Friday, May 12, 2017

Shut up and write

Words written this week: two thousand and change. Maybe closer to three thousand. The days melded into each other and I know I missed a week of tracking. I will just say that I've been hitting my goals for three straight weeks now and don't plan to stop.

Okay, onto business.

If you want to get good at something like writing, you have to take it seriously and basically treat it like a job. This is not news for those who have been doing it for a while. I'm mentioning it now because I'm in my infancy as a writer, so I'm going through the paces that almost every writer goes through at one point or another, including needing to learn that excuses for not writing usually end up being nothing more than bullshit.

That's because they usually are.

If I have time to play a game or to endlessly scroll through Facebook posts on my phone, I have time to write. If I have time to watch a sitcom on my PVR, I have time to write. If I have time to sit on the toilet, I definitely have time to write.

You get the idea.

Today, I finished reading The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction by Philip Athans.

It's a quick book with a very surface-level approach to SFF writing advice, but it has a few positive things going for it, and it also has a passage that really spoke to me today:

"Many books and articles on writing advise something like this: Find a safe place to write - an office, a nook, some kind of cave in which you can work in absolute silence and solitude, surrounded by inspirational knickknacks or whatever.

It seems like good advice, and for years I followed it and wrote very little.

Never do this. Buy a laptop as soon as you possibly can. Write while sitting on the living room couch, in bed, at a coffee house or bar, at the library, on the bus or plane or train - write everywhere and whenever. If you find yourself thinking, "Well, I can't write without, unless, or until..." then stop right there, get your laptop fired up, and write something. I don't even care what it is, just write.

Write when the kids are asleep or running around you in circles screaming at the top of their lungs, with the television on or off, with or without music, where people are talking or silent. Do not ever let yourself be limited to a place, a time, or a set of circumstances in which you can write. Free yourself, and your words will follow."

Hell yeah. As I type this, I'm sitting on the couch at almost 1am with Jackie Chan's Drunken Master playing in the background. (sidebar: excellent movie. There are few people better at the "show don't tell" rule of storytelling than Jackie Chan)

To put it into a broader perspective, right now, I'm doing all I can to surround myself with the type of thinking above by diving headfirst into writing advice books, fantasy stories of all types and mediums, and making sure that I do at least a bit of writing every day, whether it's in the morning, on the bus, or once my kids have gone to bed. Or wherever and whenever else.

In short, I want to treat writing like a job, but one that runs around the clock and doesn't get weekends off. I truly feel like I've learned a lot in just over four months of taking this seriously (with an ill-advised one-month break in the middle), and I want to keep riding that momentum.

Is the book I'm writing right now any good? I think parts of it are, but I also think a lot of it is gutter trash. Most of it probably is, actually. But hey, that's how I'm going to learn, and I do feel I've gotten better even in the short time I've been taking writing seriously, and I intend to keep it up.

Star wipe to final scene.

To finish off, I'll end with something a little random but not entirely unrelated.

I used to think that writing was mostly about stringing together original sentences and working in flowery language wherever one could in order to ignite a reader's imagination and keep them reading. Writing was more about saying things in a beautiful or creative way. And it is that, don't get me wrong. However, the most important thing that I'm learning right now (subject to change as the journey continues), especially as it pertains to genre fiction, is that storytelling is the heart of writing. Exploring worlds and getting to know characters is great, but if there isn't compelling action, conflict, and consistent progress, it's boring. You can write the most beautiful prose in the world, but if nothing happens, few people care.

So that's where I'm at right now...just trying to focus on being a better storyteller. Showing more, telling less. Planning ahead more, pantsing less. It feels damn good, and I'm looking forward to seeing what breakthroughs await.

Thanks for reading this far, and if you liked the quote I typed out above, check out Philip Athans' fantasy writing blog. It's incredibly useful and another essential text that I'll be adding to my growing list of websites and resources. Thanks for the fine work, Philip!

Finally, check out his excellent article related to the topic at hand entitled "Save the Bullshit Excuses."

Now go write.

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