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Read A Lot, Write A Lot

Read A Lot, Write A Lot

Tim Kreider, in an interview with Jon Winokur from www.advicetowriters.com, expanded on King’s famous advice, saying, “I’m afraid the only real advice I have to give is so obvious as to be hardly worth reciting. Write a lot, thousands of pages: stories, essays, long letters, reviews, really good liner notes for mix CDs or playlists. And read a lot — I mean a lot a lot.” I would only add, “Do both at the same time.”

Over the years, I have found that I lose weight fastest when I focus on diet and exercise at the same time. And I’m talking about more than just obvious calorie math. Exercising makes me want to eat better. Eating better makes me want to exercise more. Doing both puts me in the mood to get in shape, or stay in shape. Mentally, there is an important balance between the two.

I think reading and writing have a balance that works the same way. The more I read, the more I want to write. Even better, the more I read, the better I write. There’s obviously a benefit to seeing how other authors do things. But like the balance between diet and exercise, combining reading and writing changes my state of mind. It puts me in a creative place that makes it all work so much better.

I think King and Kreider would agree with me. (OP 1/17/2014)

Creativity, Mistakes, and Being Good Enough

Creativity, Mistakes, and Being Good Enough

I recently ran across a TED Channel YouTube by Sir Ken Robinson from early 2007 called, “Do Schools Kill Creativity?” His talk was both funny and insightful, and certainly worth a listen. But his comments about the relationship between mistakes and creativity caught my attention, and go beyond a simple discussion about education.  In particular, he said:

“If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original. By the time most kids become adults, the’ve lost that capacity. We stigmatize mistakes (to the point where) mistakes are the worst thing you can make.  The result?  We’re educating kids out of their creative capacity.”

Beyond just the education system, we do stigmatize mistakes to the point where making one is the worst thing you can do.  Consider your favorite sports team after losing the big game. You won’t have to look far to find someone saying something like, “With the game on the line, you have to make that play. You can’t miss it.” From an early age, and from every angle, it’s drilled into our heads that you have to be right, never wrong, and you simply cannot make mistakes.

I also I think you can expand Robinson’s comments about being ‘wrong” or “making mistakes” to include the idea of “not being good enough.” The thinking would go something like this:  “If I can’t sing like an American Idol winner, I’m not going to sing at all.”  Or, “If I can’t dance like John Travolta (for “experienced” blog readers) or Moose/Adam Sevani (for the younger crowd), I’ll just sit on the sidelines.” It’s the fear of being wrong, making mistakes, or not being good enough.  It’s the fear of failing.

As people discover that I’ve begun to write professionally, a surprising number of people have told me that they too would like to write and publish a book. The vast majority also tell me either that they’ve started but then stopped, often repeatedly, because they didn’t think what they’d written was good enough, or that they never started in the first place because they just don’t think they could ever pull it off. Their fear of writing poorly (of being “wrong”) has overtaken their fear of not fulfilling their dream.

I suppose I struggle with the same thing. I’ve decided to publish a collection of short stories, and have a number of them in various states of completion. But somehow, I keep coming up with new ideas that might be a little bit better than what I have so far. And more reading to do, just so my perspective is just that much sharper before I put my work out there. Or maybe, like the other aspiring writers I mentioned above, somewhere just beneath the surface I know I’m protected as long as I can keep coming up with reasons to postpone publishing.

Math is concrete. Two plus two. One answer. As long as you know how to solve the equation, you can come up with the one right answer. Art offers no such certainty. And despite efforts to categorize and grade from every direction, art is ultimately subjective. There is no single “right” answer. Given a culture that wants to give everything a Pass/Fail grade, knowingly putting something out to the masses for subjective review is understandably unnerving. Then again, that brings us full circle to Robinson’s initial comment, “If you’re not prepared to be wrong (or judged, or not good enough), you’ll never come up with anything original.”  (OP 4/1/2014)

What, You Think You’re The Amazing Kreskin?

cryst-ball-pm

Lynda Barry’s post, “The Two Questions, came at the perfect time for me, and I suspect, many of the aspiring writers I know. According to Lynda, “The Two Questions came from trying to write something good, and not getting very far because I had forgotten that trying to write something good before I write anything at all is like refusing to give birth unless you know for sure it is going to be a very good baby.” Her two questions:

  1. Is this good?
  2. Does this suck?

They’re perfectly good questions for any writer to ask. At some point, preferably when our stories are done, we’ll of course want to know the answers to each. But where we go wrong is asking the questions too early in the creative process, and killing, or at least severely limiting, the creative process itself. I’ve done it. And I know other people that have done it too. It might be difficult to find anyone who’s ever done anything creative that hasn’t.

