"Writing is nothing to be ashamed of, but do it in private and wash your hands afterwards."
-Robert A. Heinlein

Oh yes. We write when we have an idea and want to share it with the rest of the world. The human thirst for knowledge is only matched by the human desire to tell everyone else our knowledge.

However, not everyone feels this way, and that is why we have patents, copyright laws, encryption, and the Microsoft Corporation.

I find it hard to write between classes. I sit in the hallways, notebook open in my lap, and it is as if I have taken out my soul, and laid it across my knees, with needle and thread for mending. But the people walk by and they see me. I am afraid that they will stop, and they will ask me, "What are you writing?" How will I explain to them that it is not an essay, but a story, that it is not for class, but for myself. They would not understand this thing. And then they will ask, "What are you writing about?" or "So, what kind of story is it?" And me, sitting there, soul laid out across my knees, can I really point out to them all the flaws and all the scars? The worn fabric, and the unraveling threads. See here where there's a hole straight through? But someone has sat down next to me now, and I can write no longer.

I will try to relate what writing is to me.

From the first piece of prose I ever put out I have been given accolades as a good writer, both of fiction and of plain, reporting. All through growing up writing has been one of the few skills which people will always pick up on as one of my strong suits.

I admit, my grammar was what I pieced together when sleeping through middle school English class. My spelling is all intuitive and has its quirks. But these things are not what people have given me acclaim for, no, it is my style. But even that word is not quite it. No, I believe essence is more fitting.

I have never relished in the act of writing something. Be it a story I had just thought up, or some new idea, or just a history final. It is not because I do not enjoy the feeling while it happens. I can not describe that feeling fully, but I will try.

If I sit infront of a keyboard (my handwriting is illegible-nigh) and have a writing assignment, at first, my only thoughts are "I can't do this", "I cannot do this," "I don't know how!" This goes on for a few minutes, then, suddenly...

pop

Like a bursting spring suddenly it all just starts to flow out. The best metaphor I can muster for this experience is it is as if my mind had crawled from its solitude within the confines of my brain, and spilled out unto paper, for the whole world to gawk at. During this period I honestly do not feel concious, my entire focus is on the writing, my hands go faster, and faster, and thoughts with them. Off, into space, unto paper.

Then, when it's over, things settle back down. The sensation is, at first, much what it feels like when you stop reading a book after hours of uninterrupted effort. Surreal. "Oh yeah, there's that world thing out there..." But here comes one of the few reasons why I don't like this act. After the surreal sensation is over I feel totally drained. My brain is kaput, I can only rest. I can't read, I can't think, I can't do anything but rest. This can take hours, even days, and I truly despise it.

I am also very good at math, and, if anything, doing mathematics only revitalizes me. Thus, I have naturally gravitated towards science over writing. But wait, there's more...

After I write something, I dread showing it to others. I don't really care what they think, honest. But, at the same time, I can't bare to be criticized. I suppose the above analogy can help me rationalize this. Imagine, if you will, that part of your soul had been put on paper. Now imagine if someone laughed at it. Yeah, you got it.

It's not that your soul, or your essence that is inferior, I don't believe that. But the idea that someone could make mockery of something so dear to you is wrenching. It makes me ill even thinking about it right now.

What's so odd, and so paradoxical about all of this is that, as I noted above, people have never been hesitant to praise my writing. But all of this praise falls on deaf ears. All the lifting up in the world can't replace the anger, the rage, that can boil within me from one casual criticism. I cannot stand to lose myself like that, over something so silly. So I don't put myself in that position. I don't write.

I don't know. I'm a very left-brained person. My life is in numbers and theory. I like it that way. Perhaps what I have written above is, in fact, the artistic experience. Perhaps, these sensations are what people find so desirable and fascinating about art. Perhaps this is what people see when they praise me.

Perhaps, if I sat down and purseud writing I would come to love it. Infact, I do not believe that it is "perhaps," I know I could come to love writing. I know I could sit down one day, start typing, and never come back. But I don't want to. This conflict, it is too great a paradox, to yearn for something and yet to hate it. I will be content in running away, I think.

