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Archive for December, 2012

Writing Street Smarts

14 Dec

Dark Trail
I’m going to start with a common, but, I think, often overlooked piece of advice for new writers, and finish this post off with my own personal number 1 piece of advice for new writers.

So, to start, the common advice for writers: ‘Read, Read, Read.’

We’ve all heard it before, but I don’t think I really understood. I always thought it was trite and of little practical use. Not because I don’t believe in the power of reading, but rather because I already read, all the time. I wanted to write because I loved reading first, so what was the point of being told to do what I already did plenty of?

Lately though, I’ve had conversations that make me rethink ‘Read, Read, Read.’

I’ve been talking to a number of early stage writers, people just getting started and trying to get their first books written or published. More often than not, the conversations end up revolving around peoples insecurity with the rules, forms, and techniques of writing. “The correct use of tense”, “The proper use of flashbacks”,”How to create tension”, etc.

These conversations have reminded me of similar talks I heard while attending University, with people who spent hour after hour memorizing information and techniques from textbooks. These people loved testing each others knowledge but never really learned how to actually apply the information.  They could soliloquize about their chosen fields through to the wee hours of morning, but often couldn’t figure their way out of a paper bag if their lives depended on it.

Through my years in corporate we would silently roll our eyes each time a fresh MBA was hired. They would walk through the door expecting the world because of their higher learning, only to flounder through their first projects – school book learning is simply no substitute for real-world learning. I’ll come back to this below, but suffice it to say, this observation taught me more about life than any actual course I took while earning my own degree. I learned to identify and ‘hang out’ with people who were not only learning something, but understood why they wanted to learn it, and spent time trying to figure out what it all meant in the big picture.

So let’s talk about writing again.

Another viewIf you stayed in school for an MFA, you should know all about things like the proper use of tense or how to ‘express coordinate ideas in similar form’, and you will have the ability to wax poetically on the subject or help others see where they went wrong. You will be able to TEACH the subject of writing.

For everyone else it’s more important to focus on developing a SENSE for good writing, than to know the proper terminology, and the best way to accomplish this is to ‘Read Read Read’. Not textbooks, or books on how to write, but reading books, novels. If you enjoy reading, and read regularly, you will know almost everything you will ever need to know about writing.

Let’s call this idea: ‘Writing Street Smarts’ vs. ‘Writing Book Smarts’.

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Writers Advice

06 Dec

Advice Dog on Writing #1
Welcome to a new column here at Prefect Writing: Writing Advice, for Writers Who Write, by Other Writers… who, ah, Also, er, Write… um… Maybe I should simplify that a bit eh? Let’s call it Writers Advice.

I don’t know whether I’ve mentioned it or not, but I’m a Gemini. Growing up, my mother was really into the whole New Age scene and my house was full of associated books, and crystals, and tarot cards and other esoteric paraphernalia. I grew up on the outside of this culture, never quite buying in to the same level as my mother, but enough to be influenced by it in a significant way and when I discovered the fantasy genre everything kind of fell into place in a way that made sense in my head.

I grew up living and breathing that ‘stuff’, and wear the term ‘Gemini’ like a comfortable old coat. Now-a-days, of course, I laugh at star-signs while in polite company, and don’t think about it very often, but I don’t think I’ll ever be able to shake it completely – I’m a Gemini and that MEANS something to me.

What? Well, a lot of things really, but probably the most significant, and the only impact that I typically reference being a Gemini for, is this:

 

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Join A Writers Group

06 Dec

On Monday night I attended my first ever writers group. It was a pretty relaxed affair at the Barrie Writers Club meeting and only a small portion of the regular members were in attendance, which was a nice way to try out something new.

I’ve attended a local Spoken Arts night (Writers reading poetry and prose that is held monthly in Barrie) a couple of times, but just trolled from the back. Poetry really isn’t my thing anyway. I like hearing good poetry (a completely subjective definition of course, especially in the world of poetry) and I like to write bad poetry, but I don’t particularly understand most modern poetry. It gets too abstract for me, I think I get more analytical the more abstract writing becomes and that’s just not a good way to approach poetry.