People in general want to know how things are going to turn out, and hope for the best possible outcome. The University of Kentucky (UK) and The University of Connecticut (UConn) men’s basketball teams play tonight for the national championship. Let’s say UK takes an eight point lead in the first five minutes of the game.  UK fans will think, “This is our night,” while UConn fans will start to think about next year. Five minutes into the game, you can’t tell how it’s going to end. But both sides want to remove the uncertainty, and get to the final outcome, to see the final scene, even before the game is actually over! Fans do it. Players and coaches too. It’s human nature.

I think writer’s put themselves through something similar. The only times I ever struggle with writer’s block happen when I try to perfect what I’m writing as I write it. Stephen King wrote, in On Writing, that we should write, “as fast as the Gingerbread Man can run, getting that first draft down on paper while the shape of the fossil is still bright and clear in your mind.” Write the story first, and fix it later. Create, and then revise. But it’s just so tempting to cheat, and mentally revise things as I write. For Stephen, Lynda, me, and I suspect for everyone else, it’s a mistake.

King himself has recounted how he came up with his novel, “Carrie.” He came up with the concept, wrote several pages, decided this sucks, and threw the pages away. Fortunately, his wife later found the pages in his waste basket, convinced him he was onto something with the idea, and “Carrie” became his first big seller, changing his life forever.

I suppose if Stephen King can’t tell if he has a bestseller on his hands after the first few pages, maybe I should give up on the idea of grading on the fly, and just write. And while I’m thinking about it, maybe check my trash can for any discarded pages…  (OP 4/7/2014)

The View, Four Months In

observations

Since I retired from a decades-long career on October 25, 2013, to begin a new one as an author, the single question people ask more than any other is, “How’s the writing going?”. What follows is part answer to that question, part diary, and part self-evaluation:

  1. I don’t miss the business world in the slightest. I was very good doing highly technical work, and made a lot of money at it. But working creatively every day, by writing, puts me in a completely different mental space. And it’s a better place. At this point, I was better at my old career than I am at writing. With hard work, that will change. But I wouldn’t go back for anything.
  2. I never understood why there would always be so many people with laptops hanging around coffee shops (other than free wifi?).  Now, Kaldi’s in Chesterfield is my favorite place to write. I grab a big comfy chair, play Jeff Gutt (X-Factor runner up, 2013 – check him out!) through my iPhone headset, and go into my own little world. I love the bustle going on around me, so I don’t feel like I’m alone in a cave. There’s just something about being able to isolate in a crowd that lets me write better than I do anywhere else.
  3. Having run a successful company, I understand how to schedule my time and prioritize tasks.  Or at least, I thought I did. I’ve been surprised that I’ve struggled to maintain the proper balance between writing, reading, and social media, along with the rest of my life. It was easier on the old job, where I’d built routines over many years. This is so new, I have focus more to make sure everything gets the attention it should. For instance, starting this week, I’ve cleared absolutely everything from my morning schedule.  From now on, between eight and noon, the only thing I do is write. No exceptions.
  4. In the beginning, I suppose I thought of writing as just telling stories. Or more precisely, coming up with a good story. To me, coming up with plots and stories is easy. Creating emotional reactions for the reader is where the “real” writing takes place. I’ve got work to do.
  5. A lot of people have told me they’d like to be a writer, but express doubts that they’d ever be good at it. I’m convinced that becoming a good writer is dependent on the next three points (6, 7, & 8).
  6. Write a lot. Wanting to be a writer without writing a lot would be like a saying you’d like to run a marathon, but don’t really like running every day to get in shape. For writers, writing is how you get in shape.
  7. Read a lot. Reading provides needed perspective in so many ways. Without it, you’d be lost. Stephen King has mentioned that lots of people tell him they’d like to be writers, but don’t have time to read.  To paraphrase his response, “Go get a job at Subway.  You don’t have the tools.”
  8. Endurance. Writing is hard, and it is a marathon, not s sprint. Hank Moody (David Duchovny) on Showtime’s Californication is a cool guy, but I’m not sure when he ever actually writes anything. That’s why so many people start NaNoWriMo, but so relatively few finish.
  9. Like so many new writers, I started with the idea of going the traditional publishing route, and someday seeing my book on the shelf of the local bookstore (assuming they’re still in business…). On the other hand, there is a strong argument to be made for Indie Publishing (Self Publishing). I believe that if the writing is strong enough, it will find an audience, no matter the venue. Accordingly, I will likely begin with the Indie side, just so I can keep my focus on improving the quality of my writing, rather than the marketing aspects of selling my work to publishers.
  10. My initial focus was on writing a novel. I wrote it, and it’s stored away for another day. I’ve switched my focus to a series of short stories, which I plan to release either individually, or as a collection, sometime later this year.

To friends and family that care about how this adventure goes, thanks for following. To the aspiring writers in the crowd, go for it! To everyone else, thanks for reading, and now, “back to our originally scheduled programming.”  (OP 2/26/2014)