Thoughts on Writing


Brandon Sanderson is an author I respect. Not because I like his writing. On the contrary, I don’t find his writing necessarily to my taste, but more because of what he has done with the craft. and how he ultimately offers advice to those who are also climbing the mountain he has summited over and again. I am in the middle of reading of some of his stuff on his page and he has offered this one particular gem that I have decided to pull out and disseminate.

Becoming a successful author is about practice, and I believe that the most important thing to learn while practicing is to understand yourself as a writer. – Sanderson

Very true. Just a couple of sentences before this he offered another piece of advice which is to learn how your own process works as a writer and do that. He even references George R. R. Martin’s analogy of the difference between the “gardeners” and the “architects” out there – those who write and let the story tell itself and those who design the story. Either way, all authors tend to agree that there’s no one way to the end of the maze. The point is that you keep walking and find out how to get there yourself.

I’ve been writing fiction since 2008. I’ve been able to have a few pieces of poetry published (though, there’s one I’ve looked for and it’s gone – the publication went under), as well as a short story. But that seemed a while back. I still write and I’m working on the next project. But the hard part isn’t the book, or the short story, or the essay, or the poem, or whatever. It’s not the words. It’s in the strength/the pull of the tale. It’s in the motivation. I think it is an alluring endeavor – to be an author. To be called an author, a writer. There’s a sense of sophistication, even panache about one’s whose work is to wield words as a profession. But, it has to be for you. Some people just won’t want to do it. Let’s face it – when it comes down to it, there’s on one else who is going to write the piece that you are going to write. No one who is going to tell the tale that you are going tot tell. No one else. There is you, and that is all. So, the question then becomes, what do you do with this time? There is a lot that goes on in one’s life, and at a certain point, you reach a place where much of your time in the day is stolen away. But you do have blocks. And these blocks of time you have, in some fashion or another, carved out for yourself. Time is made, after all; not had. Now, you have this block of time. What do you do with it?

You just write and see what happens then.

But, as I’ve alluded to Sanderson, writing to the end is summiting a mountain. It’s only about desire, really, like anything. You want to ride a bike, solve a Rubix cube, learn to juggle, write code, do landscaping, et cetera, it is always all about desire.

Once you have that, once you’ve found the wall you would like to break down, you then find your tool and start hitting. You practice. You fall down, you get injured, you grow tired, hungry, weary, weak. You begin to question why you are doing this. You know some chips of cement are falling from the wall, but you’re not sure how thick the wall is. Are you sure this is what you want?

Most stop here. It’s not right; it’s not wrong; it just is. Most stop.

Those who continue, continue because it’s what they want to do. They’re not concerned about the result. They are concerned with simply doing. Some have planned it all out, others simply keep the work going, and at a certain point, it is finished. The final chips of concrete fall, the wall is broken, and the project is complete.

This is where I am. There is a lot of concrete on the floor. I’m not sure how much more of the wall there is left, and there are times in which I stop hammering because I need a break. I am not sure if I’m hammering the right place. Is it the right wall? Am I using the right tools? I exhale deeply, closing my eyes.

Then, when I’ve rested and I’m ready, I open my eyes again. The wall is still there, as am I. I pick up my hammer and return to the work.

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Thank you for the “Excuses.”


(*Below is my thank-you letter to the cast of Writing Excuses – a true source of writing inspiration, humor, and kinship of craft. If you want to be a writer, and have trouble with inspiration, please consider this cast.)

—-

Dan, Brandon, Mary, and Howard,

Thank you.

My name is Levi and I have been listening to Writing Excuses since its inception. Right from Season 1 all the way to now, I have loved spending this time with you. This is not to take up a lot of your time, but I wanted to thank you for the inspiration you have given me in my writing life.

I have been writing since 2008 after reading Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist, believing that I could do the same (maybe not as well, of course, but similarly). That I could be a writer. I grew up enmeshed in epic fantasy and science-fiction, and wanted to create and exist in those same worlds in my writing as an adult.

But I didn’t know how or where to start.

So, I picked a direction, something. I would read interviews with several novelists who I had admired growing up, articles and tips online about how to dive in, and I sat in on a writing group in the local area. But it was when a friend recommended Writing Excuses that I found a new series of fires had lit within me. From one episode to the next, I found myself listening to them four, five, six at a time. At that time, you were already into Season 3 or so, which allowed me to download handfuls of previous episodes and binge-listen to my delight. I had them on my phone, twenty-some episodes all locked and loaded at a time. If I needed to pause, I could pause, and I would come back to it and pick up where I left off.

