Feb 5, 2010

Talking about Writing - Getting Started

I've published one collection of short stories so far.  I have one novel that is somewhere between "close to the end" and "catching a second wind."  Why am I telling you this?  Because, I'm just a normal, everyday guy.  Just like you.  Unless you're a woman, in which case I should probably say, "I am a normal, everyday person."  Then again, the implication is that I am normal, whatever that means.  I digress, as I often do.

My point is this: Anyone can write.  And, in my opinion, unlike the Ratatouille saying "Anyone can, but not everyone should," I say that everyone should write at least once.  Write some short stories, write some poems, write a novel, write some of each, whatever hits your fancy.

For the purposes of this post, I will concentrate on the "starter's blocks" that often come long before anyone sits down to start hammering out their own creativity onto the typewritten page (or computer screen). 

Block #1 - "I don't have anything to say" - Some writing guides would argue that the fact you just said you had nothing to say was, in fact, something to say.  Here's my take on it: You only think you have nothing to say.  We all have plenty to say every day - we talk to our friends, our co-workers, neighbors, families, the checkout clerk at Wal-Mart that decides to share every detail of her life when all you really want is to go home... Lots of things to say (or hear) from people you encounter each day.  So, it's not that you don't have anything to say, but you might counter here (and most likely are as you read this) with Block #2.

Block #2 - "I don't have anything interesting to say" - Ah!  We have exposed one of the fears of writing - rejection - and we haven't even started writing yet!  Think back to the last book or story you read.  What made you read it?  What made you want to read it?  Right now, you may be thinking, "It was sad, scary, poignant - interesting!" Well, I would hope so, or else what was the point, right?  Now, if you have the book handy, look through it.  What do you see?  How is it written?  What does the author do that made it an interesting read?  Usually, the answer is: nothing special.  In truth, the story in the book was probably a series of events with a handful of people that led you down a path.  Think about talking to folks you know.  How do those stories usually unfold?  They usually go something like this:
---Person 1 (call her Patty): "You should have seen Jim last night!"
---Person 2 (call her Rachel): "What happened!?"
---Patty: "We had gone out to Dino's for supper, and when the waiter brought our water glasses to the table, he tripped and spilled the drinks all over Jim!"
---Rachel: (gasps, putting her hand to her mouth), "No way!" she says as she starts to laugh. "What happened after that!?"
---Patty: "Oh my gosh!  Jim is sitting there, water is pouring down his head into his lap. Oh, he was wearing the new shirt I got him for Christmas! I just realized that!"

You see where I'm going, right?  Just an office conversation.  Were you interested? Would you like to know what happened next?  Maybe. Depends on you as a reader to determine your own interest level.  What about me as the writer?  How do I make that story interesting?  I feed you tidbits.  What, in my few lines, would you like to know?  What's the restaurant look like?  What do Patty and Rachel look like?  What kind of person is Jim?  How does he react?  You can do the same thing.  It may take some practice, but you can do it.  The easiest way to start?  Write an actual conversation as best you remember it - use one that made you laugh or brought tears to your eyes.  Believe me, if it affected you, it will affect (that is, be interesting) to others.  And, that brings us to another block.