When people talk about writers, or writing, the phrase or idea of “having a novel inside” often comes up. The talk carries overtones of compulsion, like the onset of contractions. Writing must come out, it seems . . . the writer has no choice but to deliver the opus. A work is pre-formed, revealed through the chipping off of extraneous bits of detail, dialogue, description. Michelangelo said his statues already existed in the marble and he just removed what hid them. Not every novel is a work of art, however. Do novels even really come about this way? Maybe for some people, but I doubt for most. I’m not sure how it could be anything but a process for most people. Do I have a novel in me? I doubt it. My question for those who say they do is this: how did it get there? Of course they’re not born with it, a novel encoded in their DNA by the mix-and-match blending of genes from parents. If there is a novel in someone, living is what put it there. Heredity may give the skills, the receptivity to a brewing fiction, but experience provides all the ingredients.


A speculative essay on writing

I’m practicing my writing. I’m practicing my discipline. I’m practicing my skill. I’m practicing my wordcraft. Discipline, skill, craft.

One of my weakest points is discipline. Since I was a teenager (or even before) I’ve had fits of writing, periods when I’ve felt the need to keep a diary or write a story, a thought, a fragment. Always, in time, the impulse passes. What is left over from these writing phases has value, but little structure. I have no real stories, no real characters that are left behind me. I want to write something with a plot, a point; subtle allusions and wordplay, hidden meaning and purposeful structure, driving the reader to emotions and conclusions. All this takes work. Work to develop the habit of writing, to build people on paper and a world for them to live in. It takes practice and dedication. It takes a commitment to doing it, regularly. If you can’t write well, write often and filter mercilessly. Discipline in application of oneself to writing must produce a benefit in skill.

Skill does depend on talent, but in itself is the development of that talent by application; the transition from rawness to sophistication through self-construction; experience. There is, however, the question: “How will I know I’m advancing?” I suppose there is no way to know but in the comparing of old to new. It seems to me that I will know, or at least I will find myself growing more and more pleased, more and more satisfied with what I write. Of course I want other people to judge too. My writing is about doing what I want, for myself, but it is also for other people to read. I crave analysis, commentary, but maybe attention and praise most over all. It is important for me to expose people to what I write. That way they can help me see its flaws and virtues, whether I agree with what they say or not. I want to write things people will care about, and that I will care about. I want to make people feel and think. Dialectic will help me construct the characters and life that do that.

What is the process of construction? I’m not sure that I really know, or that it can be plotted out in some schematic form. I guess that characters can only really be built by giving them events to react to or participate in. At first it must be mostly guesswork, depending on how much background has been created for the character. Then there is the question of how much of that background to create from scratch. Barebones, complicated backstory or nothing at all?

The barebones approach, I suppose, would be to set age, gender, place, time. This would depend more or less on taste, or on whether or not you have some specific goal in mind that requires some set of details. The idea though is to keep character detail skeletal, and allow sinew and flesh to accrue piece-by-piece. The character grows through decisions of the author which at first might be close to arbitrary, but should, as the character develops, be based more and more on precedent. The more filled out a character is, the easier it is to decide how to build on that foundation, and what a character will do or say in any given circumstance.

A character with a pre-determined backstory comes ready-made. To decide what this person will think, say, or do one need only consult the backstory. A simple backstory could be a great resource. It could give focus and direction to a character, and maybe a whole story if that story revolves around the character. Creating an overly-detailed backstory on the other hand would be burdensome, both in the process of creating that backstory before any real writing has occurred, and by the fact that one might feel pressured to regurgitate it all in an over-long explanatory passage. I have a feeling that a detailed backstory will feel more natural, more right if it is developed gradually within a narrative rather than dropped in from outside.