And as I listened, I learned. Character, setting, plot, structure, language, dialogue, and on and on. And the two best parts were that the show is relatable, and maintains its level of interest. Let’s be honest, when you talk about writing, you can either make it appealing or not. In this way, I have to thank you on how very low you keep the level of suck. You have humor, you have varying personalities, you’re all very accomplished and have loads of anecdotes of experience to share with us, and unlike many other authors, who may carry an air of conceit, you treat us in a way that not only shows that you know where we’re coming from and what we’re feeling as beginner/amateur writers, but (and most-importantly) that you believe in us and encourage us to dig, and push, and create.

Brandon, thank you. My brother and I are both writers and huge fans of the Wheel of Time. His background of sci-fi and fantasy is heavier than mine, and when he says that the Way of Kings is the finest fantasy series he’s ever read, that’s saying something. Your prolific output, dedication to the craft, and generous advice and demonstration on writing (Youtube, lectures, interviews) continually inspires me. We met in San Francisco when you were on tour with Harriet. Your advice to me was, “keep going.” Thank you.

Mary, thank you. It is because of your dedication to your craft, your investment of yourself, and your honesty with your encouragement and advice for the rest of us is very inspirational. You hand-write letters to your fans and it was through this way that we met once at Norwescon in Seattle and I was introduced to and read Shades of Milk and Honey. Thank for you continued inspiration.

Howard, thank you. Your humor on the cast is great. It is so very nice to have you process the craft for the rest of us as it relates through the lens of the graphic art. When I check in on your site and see that you still putting up new strips every single day, it is very inspiring for me. You bring an art and style to writing that many may overlook and I would like to thank you for not only the exposure of your style to the craft, but your input as a writer and a cartoonist to the topics of the cast. Thank you. I must say that it has been some time since we’ve heard you give us the exclamation of “luxury” in only the way you can.

Dan, thank you. It’s always inspirational to know of those who know what they want and just walk out and get it. As a horror writer, you bring something to the table that the rest of us need to hear. It’s so nice to hear your method of how you break down your ideas into a structure (and eventual final product) for a story which affects its audience. Your Seven-point plot structure is a beautiful tool for writers and I thank you, as I am considering using it in a current project of mine.

Each of you has inspired me as a writer and I very much appreciate

Which brings me to the reason I wanted to write this letter. The most recent episode on true confessions is the best I’ve ever heard. Maybe you thought it was mediocre or just something fun to do, but it was the most poignant and apropos message I’ve heard to date. I think it’s easy for beginning writers to think ideas such as, ‘no, this can’t be the way to do it,’ ‘no, it’s all wrong,’ or ‘no, I’m just repeating myself, I don’t have any chapters yet, this isn’t even what I wanted to write about…..’ and on and on. “Failure” after “failure” after “failure.” And this episode is one in which you tell us to our faces, “Actually, that’s totally normal…and look at all the times I screwed up.” I love the fact that Mary said that it’s not really failure, it’s just data. It’s said that Thomas Edison screwed up over 1,000 times (and I’m paraphrasing) before finally inventing the lightbulb. And when asked about all those times, he is famously quoted as having said, “I didn’t fail 1,000 times, I just found out 1,000 ways to not make a light bulb.”

Math is not my forte, but if we’ve been at this for 12 years (you as the hosts, and me as the listener), then we’ve hit somewhere around 625 episodes – ballpark. And this one, above all, was the most perfect of episodes. No guests needed, no special theme, no writing prompt, just sitting back and listing some of the epic screw-ups that you’ve had, and reminding us that (as Howard said, and again, I’m paraphrasing), it’s not that you fail; that’s going to happen. It’s what you do with that discovery. You can either quit, cry about it, moan, and consider a professionally lofty bridge, or get back up and go at it again. You’re either a writer, or your not. What a period to end the season with.

Thank you for the inspiration. I am looking forward to the upcoming season on character, and if I may, and because I’m into language, I’d like to learn about character and presence – basically, the about of presence a protagonist (or side character) can have and how you can keep a character’s presence from overwhelming the rest of the story (i.e. maintaining a balance of character presence).

Okay, enough from me. Thank you, thank you, thank you for your continued dedication to the craft we all love, and for helping us better ourselves in this venture. You do just by who you are.

