Sunday, July 18, 2010

How much writing advice do you need?

Yesterday, my wife and I went to Tattered Cover to find a book. Ok, she went to Tattered Cover to find a book for her graduate level writing class; I went to avoid working on getting together the last of the stuff neccessary for the Theoricus initiation that I am doing today.

(Actually, I am doing the Theoricus initiation right now---this post is actually pre-scheduled...much like the last night talk shows are filmed during the day, and perhaps even days before they are broadcast.)

And while we were there, she found several books on the writing craft (creating characters, writing various types of stories, etc.) that she thought I would be interested in. I a certain extent. My interest was not too great because I was sticking to a budget (an advance for a job that I am doing this coming week); and the honest fact that leafing though the books, I recognized most of the advice from other writing "how-to" advice books.

I have gotten to the point where I think that I am better off not buying any more writing advice books simply because most of the information feels like simple repeats of information that I have read in other books. Quite honestly, I have hit my limit on how many how-to books I can squeeze into my library. And my budget (time and money).

Of course, this brings up the question of how many books on writing does an aspiring writer need? (This also can be asked of how many books on magic does an aspiring witch or magician need?) At what point in time does a writer hit the point where another how-to book is not actually going to make that much difference in their craft?

It is not like they are going to suddenly quit publishing books on writing. As long as there is a steady stream of aspiring writers, there will be a steady stream of books aimed at improving their craft. But at a certain point, it is better to keep your money in your pocket---unless you have a specific problem to solve.

I suspect that in part, the market has so many books because it allows aspiring writers to feel that they are improving their craft without actually doing any work. It is like reading books on magic, ethics, relationships, business, etc. Reading a book gives you a nice buzz---you are trying to improve your skill and knowledge; but unless you are willing to roll up your sleeves, it is just wasted effort.

I do not think that there is a single professional (as in "I make my living writing") writer who would rate reading books on how-to write as highly as they would actually doing the actual work of being a writer. If you want a crash course in writing, and a big boost in your skill, suffer though National Novel Writing Month or something like it (aka actually complete an entire novel). Learning to write from books is like learning to play golf without ever swinging a golf club.

Write, write, write. Does anyone really need more advice than that?

Saturday, July 17, 2010

QoD Writing rituals Philip Athans

About avoiding writing rituals at all costs:

"Rituals are excuses for avoiding work and creativity. If you think you can only write your notes in that lovely leather-bound notebook your boyfriend gave you and only when it's dark and only when it's raining, you're fooling yourself. Write anywhere, at any time."

---Philip Athans (The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction)

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Toxic Concern

During the last month, my regular readers may have noticed that I have not been posting. Truth be told, I was not doing a lot of writing at all.

The lack of writing can be firmly laid at my doorstep---I started to care what someone might think about what I was writing. The natural result as most of you can already guess is that I quit writing.

At first, the care was merely about the issue that they were concerned about. Then it ballooned up to cover all my writing, including my Facebook and Twitter updates. Yes, I have a mental health issue.

Unfortunately, because my sole source of income is writing (ignoring student loans), well either I am going to have to ignore what they think about my writing or I am going to have to go back to flipping burgers for a living. Either option is really acceptable, but one is a little more acceptable than the other.

So to add to my list of things that cause writer's block, I must now add "toxic concern" to the list: the concern one feels about what readers might think about one's writing, the type of concern that toxic writing friends love to install in you when you are not looking.

The really sad part of this is that I do not think that they are even a regular reader of my writing (they claim to be a regular reader, but we all know that you are most likely to be tossed that claim by someone who googled the subject, randomly found you and got upset about your opinion). If they were, they should have requested certain amendments to one of my rants back in February (like the day after I wrote a particular rant). And I know that they are not a member of my audience.

(I do not need to point out to anyone that "readers" and "audience" are two different things. Readers can be anyone that stumble upon your work; audience are those that the piece was actually written for. In my case, my audience tends to be students of the esoteric, especially those with the same type of background that I have. I write about my background because I figure that I am not the only person with the issues that I have. I could be wrong---after all, I have been accused of being mentally ill on more than one occasion…though one wonders if the mentally ill do not deserve to have some writers of their own also.)

So hopefully, the worst of my bout with toxic concern is over, and I can get back to work. If I am wrong, well I know what I need to do, and it is not going back to flipping burgers.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

OMG I am a blogger

Last night, during the tossing and turning brought on by the most recent email from my sister, who I feel is trying to convince me that I am one hundred percent at fault for our bad relationship, I came to some conclusions. Not pleasant conclusions, but still they are conclusions.

One of my conclusions is that I am NOT a writer, and NOT a journalist. No, I am a blogger.

Yes, this is a step down in the way I describe myself. I have always considered bloggers to be less classy than writers and journalists. Hence, in the interest of feeding my ego, I always called myself a writer or journalist, rather than embrace the truth.

The point of her email that made me realize that I was lower on the classiness totem pole than I thought was came when she asked me how I felt about everyone in the world knowing how she currently felt about me.

Do you see?

Yes, that is right. I didn't care. In fact, I thought it was slightly amusing.

That is why I have to turn in my union cards at this point. Writers and journalists are supposed to care, and do their best to keep their lives secret. Bloggers, on the other hand, tend to be like stand-up comedians, if we can get a good bit out of talking about our personal lives we will.

I always joke with my wife that if I ever do stand-up, she is going to end up with a starring role in my routine. And yes, she knows that I have blogged about her.

Obviously, I need to issue the same warning to my relatives. (I think that my friends, frienemies, and enemies know that they are fair game already---I hope.) And I probably need to add the stand-up creative license warning also: If the joke is funnier when I am not telling the complete truth, then that is what I am going to say actually happened.

I have been living in a fishbowl for a long time. I had the misfortune of going to a high school in a small town where everyone knew everyone else's business. For a long time, I did my best to conceal certain facts. Not that I think that it worked (in hindsight). I bet everyone back home knows the real reason that I failed high school (and it was not the reason that I was supposed to pretend was the reason---I am not a lazy moron---everyone probably knows the real reason why I was not doing homework and skipping classes, but shhhh---no one is supposed to know the truth; it might make someone else look bad and their reputation is more important than mine).

It gets better. My mom was horrified that people might find out what I was writing about. Hence my pen-name. A few years ago, I caught onto the fact that certain people back home were not surprised by what I was writing. And if they knew already...well, the whole town obviously knew. At that point, I decided to openly admit that yes, MDE and EME were the same person.

Of course, this is all just an aspect of my family hiding lots of skeletons in the closet. If my sister was really smart, she would look in the closet and ask what was in there that installed the vast distance between the two of us. I would think about telling her directly; but earlier in the recent spat I chose to keep something off the grid, and she responded by openly exploding about it in full public view.

(For the record, responding with anger to me when I am trying to be rational and am telling you the truth just makes me more more likely to mistrust you. And mistrust does not led to close relationships.)

There have been several things I have kept off the grid. For months, one of my cousins have wanted to know who said certain things. I have been ignoring the questions. I wonder if my cousin knows who it was now.

I will admit that I am impressed by the quick clean-up that my sister did. But it makes me wonder what skeleton in the closet has a poppet of her in its hand at the moment. And part of the dance it making her do blinds her to the fact that I am NOT the same person that walked out of that house in 1984---threats, blackmail and public explosions do not phase me. After all, I am a blogger and this is just the natural behavior of the envirnoment that I chose to write in. (Proof of that can be seen everytime I do another bad book review.) And I am going to continue sharing my personal life because it is part of my stock and trade.