Either that or it’s just getting harder for people to write poetry. By which I mean, if the ultimate goal, the ‘high destiny’ of poetry is to distill human truths into their most basic constructs, then there isn’t anything left to write about. After all, there are only so many human truths, and truths are timeless, therefore, once they’ve been distilled… well, everyone today is just playing with some other person’s metaphor.

Any who… Let’s save the poetry discussion for another post.

Writers groups are important for writers just starting out, and for many writers, will always remain an important aspect of their writing life. Today I wanted to look at Writers Groups and how you can benefit from them.

CamaraderiePiPho Group Hug in Ilocos

Let’s face it, writing can be a lonely endeavour, with long hours spent tanning in the artificial lights of our best friends… er, monitors.  And most of us just aren’t designed for the level of solitude required.

A writers group can provide multiple levels of support and understanding of the process you go through. It’s the simple reminder that other people are interested and that other people are going through the same soul-searching, lonely work we submit ourselves to.

Also, at a writers group everybody comes with all that knowledge built in, they know how hard the process can be. You don’t even need to HAVE the conversation, you can see it in their pale faces and the slightly shadowed looks in their eyes – they know, and they know you know.

A Writers group is a community of shared suffering, and oddly enough, that’s a comforting thought.

 

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Ode To Technorati

05 Dec

***

Update (12/6/2012) – Technorati turned me down. Apparently they do not believe my blog is a blog. Strange. I checked out their ‘Claim’ FAQ and according to the rules they have outlined I should be well within the green… but no such luck.

I poked around and this seems to be a common issue. Interestingly, I have added a dozen blogs to technorati over the years, and this is the first time this has happened to me, so I didn’t realize they were so choosy. I was going to write a post on the ridiculous of Technorati, but This Hack did such a good job, I’ll just ask you to go read his post!

***

Technorati Confirmation: QKVNGXQS34ED

Please disregard this post everyone!

In order to claim my feed in Technorati, a blog search engine, I am required to post a code in a new blog post.

Sorry if you took the time to open this!

If you did get this far, I’ll try to prevent it from being a complete waste of time by mentioning that I will use this post to launch a new category here at Prefect Writing, where I will discuss the blog as an online platform for authors and writers of fiction.

more coming soon!

cheers, Michael P.W.

 
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The Book I Never Finished

04 Dec

unfinished businesses
Let’s talk a little about reading today.

In case it isn’t completely self-evident with the fact that I want to be a writer, I love to read.

I finish a book every 3 or 4 days, sometimes sooner, sometimes longer  – although, this usually occurs when I am trying to read several books simultaneously and it probably averages out the same.  Like many avid readers, or book lovers or whatever you like to call yourselves, I tend to have books piled up in strategic locations around my house (although fewer, and harder to reach locations since fathering a brood) and take almost as much pleasure from the simple act of gazing over the bindings of potential reads as I do from reading the books themselves. Each pile of books is peppered with variety, providing a selection of material for the right mood, available time, moon phase, etc.

What I Read

Ready for a ‘peak behind the curtain’ moment?

Okay, here goes: I like to read a wide variety of subjects and genres, but fiction before non-fiction. My non-fiction reading is pretty much centered around news & current events, books on writing or language, and historic tomes (I have degrees in History/Anthropology) and while I like the idea of reading Biographies, and have a shortlist of selections I would like to read, I haven’t ever found the time to dig into the genre.

I fell in love with Shakespeare and Voltaire and Joseph Conrad while in high school (I will never forget the moment of shock my grade 12 English teacher experienced when he discovered I had already read Heart of Darkness) and have slowly worked my way through the traditional canon of English lit ever since, and enjoyed most of what I read.

 

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8000 Word Day

02 Dec

Writing High
Yesterday I woke with a story in my head.