And with that, although I am not quite out of appreciation, I am out of excuses. I’m off to write.

See you next year,
LP

Art or Craft – which matters?


It’s rounding on ten o’clock at night and I just saw this:

23. Storytelling Is The Art, Writing Is The Craft
Writing matters. It has rules. It can be artful or utilitarian, it can be languid or merciless. But it’s just the vehicle. We keep coming back to the authors we love — Atwood to Gaiman, King to Morrison — not merely because of the quality of their prose but because their stories are engaging. It’s the stories that matter. The art lives in the story. It’s the hardest and most essential part — you can write beautifully, but if the story there doesn’t sing, fuck you. The opposite is also (usually) true: the writing can be execrable, but as long as the story grips us by the nipples, we’ll buy the ticket and take the ride — and we’ll beg you for more when we’re done.

Chuck, you’re right.

Damn.

I talked about this with my brother several weeks back. We both came to writing in our lives, but for different reasons. I came to writing because I am in love with language. He came to writing because of story. We both write, but for disparate areas of focus. In this regard, I must confess that I disdain the fact that people with ugly prose still get the girls because their stories are the hit of the parade.

Don’t get me wrong; it makes sense. If Harry Potter just opened up by talking about a guy named Harry who wore glasses and was almost a teenager and wasn’t sure what to do with his life or who his friends were and was mediocre when it came to school, but he was okay at it and……

… If that were the case, that book would end up in someone’s fire or toilet paper stand. There has to be progression. Yes, I get that. You have to have something happen. In fact, it’s best if you have a whole shit ton of things happen, each one throwing the reader off, but still making sense. And on and on et cetera..

Yeah, I get it. I just think there should be something said for good writing as well. Not that it can only be good writing, because again, if your “good-writing” about nothing, then you’re giving you’re giving your keyboard a hand job, and yes, you write, but what’s the point? I’m talking about writing a good story AND you know how to write good prose. There has been a sizable handful of books which I have put down (against the raging applause of the masses on how good the story is) because I just couldn’t take the writing anymore. My go-to story is always Sanderson’s Mistborn. I got 400 pages into that book and I had given a liberal dose of grammar and good prose passes (subjective, yes, but aren’t all books subjective when they’re in individual hands?). I had to put it down.

The masters out there are masters of both. They know how to use their craft and make (as Gaiman says) good art.

I agree with you, Chuck. I don’t think it’s right necessarily, but c’est la vie. The point is, write. Writers write. As much as my readerly self doesn’t like shit prose, my writerly self lauds the fact that at least they made it to the shelf of readership. What does that say about the masses and literature? I don’t know. No, it’s not England in the 1800s anymore and this is not the literate society Simon Winchester mentioned in the beginning of The Meaning of Everything.

They want story. You’re a writer. Give them a goddamn story. Even if it’s not the story they want. Your job is to make a story. Write like a cracked-out booknana-lovin’ monkey, and give them a fucking story.

-lp

Tad Williams – TDSoH


I’m currently reading Tad Williams’s book, The Dirty Streets of Heaven – a great fantastical telling of the operations of Heaven and Hell.

I have heard about the versatility of Williams in his ability to write across genres, and had to have a gander for myself. So far, I’m enjoying it. Here’s a wee bit of exposition.

 ‘When you’re only got seconds to live you don’t fuck around with etiquette. If you’re fighting a guy you hit him in the nuts as hard as you can. If you’re fighting a she-demon who is wrapped around you like a constrictor and trying to bite off your face, and you can’t reach anything else, you punch her in the tit.’ 

– Williams, T. (2012). The dirty streets of heaven. New York. NY: Daw.

 

 

Page or Screen – a personal policy


Keeping calm
Keeping calm

I have this policy. It’s more of a personal preference, really, but, either way, I’m usually pretty good about following through. The premise is straightforward enough – do not watch the cinematic rendition of an already established literary piece before first reading the piece itself. In lay terms – don’t watch the movie before reading the book.

This is in no way a disparagement of the film industry, of course, but the grounds of which certainly merit elaboration.