Block #3 - "I've heard people say, 'write what you know,' but I don't know anything." - I hate that advice.  To me, for me, it is the worst possible thing to say to someone.  Because it is too generic.  It's like most fortunes from a cookie.  When I write, I usually have no idea what's going to come out.  Then again, sometimes I have the topic or maybe the people, and things grow from there.  But, what do I know?  Do I know about hanging on a wooden cross because I had been caught and thrown in jail?  Do I know what hanging on the cross next to Jesus Christ was like?  Of course not.  Do I know what winning the lottery is like?  I wish!  But, no.  Now, can I imagine what things might be like sitting in a jail cell as a crowd of people begin shouting for some guy to killed?  Why not, right?  Can I imagine what winning the lottery would be like?  Heck yeah, almost everyone I know does that!  Writing, for me and I hope to show that it can be for you too, is a way to express the imagination we have running around in our heads.  Forget "what you know."  I am a Technology Coordinator - a techie.  None of my stories (that I can recall) have anything to do with techie stuff.  Why not?  Because that's "what I know" and I have yet to imagine a story involving techie 'stuff.'  Forget "what you know."  I do like something else I heard, though: "Write what you think you might feel, or what you might want to feel."  Ah, now wait... There may be something there.  Pick a scenario (say, winning the lottery), make up a person's name.  What would that person do if s/he won the lottery?  "Yeah, but," you may be thinking, "do you know how many other people have written about that very same thing!?"  My response: at least one less than should have because YOU haven't yet.  What would that person feel?  Who would want your character's money?  Does the person have kids, a spouse, an ex-? What do they think about your character? About your character winning?  Happy? Jealous? Faking happiness but really jealous?  Would someone kill for that money?  Of course, it doesn't have to go that way - YOU make it go the way you want (or, go the way the story takes you).

Block #4 - "What if I am no good?  What if no one reads it?" - This is the block that kept me from publishing for more than ten years.  Frankly, if I had not heard about Lulu.com from a friend, I might still be hiding behind this block.  Most of us fear some kind of rejection.  So, how do we overcome it?  Stephen King did it by hanging every rejection letter he got on a nail in his wall.  As time wore on, the nail was replace by a railroad spike.  Yes, that's right. And, yes, I am talking about THAT Stephen King.  He has said that to this day, he keeps those rejections.  I don't know that I could handle that.  But, I have found there are several things one can do to help combat this block. 
  1. Find someone you trust - a family member, a friend, a co-worker - and let them know that you have started writing and that you'd like to bounce a story or two off them.  Let me tell you, you need to select someone that you don't mind brutal honesty.  Especially if they are not writers themselves.  BUT, even if that one person doesn't like the story, it's not the end.  Why not?  They may not like your style, or the subject matter, or the font you used. Seriously.  What you want from them, though, is a review/critique of the writing itself - wording, rhythm, etc.
  2. Find a fellow writer or editor via local college or social network - Heck, ask me.  I can't speak for all writer, of course, but I'd love to read someone else's writing.  A fellow writer is much more apt to critique/criticize the WRITING and not the WRITER.  There is nothing wrong with YOU as a person just because you have to work on technique, phrasing, pacing, etc.  I think all writers strive for improvement. Or I hope so.
  3. Take the "Who cares" approach - not an easy one because it means you are letting your ego take a hike and you are going to put yourself out there regardless.  That's the approach I took.  Once I got on Lulu.com (and there are plenty of other self-publishing sites to choose from, or you can submit to publishers in the traditional manner), I decided that I was going to put my stories out there and let them rise or fall.  Does that mean I don't care if no one buys the book?  Of course not! I would LOVE to see a million sales.  Or even a hundred.  But, what mattered to me was that I did it - I wrote some stories, reviewed them, edited them, then published them.  In my case, I decided to offer up the PDF version for free.  Why on earth would I just give away my hard work?  I figure there are people who will check it out simply based on curiosity.  And, I figure some folks prefer to have a book-in-hand.  I know of one person that bought a hard copy after reading "Hero" in the PDF.  You can do the same thing - put it out there and let it ride.  Perhaps knowing you have something in print will light a fire to write more.  Or, maybe it helps cross one thing off your "bucket list."  Either way, you can tell the world "I'm Published!"
I've only covered a few of the blocks people may use when first starting out on the road to authorship, but hopefully I've given you a few ideas on how to poke holes in those blocks.  I'm not saying my advice will bulldoze the blocks, just saying that if you remove enough bricks, the roadblock will fall down all by itself.

Feel free to comment, criticize, critique, etc.  After all, I'm just an everyday guy trying to help.  And, I'll be happy to edit this post to reflect the comments I feel should be incorporated.

1 comment:

  1. That was interesting - and some of it is not specifically true for writing, but for life.
    Thanks for sharing!