Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Six Things New Writers Can Learn In Six Months

For all the communal aspects publishing fosters, writing is still a solitary profession that requires its adherents to develop themselves as much as they develop their storytelling abilities. This can be difficult, as we are all victims of our own neuroses, hang-ups, and habits. For example: I have a big issue staying focused on one project, which often leaves me having to deal with three different manuscripts, and invariably, I will only focus on two of them. I'm working on this, but the thought came to me that there were six things to share that might help my fellow wordsmiths better commit themselves in a healthy, happy way. I would never dare to say that these are universal; they are just ideas, and like all ideas, they should only be considered if they add to your process.


I first learned meditation from a physician my family patroned, named Dr. Z (I cannot remember nor spell his Russian last name). Like Dr. Z, meditation helped me with a lot of the anxiety that comes with people in a situation where people treat you like you are damaged. Meditation helped me later when I decided to dedicate myself to it in relation to my writing. I like to work fast, and I expect faster results, but unfortunately publishing is a slow, arduous process. Being able to slow down, clear your mind, and stop thinking is a pivotal skill both for writing and for life. We are flooded by our senses every moment we are awake and asleep, and with writing, it is multiplied. We become so ingrained within our characters, our stories, and we sometimes forget to take a step back. For me, meditation is that step back. Anyone can do it, and it only has as much of a spiritual component as you allow it, and you can do it as long as you like. It is an open practice.

There are a lot of resources where you can learn meditation, but here's a simple introduction to the basic technique:

Find a comfortable place to sit where you won't be bothered by noises or distractions. This could be your writing area (which for me is my entire apartment. I'm a bit nomadic.) Sit in comfortable position, using whatever you need to do so. I use a Zafu pillow. Close your eyes, and empty your mind of all thoughts or, if you are very active, picture yourself in a setting. I usually go to a place like this:

Count your breaths. In through your nose, out through your mouth. Nose In, Mouth Out, Nose In, Mouth Out. In the beginning, try to get at least 15 good breaths before you open your eyes. This will calm you down, and in time, help you see the world and your work more objectively, as well as your writing. Which leads us to...


One issue that really plagues me is separating myself from my work, often taking criticism more harshly than I should, and in some ways, delivering it. First, no writer or reader should criticize another for who they are, but it is completely fine to constructively criticize the work, even if it is as simple as "it's not for me." Learning to separate these two things is incredibly important.

Now, this idea is a bit of misnomer. Of course your work is about you--you wrote it, and whatever you write, it is a reflection of how you feel, your experiences, and your beliefs at the time of the writing. Still, it is important to remove "you" from assessing the quality of what you put out. As I have said before, rejections can be a great thing for a writer if they go about assessing why they were rejected in the right way.

Here's an exercise: next time you get a rejection, sit down with the rejected work and read it differently. Act like you are not the person who wrote the piece, but a constructive critic who has never read it. This will open you up to new details you might not have noticed in your previous proofreading, ways to better the story, etc. There is a multitude of wisdoms to gain in doing this.


One would think that this would be a given for new writers, but every day I hear so many writers I come across lament their inability to finish a manuscript. Among the things I am speaking of here, this one might be greater in importance than the second point above, so let me clear:

Finish your stories.

So many people get into the Craft of Writing thinking that it will be a simple enough business to finish their first book, let alone a simple short story. The act of writing is arduous, being a combination of physical, mental, and emotional stress much like a real job. Sitting in a chair hurts me. I don't stop thinking about what I should be writing. I sometimes cry when I am done with a story. Putting in work is putting in work, and finishing a story gets you past a huge hurdle that the majority of writers never even attempt to leap. Finish your stories. It is the only way you can find out what you really need to work on.


This one will take a bit of explanation.

When one decides to become a writer, they often forget to remain a reader. However, things change quickly when one takes up the craft. Speaking for myself, getting involved in the process of writing initially made reading fiction a much more labor-intensive task. I often found myself breaking down the style of the writer I was reading, looking for imperfections I wanted to avoid in my own work. This can take a lot of fun out of the act of reading, but with a few little tricks, it became a joy again.

For all the mistakes you notice, take the time to bask in the moments where you are just reading. When there are no mistakes, the reader simply reads, and though we are writers, we will always be readers first. Mark the places you really enjoyed, and the places you did not. Read deeply for lessons, for theme, constructions, character, everything; reading critically can be a wonderful experience if you go about it the right way. Make it about learning first, criticism last.


Like this one.


It is easy to think that the publishing industry would be a competitive place as a new writer, but if you look beneath the surface, it is anything but. Here's what you need to understand: everyone around you wants everyone else to succeed (unless you make a colossal ass of yourself, which I am sometimes guilty of), and this is because we're working for the most wonderful resource there is in the world: readers. Readers like to read, so they aren't going to buy just YOUR book (if they do in the first place, which is another blogpost for another blog time.) They will keep buying the product we put out, all because readers are so wonderfully voracious.

At the same time, I think it is important for writers to have a bit of an competitive bent. This is just an opinion I hold to myself, but I want to write better than R.A. Salvatore, my literary hero. I want to write better than Jeff Vandermeer, the baddest MFer in Fiction today. I want to write better than K.V. Johansen, one of the most talented writers I have ever seen in Epic Fantasy. I want to write better than any other luminary I can name. I think every writer should look at their inspirations in absolute reverence, but also as bars you need to climb over. Anne McCaffery set bars. Lloyd Alexander set bars. Tolkien, my literary father, set bars. David Gemmell. Michael Moorcock. Robert E. Howard. Try to achieve more than your forefathers and foremothers did. We owe it to them.

These are practices, attitudes, and mindsets you can achieve as a writer in six months. They have been invaluable to my creative process over the years, and if they can add to yours, I hope you produce some of your best work.

So let's get to work.

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