Let’s face it – as a species, we’re suckers for stories. Every day, hour, microsecond (someone could argue that), we’re engaged in some sort of story. It could be anything from reading about the latest restaurant review to writing an e-mail to a friend agreeing to meet for dinner. Whatever it is, talking or listening, at some degree, whether we’re cognizant of it or not, we’re all storytellers – chefs serving anecdotal entrées (be it entertaining or strictly informative) using our special ingredients of fact and fiction. Stories of love, hate, fear, and loathing, no matter the case, we love it; we eat it up. Yet, without trying to sound too judgmental, we’re also a wee bit averse to more effort than necessary (FINE PRINT: yes, I just said that you were lazy). So, given the choice between film or font, we would usually prefer to recline in front of a 30’ X 70’ screen and get fat on fake-buttered popcorn and nibbles and bits of sugary goodies.

There’s no need to state the obvious here – as a population, we read less than ever before. I’m not talking about the malarkey online statements that aver that we read more than ever before, because reading e-mail, Tumblr, or Amazon receipts ad nauseum doesn’t quite constitute reading.

You know what I mean by reading, right? I mean real fucking reading. Reading books, not e-readers, not bullshit iPods/Pads/Pamphlets or whatever other type of pocket screens you carry around (books and games for me are like Church and State – keep ‘em separate). I’m talking about reading for pleasure, reading something that you love.

Why?

Because that’s the “real” story. I use quotation marks here because it’s my own definition of real. The real story are the ones that each of us sees in our own heads. What did Harry Potter look like in your mind before you saw Daniel Radcliffe play him? What about Hermione?

Exactly. They were your own, just the way that you saw them. They were perfect.

I read the books first for different reasons. I could create a list of those reasons, but this is prose, not a grocery list, and I’d rather not allow my thoughts to be bullet points.

Text, in as many advantages as it has, comes with the requirement of effort on the part of the ‘to be entertained.’ The entertainer, on the one hand, certainly has to put in the effort to provide the entertainment, the product. It’s sort of like the soda jerk who makes the viscous, but highly-addictive milkshake for you, the customer. The idea is that you will probably enjoy the product, however, you will have to extend your arm, grasp the low-quality, but visibly catchy paper/plastic cup, raise it to your sweet little sugar pouting lips and suck like a porn star. That’s how we, the customer (after having paid for our product) acquire the value of said product. Now, compare that to reading.

We (the humans) buy the book, to get all the joy of the book into our bodies, it’s not like we can just snap a USB cord into it and slip the opposing end into our brain’s pleasure center. Doesn’t work that way. We have to run our eyes over every single word beginning after the first cover and going all the way to the back cover…and that usually takes longer than the porn suck.

If only there were a more expeditious way.

 

Enter FILM, Stage Right.

 

The motion picture – humanity’s answer to the “full” story in a small fraction of the time it takes to read a book.

Short and sweet – now (finally!) we don’t have to spend days or weeks or (yes) even months reading this bullshit and having to trudge through the ultra boring bits about the main character’s love life and how they really feel about the guy and their emotions or the work, all for the sake of ‘character development.’ Now I can finally watch Tolkien’s classics without having to read all that prolonged trash about him describing a branch on a tree in a forest full of Orcs, or Ents, or ugly things. Yes! The Movie! Finally! My prayers have been ans-

Hold up.

You may feel like your prayers were answered, but (and you’ll never believe me) you’re missing all the glory of the written word. If you watch the movies all the time and never read, you’ll be missing how much better the book is compared to the movie. Now, if you’re just plain impatient, well I can’t help you, although I do believe there are certain people within certain professions who may be of service. But, I’m imploring you not to just do it out of your love of things that blow up, or colors or beautiful people (though I’m not saying you should deny yourself of such pleasures – they’re wonderful; they are. But this is simply my own commentary on watching movies before reading the work in text).

 

Okay, where am I going with this.

 

Here’s where I’m going. The long (Tolkien version of the) story is that (for whatever reason) I chose to watch the film rendition of a story that was already in text. Mistake No. 1. I really wanted to have read the story before the movie came out (just like I did with Harry Potter), but for some reason I didn’t, and now that I’ve watched the film, I have picked up the book and am finding it exceedingly difficult to read it.

 

WHY?!

 

Because I already know what happens! That’s why. So, guess what I have to do. Well, let’s start with guess what I can’t do right now – I can’t really enjoy and savor the book the same way. It’s not like I’ll be up until the wee hours of the morning waiting to see what happens when everyone finds out that the butler’s really a herm. I already know the story. It’s almost as if it’s cheating, almost as if I’m cheating myself.

So, back to what I have to do – I have to wait until I forget the entire story and then go back to the book.

Well, lessons learned for next time, I suppose.