The "nothing at all" approach would simply be the barebones method taken to the extreme. One starts with only the fact of a person; a minimal being. This person has no age, gender, location, life story, no detail of any kind, only his or her humanity. The personality of the character comes out as the character speaks, as the author makes decisions. The details of the character’s fictional life are built up in the stream of the story. Decisions pile upon decisions and the character goes from being a stripped down one-dimensional identity to three-dimensional paper person. The summation of this style would be that no decisions are made about the character beforehand. All decisions are made on paper.

If these are the ways to construct characters, how does one construct a world? Most fiction writers borrow heavily from reality, and just change minor details, or perhaps add details: the details of their characters’ lives. Although fiction-worlds can vary wildly from reality as we know it (e.g.: Most science fiction), all fiction shares the infrastructure of the "laws" of interpersonal relation and interaction, societal functions, dynamics. Even if an author tries to reinvent or distort these things, he must still rely on what is. He cannot start from scratch.

What can an author do then? I think worlds are built in basically the same way as characters. What has already been said about characters applies to worlds. In fact, one might even say that a world is a character, always in the background but unavoidably flavouring and directing events. Worlds have personalities. They are corporate beings that speak with millions of voices and events at once. As much as a story is about its characters, it is about the world of those characters.

I’ve got a lot of words ahead of me . . .

How to Write and be Read

Why People Read

Writing is indistinguishable from thinking. This means that others will read what you write if you have something interesting to say. Therefore, becoming a well-established writer has much to do with becoming an educated individual. I do not mean educated in the school sense, but in the sense of having knowledge bourne through experience.

If an individual is lacking in experience, they may compensate through the use of their imagination. All ideas are bourne through imagination. These too wings complement and enhance each other. Experience feeds imagination. Imagination directs experience.

The rest of writing consists of communicating clearly. It is important to accurately portray one's thoughts, and it is on this account that measures of time must be considered. When readers have large amounts of time to read, the writing can be rich and deep and complex in form. When readers have, quite literally, seconds to evaluate a text, that text must be crisp and clean and defined.

There will be no more novels of yester-year, no more Leo Tolstoy chapters. Information must be both dense and easily accessible, or else it will be ignored.

The last small piece of the puzzle, frankly, is luck. Someone must stumble upon your printed page.

Practical Solutions


Improving Experience



  • Cut yourself off from the Internet. Goal: 73 Hours without connection. Good Luck!

  • Take a class in something you are inexperienced about. Danger! If you don't get an 'A', you have to take it again!

  • Travel Somewhere. Minimum distance: 200 Miles Stay there for a week/month.
  • Improving Imagination



  • Draw. Improve until you can accurately portray the Mona Lisa in at least one medium.

  • Buy a random book. As you read, ask 2 questions in the margins of every page.

  • Force yourself to admit at least one mistake a day. You must admit one error in public at least once a week.

  • *Note: It is not a 'Mistake' if you have always felt bad about it. Also, mistakes you have already made do not count. ;)

    Writ"ing (?), n.

    1.

    The act or art of forming letters and characters on paper, wood, stone, or other material, for the purpose of recording the ideas which characters and words express, or of communicating them to others by visible signs.

    2.

    Anything written or printed; anything expressed in characters or letters

    ; as: (a)

    Any legal instrument, as a deed, a receipt, a bond, an agreement, or the like.

    (b)

    Any written composition; a pamphlet; a work; a literary production; a book; as, the writings of Addison.

    (c)

    An inscription.

    And Pilate wrote a title . . . And the writing was, Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews. John xix. 19.

    3.

    Handwriting; chirography.

    Writing book, a book for practice in penmanship. -- Writing desk, a desk with a sloping top for writing upon; also, a case containing writing materials, and used in a similar manner. -- Writing lark Zool., the European yellow-hammer; -- so called from the curious irregular lines on its eggs. [Prov. Eng.] -- Writing machine. Same as Typewriter. -- Writing master, one who teaches the art of penmanship. -- Writing obligatory Law, a bond. -- Writing paper, paper intended for writing upon with ink, usually finished with a smooth surface, and sized. -- Writing school, a school for instruction in penmanship. -- Writing table, a table fitted or used for writing upon.

     

    © Webster 1913.

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