Wednesday, November 28, 2012

What They Don't Tell You About Writing

What they don't tell you about writing is the massive chore it is, even for writers. Many times a week I sit down at my desk to write, but nothing happens. Although I enjoy the finished creation, the writing itself takes a whole lot of energy. It's utterly exhausting.

Sometimes, too, the words don't come. I sit at my desk, fingers poised over the keys, and stare at the monitor in helpless frustration. My mind is as empty as the processor before me--this is the infamous "writer's block" every writer learns to fear, I change the scene, the character, the point of view--nothing works. Nothing inspires me.

Whenever this happens, I tell myself I can't leave my chair until I write something. All I have to do is convince my hands to move. Even if my words are crap, what matters is that I'm getting down words. I have plenty of time to edit much later.

Writing is tremendous work. It's hard to make progress without taking breaks. The problem with breaks? They can derail your focus. The passage of time in itself is a nightmare. Five minutes go by and it feels like an hour. I'm surprised when I look at the clock. I'm also mortified. How could I have made so little progress in an hour?

What they don't tell you is that writing is work.

Some of the cliches ring truer than I'd like. Writers are often impoverished creatures fueled by caffeine and a shot at immortality. Some are fueled by drugs and booze. Some even take the plunge headfirst into addiction.

It's also true that writers usually suffer from depression at least once in their lives. Writers are observant, curious, and introspective. We see the bad things in society, and we see that no one is trying to fix them. We wonder why the worst things happen to the nicest people. We're spending so much time with our thoughts, we forget there is also a bright side to life.

Writers are more prone to notice little pleasures. We notice the young man helping the young woman. We see the woman carrying someone's groceries. Humanity has a silver lining. We can, with practice, see the love in this sad life.

What they don't tell you about writing--not enough, anyway--is that it can improve. You'll always be able to polish your work. There is always hope, no matter what. With a lot of practice, you'll get better. You'll soon be seeing the bright side of life.

Writing is an instrument for reconciliation. It soothes the dreamer, the creator, and the optimist in us. It reveals the context of humanity in the grand scheme of the universe, and it helps us come to terms with our temporary being.

More than anything, though, writing nourishes the soul.

What they don't tell you about writing is that it makes up both the pit and the pinnacle of human existence.

At the end of the day, that's what makes the work worth it.

Friday, November 23, 2012

The 4 "A"s of Characterization

Every writer understands the importance of creating believable characters. Story revolves around people--therefore, characters are arguably more important than plot. Whether you're writing a novel, short story, memoir, or personal essay, it's vital that you make your actors as three-dimensional as possible. Consider the following four "A"s of characterization:

1. Actions. What risks has the character taken in the past? How has he or she treated family and friends? What about enemies? What hobbies does he or she enjoy? What has your character done? What is he or she doing in the story?

2. Attitudes. How does the character feel about gay marriage, abortion, religion, and other  hot-button issues? What are your characters' views on the world?

3. Artifacts. What are your characters' prized possessions? What shelter do they have? What cars do they drive? What's the first thing they'd save in the event of a fire?

4. Accounts. What are some noteworthy anecdotes about these characters? What do other people have to say about them? What rumors have been circulated?

This is a rough list of just a few questions you can use to generate information for your four A's. If you want better characters, give this system a try. And good luck.

What do you think of this system? How do you like to flesh out your characters?

Monday, November 12, 2012

The Importance of Daily Writing

If you've ever been an athlete or have known any athletes, you know that they practice often in order to improve their strength, skill, and stamina. When game day comes around, the football player wants to score a touchdown, so he runs drills and plays scrimmages to prepare himself for the real test. If athletes don't practice, nothing improves.

The same is true with writing. Unless you write a little each and every day, you can't expect to see any improvement.

Before I started writing every day, I was unhappy with my prose. I couldn't figure out why parts of it looked so clumsy and unskilled. Once I made a conscious effort to not only read more but to also write at least 500 words each day, I saw drastic results. My writing improved, my confidence soared, and I developed a deeper appreciation for the craft of written language.

How much should you write each day? Honestly, it's up to you. Stephen King pumps out no less than ten pages each day, but that terrifies me, so I aim for 500 words of anything before I go to bed. A lot of beginning authors start with 350 words. Some aim much higher, aspiring for King's lofty standards. Still others write not by word count, but by time. I know writers who set a timer for fifteen or thirty minutes and pound away until the buzzer goes off.

You should choose whichever system works the best for you. The only thing that matters is that you write every day, even when you feel uninspired.

What do you think? How much do you try to write each day?
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