Look, for me a book can take at least a week (two if I have a job – which, at the moment, thankfully…), but a  movie takes a couple of hours. Why not just read the book, enjoy it, lap it up, savor it and all that, and then, when you’re ready for a nice evening out, reward yourself with the movie. You’ll find exactly how different they are – as you have heard or experienced, perhaps, yourself.

Go ahead – stop reading this right now and look up how books sales have changed in the past 50 years.

Just a thought, but makes sense to me.

The Bones of the Craft


The Bones of the Craft

When we finally make the decision to write, we tend to look at ways others have done it, searching through books and online articles to find any piece of advice that would help. There are a few that I have found that really take passing the advice along seriously. Chuck Wendig is one of those guys. 

     I appreciate Chuck because there’s no fake to him. There’s just the guy and his work. He is a writer who is passionate about what he does and that passions bleeds over to the rest of us. There are great authors out there with great advice, and after a while, the messages are the same no matter who you talk to. It’s all very basic. There are so many reasons why someone would want to write, but no one becomes a writer without writing. You just have to do it. 

      Here’s e-mail that Chuck recently responded to. Post your comments below, and keep at the keys. 

-lp

NaNo – PR


      NaNoWriMo started 15 days ago with one goal – to complete a novel of 50,000 words within the 30 days of November. I write this now having completed my 3rd NaNoWriMo event with a new personal record time. I have finished this challenge in 15 days. 

       But, you know what? I didn’t do anything special. I didn’t cheat. I didn’t copy and paste the same sentence over and over again. I just did it the way it’s supposed to be done – write without looking back. There’s no such thing as editing during NaNoWriMo. There is no such thing as revising, correcting, considering, there are no questions to be asked. The only thing one is supposed to do is write.

        It’s the way to go. Stop asking questions, stop saying ‘what if?’, stop doubting yourself or giving yourself excuses. If you want it badly enough, you’ll do it. Just write.

Knuckles Cracked for NaNo


If you’ve never heard of NaNoWriMo, you have A.) not been following my blog long enough, and B.) not in the know. I’m not offended, however. I just consider you to have finally found your way to the light.
It’s pronounced NA(as in ‘knack’)-NO-RYE-MOE and it’s an acronym for National Novel Writing Month. It takes place during the month of November and there is but one challenge – to write 50,000 words (one novel) in 30 days.

That’s it.

It’s free, it’s engaging, it’s entertaining…it’s a blast! Think about it; all you have to do is write something like 1,700 words a day. That’s not bad! You write a bit here, a bit there, a bit everywhere and sooner or later, you get to the end of your daily word count and you’ve had fun with it. You do that for 30 days and you’re in the clear. You have the bragging rights to tell all you friends and family that you did it; you took on the NaNoWriMo Challenge, and you WON!

One of the best parts of the whole thing is that it’s not just you who’s doing all the writing. Well, okay, it is. But others are going to be doing it all right along with you. ‘Who’, you ask? Tons of people.
First off, you get all the pep-talk e-mails from whose who run the Office of Letters and Light, which are amazing. Then, even better than getting all that ‘amazing’, you get to connect with those in your area. And don’t think that NaNo is just in a small portion of the U.S. It’s EVERYWHERE! This thing is huge and spans most areas of the developed globe. No matter where you are, there is most likely a NaNo Region on the site (www.nanowrimo.org) that is there for you, and the host of which will be sending all the pep-talks, and notifications of write-ins (meetings with other writers involved in NaNo in your area) to you every few days.
It’s something so much bigger than just you in a bland, monotonous world, putting simple stupid letters on a boring white screen.
It’s a whirlwind of a writing adventure in which you are the master of your world, weaving characters, plots, love, battles, conflict, action, and anything else you wish to create into your own wonderful, vivid splash of literary splendor. And you get to do it in a community of other writers who love and want to do the same.

You may have read this far and be thinking, “Yeah, maybe some day.” That’s the precise instance where you need to look in the mirror and slap yourself in the face. “C’mon! Wake up! Carpe Diem! Live in the now, man! Tomorrow is not a guarantee, and the past is over. You live right here and right now, just like Jesus Jones told you.


Step up to the plate. Who cares if you make 5,000 words for the month or 65,000 (yeah, some people do). Brainstorm, throw down an outline if you have to, get that story out of you that has been inside you for years under the umbrella of ‘one day’. Get it out. It’s all about fun.
Crack your knuckles, do some push-ups, dust off your computer keys and get ready, because November One is right around the corner.