"Small" writing challenges for my small writing talent. Hotel note pads are the only space allowed. Let's see if I can strip it down and tighten it up to learn something. Improving my skill of weird fiction.
Thank god writing isn’t my day job because not a single bit of recent job training infused any improvement. In fact, the last few months of training stiffly reminded me of my thirty years past high school recommended reading, Flowers for Algernon, and how it directly relates to the two mantras telling us all how to improve writing. Both spewed forth by drumbeat. Both say what all of us have to do. Both lacking a real explanation. All of the “emerging” writers, myself included (and if you’re reading this, yes you too!) constantly look for tips, tricks and advice. Anyone with aspirations to put together good work with which others can enjoy a story has much suffering ahead as a result. Nevertheless, the key notions of how to write effectively well are seemingly the same two universally short bites.
Those two things I am going to pay attention to are not only repetitions but are valid points. There is never an expansion on the theme for how they are accomplished. The why is missing and it could be debatable just how much of each a writer needs to do. Does one really need to write that much? Does one really need to read constantly? What if someone doesn’t do as much because they are pretty darn good and idly await that contract? Am I actually questioning those two mantras? I am an amateur with only halfway edited flash fiction on my blog of arguably B-movie fiction complemented with a technical aviation background nowhere close to literature. So technically speaking obviously from the established viewpoint we need to write lots and read lots or else we will not learn how to do it. Okay. Got it. We all got that one a while ago. Another drumbeat, but nobody has delved into how it actually works.
Because I’m a backwards sort, I’m starting with #2) Write lots.
A more credible interpretation is, Exercising the muscle in your head. That is the whole answer. If you don’t do it often enough, you will never improve but therein lay another question, improve what?
How often have you routinely edited your repetitive mistakes? Mistakes such as passive and active voice migrations or perspective changes. Are you splitting the infinitives without realizing you actually wrote them and they’re everywhere? Construction consistency throughout the piece? How about axing again that extra paragraph detailing what you just said a page ago but explained differently? Or prepositional phrases, that you never realized you naturally wrote with? Oh, see? See what I did? Or, what always bothers myself is when I look back on a draft and I realize I’m writing in a High-School Junior grade English format of short choppy sentences of the same syllable count. Da-da-da this. Da-da-da-that. Da-de-de-finish. Or, last example, this article! I’ve found things to correct but there’s always a glaring error I haven’t noticed because the blinders are still close in! So, how often are you editing the same things over and over again?
It’s the whole concept of learning by doing, a phrase brow beaten into my head when I became a flight instructor. People learn best with their hands-on, but we can’t just learn it and retain; it must be practiced or we do indeed lose it. One will begin to write without weird prepositions, without dangling your participles above the shark tank of comma splices. Source? Proof? When Daniel Keyes taught English to special needs students, his inspiration for Algernon, he discovered they would regress when removed from the class.
Keys said, “When he came back to school, he had lost it all. He could not read. He reverted to what he had been. It was a heart-breaker.”
I spent two months preparing for a job change and then spent six weeks learning how to fly the Boeing 737 aircraft. The entire experience, although great, left me exhausted at the end and when it came to writing a simple story afterward, there was nothing new and different from over a year ago when I began really digging into how to improve. I had momentum going in! I had projects well on their way and I was very excited to sit down and hammer out chapters! All of that interrupted by a new job. A whole summer spent away from any hobby. Now returning, I have seen that regression first hand! Call me Charlie Gordon, because when it comes to writing a good story in a proper way, I definitely feel like a special needs author just trying to get ahead. I felt that backward slide because not only did I completely stop writing but I introduced a way of life opposite to anything related. No practice. Off my game, whatever game I had.
Write lots to learn a better way around your terrible tendencies and never let them surface again by regular practice. Slack off consistent crafting of words into pictures and writing will slip downhill – to the free Kindle basement files nobody “buys”
Simply put? Yes, reading is good. No, don’t turn away from the rest of this article! Learning is good, too. There’s more! Reading a variety is better but what they don’t tell you is exactly what things to read. Do you like steam punk? Do you want to write in the genre? How about any genre? Reading steampunk incessantly will not improve your story. If anything, I think it will shut you in. I have a tremendous project that has put itself into a steam punk-ish world but it was in no way intended for that realm. The pieces came from reading history, a book about inventions in trains, articles on mythology of the Native American tribes, articles on guns of the wild west, even eastern mythos and government gilded age scandals. The history of Union Pacific. So much can be combined into one fabulous idea if we broaden our horizons of interest. Read many different things, not just detective novels or high adventure because that’s what you want to write and you yourself like. There are great story-tellers to be missed if you pigeon hole your own wants. Trust me on this. The interest will be there if what you never thought of as interesting before is suddenly a potential part of your next story. What? You’re reading about isotopes?
I’m going to give you two of my concept developments. One I thought of revolved around computer technology news plus another article on the underground body parts trade. Another involves German-American World War One history and pre-war patent invention research added to the problematic hero suffering shell-shock from the trenches. Sounds sad, but it’s an action adventure spy-craft sort of thing on American soil with a science fiction element. If we don’t spread our wings, we will miss seeing the best places and we can’t piece together a story that actually has something to say.
What else? Well, I suppose I could slip in what they actually DO tell us about reading lots. We see how other authors constructed their characters and how they developed their story but we can also discover how not to do it. I’ve read some really shitty works. I’ve flown with some really shitty pilots. I’ve taken classes with some really shitty teachers. Half of what we need to know we can learn from how not to do things. Poignant if we look at a popular big box store and examine child-rearing techniques among customers. But any one successful person is not the only true way to write. Dan Brown vs. Steinbeck vs. James Joyce. All successful, all different.
in relation to my recent training, again, I read lots but it was with zero plot, zero structure and again, entirely against anything to do with writing, unless I wish to pursue technical schematics and info graphs. I do not. No joy there. When I retire from this occupation, I won’t miss any of that. No love lost as the dolls said.
Apologies for making that part brief but that’s really all there is to say about reading lots. Mix it up and have wider interests. Inspiration comes from it.
Number three and four? Well, for number three, keep working on the above. As for number four, what the hell happened to you? How’d you get there? Jesus, write about that because I want to know why you are drinking alone in a gothic basement to begin with! What sort of alcohol goes with a gothic basement anyway?