NaNoWriMo Notes #34: Reading And Writing
There's a sub- folder in the My Documents folder of my hard drive that's simply called Richard's Words. There are slightly more than 570 items in that folder; the majority of which are articles that I've written for publication on the web either for my own blog or for other sites. If you count the documents that are scattered throughout the computer that have been moved into other folders for other projects the number becomes more then 600.
Sitting by itself is another document that's around 340 pages long written during the same period as everything else but for another purpose. That file is my attempt at telling a story for other people to take pleasure in, the same way I've taken pleasure in the writings of other people. In fact each time I sit down to write I set out to either entertain, inform, or perhaps amuse, so that I can give people some of the same experience I get when I read the people I particularly enjoy.
I used to joke about the fact that if I wanted to read something I liked I would have to write it myself, which if you think about it, is conceit beyond belief. What I hadn't realized was what a tough audience I can be, try writing a story that you want to read some day and you'll see what I mean
In theory you'd suppose it would be easy right. You know what you like to read, what kind of characters you like, what kind of writing you appreciate most and what you look for in a novel. Well they're be plenty of slip twixt mouth and pen – or something like that anyway.
First off there is a huge difference between reading a story and enjoying it and sitting down and writing one. Can I hear a round of Duh from the peanut gallery about now? How about not stating the obvious for a change? But the obvious is sometimes so obvious that we miss it in the flurry of excitement of believing we've found a solution to a problem.
In order to sit down and write the story you would like to read, learning how to write well enough to be able to tell it in the manner you like a story being told can turn into a horrendous obstacle. Most of us can't just sit down at a laptop or whatever we use for writing and produce something that's suitable for more then birdcage lining or fish wrapping at our first go.
Non-fiction, which is what I primarily write on a daily basis (although some might say otherwise about my politics, but that's another thing altogether) is quite a bit easier to write than fiction as long as your goal is to simply inform and analysis. Have an opening paragraph that introduces your story, and then tell your story in the subsequent paragraphs, citing examples and source material as needed.
If you are arguing a point, introduce your hypothesis in the opening paragraph and then prove it over the remainder of the article by finding information from credible sources that substantiates your claims. Your credibility in both cases is increased when you pay proper attention to the rules of whatever language you happen to be writing in. It also helps if you are able to make your point as neatly and succinctly as possible.
With blogging the personal essay has begun to make a comeback. Authors like E. B. White, who aside from having written Charlotte's Web, Stuart Little, and The Trumpet of the Swan for children was considered the foremost essayist of his day, would write about experiences in their lives and use them as examples or expressions of a philosophy of life.
You start to realize the difficulties involved in writing when you begin to understand that there are very few E. B. Whites or William .F. Buckleys (to give the right their voice too) on the web and the results aren't usually up to their level. This type of non -fiction is a prelude to fiction writing in that it requires the author to have a far better command of language as a prerequisite, and the ability to imbue their writing with personality, wit, and style.
But even this is still a quantum leap removed from the ability to write even the simplest of stories. Successful essayists have had difficulty making that transition: although E. B. White didn't seem to have a problem, Will Buckley's attempts at fiction were far less successful. There's a quality to fiction writing and story telling that calls for more than just the technical ability to organize thoughts and ideas on the page in a coherent fashion, although that is an essential prerequisite.
Creative inspiration, the muse, passion; whatever you want to call the it that provides the impetus for people writing something that is inspiring and enjoyable for others to read is a part of the formula, but not the whole picture. Anybody can have a good idea or be inspired; it's what you do with it afterwards that separates the creative person from others. Do you have the vision to take a flash of thought and turn it into something bigger?
When I had the idea for my series of novels I immediately saw the characters' story laid out for me like a road map. I could see almost everything I needed to know, even down to the tiniest of details like how they would be sitting around a fire in book two, and I hadn't even begun to write book one yet.
That is not to imply that the book wrote itself, because it didn't and it still isn't but unlike previous attempts where I've worked from only a vague notion of what I wanted, I know pretty much exactly what's going to happen all the way across hundreds of years and generations to come. Whether or not I tell that whole story is another matter, the fact that I know the information is what's important.
It's like the actor who creates a history for the character he's playing on stage, probably no one in the audience is going to know what that information is directly, but it will make his performance all the more assured and complete because he knows it. A fiction writer can only benefit from that kind of assurance and confidence. It goes a long way to making what your writing believable if you can believe in it.
Soon after I came to the startling revelation that there was the world of difference between writing and reading, I had a further epiphany: if you're going to write, write about something you want to read about. I had joked earlier about the only way I was going to read a story I liked was writing it, but that's a lot closer to the truth than you'd think. There is no point in sitting down and putting all that effort into something if you're not interested in it. It's going to be crap for starters and you're going to hate every minute of doing it that sort of defeats the purpose of being creative.
Taking on working in the arts as a way of making your living is as close to taking a vow of poverty as you can get these days. Which means like the those friars and nuns of old who took vows of poverty, you're going to have to make damn sure that yours is a true vocation not just a phase you're going through. Unless you're really lucky and happen to be like Steven King and John Grisham in that what you like writing about also happens to be what's extremely popular, you're not looking at making oodles of money.
You have to get your fulfillment in areas other than monetary most of the time, which means you better be writing for the sheer pleasure that writing a story that brings you pleasure brings because that may be your only reward. If you're very lucky maybe you'll get to see other people read and enjoy your work as well, which even if you don't receive a penny for it is an amazing experience.
In my time writing over the past few years my total sales at Lulu.com my print on demand publisher has been about $30.00. But that doesn't seem to have slowed down my productivity. Everyday I get up and sit down at my laptop and begin to write something to post on the web. Some days it is a even a short piece of fiction, but more often than not it is a review of somebody else's work; music, book, or movie.
I consider myself to be incredibly fortunate in that every day this last while I've been able to do what I want to do, and by doing improve little by little. I've already received one rejection from a publisher for my first novel, and the completed manuscript is even now winging its way into another's waiting arms. I've had a quote from one of my book reviews appear on the dust jacket of a book I'd reviewed and I'm on first name basis with people whose work I respect and admire as writers and treated as a fellow writer which always sort of surprises me, but makes me feel proud as well.
I've always been a voracious reader and it now seems like I've become a writer as well: truly the best of all possible worlds.