Not a full story mind you, but a thought, a kernel of an idea. It was compelling and I wanted to get the concept down before it faded so I rolled out of bed and booted up scrivener and started typing.

At first it was just generalities, there was this couple and they did a thing and then something happened, all so I could dump it out on a page. Just a page. 1 page I figured, and then I’ll break fast.

But 1 page became 3 and then 10 and I still had something I needed to get out so I kept on writing.

It felt good. Really, really good. I am used to having ideas flow when inspiration hits, but this was something new. The first time that I truly felt like a muse had sat down in a chair beside me and whispered into my ear.

As I wrote, the plot became evident, and then the theme settled over my shoulders like a mantle, an aegis, and I wrote and wrote. Through breakfast, through lunch, I wrote until dinner before I was finished. Before I had it all out.

It sort of felt like I was holding a fire hose all day onto which somebody had installed a garden nozzle and I desperately held on, hoping to get it drained before it burst.

When the dust settled I had hammered out 7,500 words. I don’t know if that is great, or good, or ok. I don’t believe it matters in that sense anyway, because 1,000 good words trumps 5,000 shitty words any day of the week, but I was feeling the high.

 

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Writing, writing, writing

01 Dec

Fail RoadSo NaNoWriMo 2012 is over and NO, I didn’t finish and YES, that’s okay.

I started late and figured it would be a miracle if I did finish, but I started anyway. And I spent most of November writing furiously:

  • Half a NaNoWriMo launched novel
  • 2 short stories, 1 submitted to an online mag.
  • plenty of blog posts

More importantly, I’ve been writing everyday.

This writing gig is harder than I thought in some ways, and easier than I expected in others.

I think, having been a writer in one capacity or another for so long, that turning my attention on fiction has been a pretty smooth transition so far. I know the basics, and grammar, and the proper usage of punctuation, etc. So it’s just ‘different’ writing, and that’s comfortable, like pulling on yesterday’s jeans.

On the other hand the more fiction I write, the more things like form and theme are settling into my brain and it often feels like I’m wallowing in a fish net; I can see the other side, but am having a hell of a time getting there some days… okay, possibly most days.

I’m not a worrier. So I don’t and won’t languish over the fears that are a natural extension of this. I’m not worried about whether I’m good enough, or not – I have always assumed none of us are good enough anyway, and we should just keep trying to do better tomorrow that which we tried to do today.  But those fears are persistent, and they’re always scratching at the cellar door, trying to find a crack big enough to push through.

And I’d swear somebody has been feeding them.

Writing… bah humbug.

So, everyday, once I’ve convinced myself that I won’t dwell on those trembling fears of inadequacy, once I admit that I probably suck anyway, and once I remember that I want to write because I love the unfolding process, not because I think I have this incredible story that everyone needs to read, once I have all of that out of the way, I can finally sit down and write once more.

Life’s like that. I think. Not that I would actually know, I don’t know any other writers well enough to ask if this is unique or par for course, part of the sine qua non of writing (thank you Margret Atwood for that reference.) But I like to approach everything as if it is perfectly normal in that situation, whether I have any frame of reference for it or not. Firstly, it helps squash all that self-doubt (of which I have plenty) by reminding myself that it, whatever ‘it’ happens to be at that moment, it is perfectly normal and I should just get on with ‘it’. Secondly, every once in a while, it lets you do something extraordinary after you have convinced yourself that ‘it’ was ‘no big deal’.

I love writing though and the more I do ‘it’, the more I write, and the more I think about writing, the more I become obsessed with ‘it’ and the more I want to get serious about ‘it’.

Okay, enough with the whole ‘it’ thing.

So, in the spirit of getting more serious, this weekend I ferreted out the fact that there is a local writers group – The Barrie Writers Club. I had poked around a few times before and not come across them somehow. I sent a letter to the group to get more information and am really looking forward to going out and attending their next meeting.

Busy week ahead… my goal is 5000 word days, so I can get a draft of my novel finished before the holidays.

wish me luck!

Michael P.W.

 

 

 

 
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