

Now, let’s review the road to writerhood.

Me, hard at work.

1: Read. I will say that if you could do only one thing for your writing education it would be to read. I think that with the right sort of attention, you could make a good writer our of yourself without anything else. A bit of advice on this- don’t just read genre. Get outside of your style and comfort zone. Read and read often. I typically read two short stories per day and am juggling two to six books. It is that important.

2: Workshop, workshop, workshop. Other than reading, there is nothing more beneficial for ones writing than engaging in the workshop process. No individual, no mentor or tutor or laureled master can ever give you the type of instinctual awareness of audience that you will gain from a committed workshop experience. Generally speaking a workshop runs in one of two ways- academic and ad-hoc, the difference between the two being how the workshop is moderated. The workshop give you a chance to take your work in every stage from rough draft through finished product and get immediate feedback. More importantly, you get to answer your critics. The ability to engage a reader and make her explain why she didn’t “believe in your protagonist,” is worth its weight in gold. You get to defend your work and get practice describing what you were aiming at.

3: Get the tools for the job. If you were a painter, you would need brush and paint. A composer might benefit from a piano and some staff paper. The writer’s instrument is not a pen, it’s the language. You need to learn your own language- both the words and the rules that govern their use.

4: Work will set you free. More people consider themselves writers than ever write. This is work, lot’s of work. I find it best to consider myself as never getting published again, never making another dime. Then I write the stories I want, for myself and whatever other unfortunates have the misfortune to accept my emails with attachments. (though after that “cheap mexican viagra” malware sent everyone in my mailbox an advert for same, I think people are a bit leery of getting my messages.)

5. Talk about what you are doing. I was a very… private writer for most of my younger years. This has changed. This blog was an attempt at growing as a writer by learning to talk about my shame- i.e. my life as a science fiction writer. More importantly however, I’ve been talking to friends about my work, sending rough drafts to people I respect (but usually never get back to me which I take as heart rending rejection… you know who you are). You don’t always gain anything, but I believe that in the process you undergo a sort of ‘existence before essence’ existential transformation that can’t hurt. Say you are and you shall be, so to speak.

Now some nuts and bolts:

Its= It that belongs to something or someone                                                    It’s= Contraction of It is

There= She is over there Their= Wow, their legs really stopped up the works

And finally- spell check and grammar check are not your friends. In fact they will hurt you on the words that you really do know how to spell, because those words are short, often have multiple clause and tense specific forms, and are easily misspelled as other words. Sure, you will get australopithecine right, but an editor isn’t going to care so much about a word they can’t even spell, they are going to care more about:

lose instead of loose a instead of at through in place of threw                                                                                                      fir for fire… you get the point,  basic typing mistakes where your brain allows cognates and mirror words or even fragments of words that are still words unto themselves. Do you know how many words start with the? You get typing, or scribbling, and the brain just let’s go of many of the normal rules. I can’t count the time I have substituted know for no! That’s crazy. It doesn’t make sense. I’m writing more letters for a mistake, but my beady little brain just let’s that pass.  These mistakes will hide like snipe in the bushes of your work, and editors do not like snipe hunting. Don’t embarrass yourself. Take the time and:

I share my literary thoughts with my lady... and make her hold my "inspiration candle."

That is my brief primer and that is the Science of Fiction. I hope you will all forgive the delay in a new post. Like many of us, I have had a mother hospitalized, a bunch of job interviews, a girl that missed me, a dachshund that missed me, and some real nice weather that I didn’t want to miss. I want to thank all my new readers that have come on board this last several days, I don’t know where you all came from, but come back! I have a really fun interview with Chris East, editor of Futurismic coming up next and I must say that his answers were good enough that I didn’t even need follow ups. Take care and I leave you with this quote from The Mighty Boosh:

Taste my chewy justice, chomping down on your heart.

Till next time!

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3 responses

21 03 2010
atsiko

I agree with most of the sentiments here, especially #5. I think blogging or forums are some of the best ways to not only discuss writing, but to become aware of what you actually think.

On the issue of workshops, however, I have to disagree. A growing trend is the use of beta readers for latter drafts as opposed to an involved workshopping process. I think this is a very healthy tendency.

Workshops–while some can be useful, especially as you move past the mid and end drafts–encourage the idea that every story you write can be polished and worked into usable material, and it discourages the concept of practice. By workshopping an early draft of a project, you are damming up your growth as a writer, and damaging the integrity of the story.

I think that material should only be presented to a workshop after it is the best you can make it. This means that comments and discussion will focus on work produced at the top of your game, and not focus on things like silly plot-holes that you would have fixed in the second draft had you done it.

21 03 2010
silverstairs

You are absolutely correct in you appraisal of the shortcomings of most workshops. Specifically I find that the most common type of workshop, the academic workshop, tends toward this pitfall. I am less interested in the school workshop than I am in a circle of interested writers who are bringing their best work to the table for honest interactive criticism. The notion of beta-readers is spot on. It could be a growing trend; I don’t know personally, but either way it is a method of refinement I use often. I have a picked cadre of writers and friends that get my early drafts and I find their input invaluable. So kudos Atsiko! By the by, your blog is a good read.

22 03 2010
atsiko

Glad you like the blog, Andrew.

You make a good point about the difference between academic and writerly workshops.

I know that in highschool, the “workshops” we had were all for rough drafts that most people finished just before the workshop day, and we never went back to them after.

College is likely to be more sophisticated, but I have not yet taken English classes of any sort, owing to my major being Linguistics, with language classes and my LSP credits to get to first. If I’m lucky, I might find time to take the SFF creative writing course on offer. I’ll have to learn a bit more about it first, though. Like how they workshop! 😉

Beta readers are definitely an emerging trend. Many published authors have spoken/written/blogged about their “first readers” or betas, especially among the debut crowd. There’re also critique partners of course.

The workshop is actually still on the rise as well, at least in the genres I work in. I know some people going to Clarion, and Viable Paradise. Of course, these are slightly different than your average critique group or online workshop.

The secret to a good workshop is being able to fit it to your goals, and that means screening established workshops or starting your own in a way that meets your needs, and the needs of the other group members.

Online workshops can be more risky. Some are good, some not, and some just don’t fit a particular writer’s style. Like most aspects of writing, you listen to the advice you’re given–good or bad–and then do whatever suits you best.

And yes, I am artificially conflating worshops and critique groups in some ways, but a great deal of the time the two are very similar. (And we could write a book about how they are different. You’ve got to love the arts.)

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