This week’s Boost is brought to you by my very own friend, Stephen Bradford. Bradford is the genius behind The Life & Times of S.R. Braddy, which is probably one of the funniest male-written blogs out there. Check it out!
I nearly turned down Torrie’s invitation to contribute to her blog’s “Mid-Week Boost” feature, since I’ve been almost completely bogged down with projects of my own. However, since the invitation was to spend a couple paragraphs on something I’m passionate about, I had to accept. I mean, I’m nothing if not a man completely in love with his own opinion. And boy, do I have opinions about writing.
I love writing. I’ve been writing for about as long as I can remember, depending on how generous you are in defining “writing.” I studied English at Utah State University, eventually settling on a bachelor’s degree in creative writing, a decision I made completely from dedication to the craft of literature and not at all because it shaved a good year off my estimated graduation date.
Writing has proven to be a rather silly career path from a purely monetary perspective. I’ve made a dollar on my publications to date which, when you factor in the cost of postage, paper, and ink, likely amounts to a net fiscal loss on my part. Still, my personal life has been enriched by the art of writing, and I have no regrets.
With that introduction out of the way, I present to you a little tutorial on the craft of creative writing, in the hopes that someone out there will read this post, feel inspired, and go get a real job. I call it:
THE BLANK PAGE – HOW TO START WRITING
The world of writing is wonderfully diverse. There is a type of writing for just about everyone out there. I strongly encourage any aspiring writer to explore as many of the different genres as they come across, thus limiting their effectiveness in whatever genre they ultimately decide on.
To start with, there are the three main genres of writing – fiction, nonfiction, and poetry*. Each of these three genres contains their own strengths and weaknesses. Fiction allows a writer to craft a realistic world without resorting to any silly “research.” Nonfiction relieves the writer of the burden of coming up with any original ideas. Finally, poetry exists for people who suck at writing anything else.
To make the decision even more paralyzing, each of the main genres contains hundreds of sub-genres. For example, someone who decides to write nonfiction should be delighted to learn that they don’t have to spend their days writing stuffy textbooks. They can indulge in a sub-genre called “memoir,” which is a French word for “stylized account of an unhappy childhood.” If you choose to write memoir, though, I’d recommend that you wait until your family has all passed. Families hate memoirists, and memoirists hate families.
Poets have even more options available. A poet may choose to write sonnet, villanelle, pantoum, limerick, free-verse, epic, narrative, rondeau, roundel, rondelet, haiku, ghazal, quatrain, cinquain, sestina, or even slam poetry, although that last should be reserved primarily for angry people without enough “street cred” to call themselves real rappers.
Of the three major genres, fiction is probably the strangest. While there are sub-genres to fiction (i.e. romance, fantasy, thriller, and fan-), there exists a peculiar blank genre known as “literary fiction,” which is almost completely devoid of distinguishing characteristics – aside from a pervasive attitude of misery. All authors are, of course, welcome to write any genre they wish, although they should be aware that writing anything other than “literary fiction” will likely result in their works getting snubbed by the academic illuminati.
*Oh, I guess you could call “script writing” a genre, too, but since any writer who produces a script worth passing on will see their work torn to pieces and completely transformed by hoity-toity producers, directors, actors, and visual artists, I don’t consider the writer to have much say in the final product.
The Writing Process
Writing is all about process. Every writer’s process is completely different, and can change over time.
For example, I used to write by playing video games all day. I pursued this path happily for several years; sadly, though, I found my daily word output surprisingly lacking.
Later, I transitioned to writing by watching a lot of movies and television. These hours helped me build a solid foundation in understanding plot, character development, and who Christina was seeing behind her husband’s back this week.
Then, feeling unsatisfied with the less-than-impressive body of work I produced through watching television, I started to write by reading a lot. The thousands of books I’ve read have made an invaluable contribution to my artistic ability. Now, I’m able to finally look at a text, think about it, and say, “Yup. That’s writing, all right.”
My current process is a highly experimental one that I’m not sure I’ll stick with for long. I call it the “Sitting Down at My Stupid Desk and Pushing the Stupid Keys on My Stupid Computer and Writing for Once in My Stupid Life” process. While I’ve increased the quantity and quality of my writing exponentially through the liberal use of the SDMSDPSKMSCWOMSL process, I have noticed a severe lacking in other areas of my life – most noticeably in the progress I’ve made in the latest Batman game.
To keep focused on this particular process, I usually get involved with “National Novel Writing Month”, a project which challenges its members to write a 50,000 word novel during the month of November. I’ve found that I’m able to overcome most of my writing insecurities with sheer volume of words.
Creating a Work Environment
You may find it important to select a properly motivational work environment. Certain areas allow for a more creative energy to flow – the local library or a secluded park, for example. Other locations, like the middle of a busy freeway, may make it difficult to concentrate.
Personally, I find that listening to music helps the mind focus on the task of putting words together into coherent sentences. Be careful to select the right kind of music. I prefer something classical, instrumental, and boring. Boring classical music acts as a sort of blinder for the concentration, convincing the brain that it might as well write, because there’s certainly nothing else interesting going on in the world.
Sadly, it seems that the days of the reclusive writer who toils in anonymity and squalor his whole life only for his works to be celebrated by the world at large posthumously have come to an end. In today’s world, it is important to develop a network of writing contacts that will validate your ego when your writing is good and bust your chops when they find it lacking.
In building your network, a balance needs to be struck between accessibility and experience. One’s own mother, for example, is unlikely to be a good member of one’s writing network, as she may hesitate to “bust chops” appropriately (unless her maiden name happens to be “Brontë”). On the other end of the scale, famous writers like Edgar Allen Poe are notoriously private and difficult for amateurs to contact. They may or may not also be dead.
A good middle ground can be found among the throngs of English majors attending college or those who recently graduated. Indeed, it is a rare English student who denies wanting to pursue a career in writing while they teach “on the side.” Such students are likely to have just the correct balance of passion for the subject matter and inexperience to provide the criticism one needs. Even if you don’t live around a college or university, you may still be able to find a washed-up literature student through the miracle of the internet.
I hope you all have found my thoughts on the subject of writing useful. Now, if you will excuse me, it is getting late, and I still have to reach my NaNoWriMo word count goal for the day. Ahem…
“Wendy looked through the door. It was a dark door. No, really, it was, like, really dark. How dark, you might ask? Well, it was really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really…
Thanks, Bradford! You’re always been one of my biggest writing inspirations!