Writing, in and of itself, isn’t hard. It’s simply the act of words being put down one after the other until an end is reached – or giving up halfway. Both are technically “writing”. I say that knowing full well that it’s also a bit of a misleading lie. So, I’ll be a bit clearer in what I mean.
- Writing, as an action, is easy. It simply requires time.
- Finding inspiration on what to write about, isn’t too bad.
- Writing, as a skill, is hard and absurdly technical.
- Finding a suitable style to write, a voice that both stands out, draws people in, and don’t obscure the store, is downright insane.
I’m going to write a little about all of these points – with the caveat that I have no idea what I’m talking about. I’m just a duder putting together books who often wonders why anyone has bought a thing by me. Still, people do, so I must be doing something right – or simply be in the right genre.
I’ve said this in other places and I’ll repeat it now on this article. Writing is simply that – writing. You have an idea, you put the words together. Now, don’t confuse this with finding the perfect way to say something – it’s all related but I’m treating them as separate points.
You can try it now. Open up a document in the background, or maybe you’re slaving away on a secret work. You’ve got characters that are fuzzy or in perfect detail. The secret is to simply write out what comes next. If that doesn’t jive, write out what came later. All you have to do is press the keys.
It’s like sending a text message or an Email, hanging out in a chatroom or with friends in person. You’re telling other people something on paper. Worry about technical stuff way, way after learning to simply write.
But, and this’ll kind of assume you’ve already got an idea (see the next point), everything that happens with point 3 and 4, becomes a roadblock to the simple act of putting down words. That means you’re thinking too hard about all the other problems. That’s what editing is for – not draft writing. Then with each page, book, or series, there’s a chance to improve the other points…
None of that happens without writing.
So, how does one find the will to write? For me, the will to write comes from reading other people’s works. It ends up being a combination of love of the genre, annoyance at other stories missing something, or simply trying to give back. That last point sounds more altruistic than it is – of course I take value in people enjoying my work on any level – but when I write, it starts with finding something that others haven’t done. This leads into…
I’ve slept then awoken with the edges of book ideas. Royal Scales is this way, a scene in book two came from a dream that was almost a bunch of painting style pictures. In the back of my head there’s a vague memory of some famous author saying trying to turn dreams into a coherent story is bunk. I’m sure the actual quote is much more succinct and well phrased.
That’s true. Having done this more than once, turning a dream into a story is way more complicated than it sounds. There’s still characters to iron out, plot points to connect, and plot points that won’t make sense until you start writing. Which ties into the point above, write. Without the actual act of writing, a lot of the glaring gaps won’t be made obvious.
I’ve talked to other people and had parts of stories come together. More than one author I’ve spoken to has had this happen. The act of saying an idea out loud spawns even more. But all these are simply the edge of a book or story. A lot comes out in writing that didn’t exist during conception. Small details, character quirks, and so on. So, back to point one, write.
The final point of inspiration – for me – is the act of reading or absorbing other people’s work. There is nothing like reading twenty or thirty books in a genre to start giving ideas on what’s been done, what hasn’t, and what might be interesting to see. Reading one book in a series and assuming you know the genre and what to add to it…is not a good idea. I’ve seen people do this and it’s goofy (Especially in LitRPG lately, my god)
However, there’s an interesting distinction between ‘a story I want to write’ verses ‘a story I want to write in a specific genre’. They are not the same thing, at all. While I could assume that a story includes all aspects of the book, characters, setting, plot twists, background facts, etc. – a lot of writers who are trying to make a living off their work, treat those things as separate from the genre itself.
More than one person has tried to adapt their currently existing story to LitRPG (as a recent example), and this is really weird to me. The genre and the story details are super linked. Unless the answer is ‘vampires belong in every genre’. See, and this is inspiration too, because now I want to write a vampire playing a LitRPG, and he drinks the blood of people who kill him in PvP because he’s a sore loser. 110% legit plot, vampires belong in every genre, clearly.
Evoking an image is essentially as communicating an idea. We, writers, paint pictures with words. Some are Picasso, some are children’s drawings, and still the value is in the beholder’s eye – not the creator’s. This is not an overnight talent, or even one earned in a year.
Learning which words to choose takes time. I’m still mostly a failure. Occasionally I succeed. As such, I feel the need to explain to everyone that finishing a work is more important than finessing a sentence until you’re numb.
Once again, skill takes time, practice, and being yelled at by someone who’s probably well-meaning but still painful to listen to. Reviews, as an example, have taught me a metric ton, and those reviews on Amazon wouldn’t exist without me actually finishing a work to publish it. By a small margin, this is also true for RRL and my own website (hi).
Skill can be gained by watching other people practice the craft. I learned a lot reading a ton of novels as a child. Without that base I would have never felt comfortable writing an actual book. Seeing a finished product and knowing it was possible to reach an ending for other mere mortals (Though I’m not sure about Sanderson, he’s more machine than mortal) – helped me a lot.
In a very real way, writing mimics other’s works. We’re regurgitating meals we’ve “eaten” from other authors. That’s weird to think about, and a bit weirder to write about. Still, it’s also true. Music is the same way, and artwork is probably pretty close. We copy other peoples’ actions with our own views added in.
I honestly believe that skill is built by performing the same three steps over and over.
- See it done
- Try to do it
- Watch it being done again
Bike riding, probably the same. Walking, the same. Almost any action you can think of boils down to these three steps.
There’s one more that’s a bit further out there skill wise – and that’s trying stuff you’ve never seen before. I’ve talked to a lot of gabbers that believe they try new stuff that no one has done all the time – they’re most likely wrong. What they’re usually doing, when they describe their masterpiece action – is trying about 75% practiced material and 25% stuff they haven’t seen done.
Results may vary, and there’s nothing wrong with trying new stuff to build skills. It’s just not…wholly new and shouldn’t be presented as such.
The real reason I’m writing this entire ramble – aside from the need to motivate myself this year, is to talk about my flubs with style. Or my successes, or lessons learned, or stuff I’m still figuring out.
It’s really all the same thing. I’m still learning and probably will never stop trying new stuff. However, let’s keep this focused.
Continue Online, in the terms of style that I’m talking about, was originally one long first person product with a bunch of third person asides shoved in between chapters. Upon rereading, this felt wrong and I chose to merge a lot of the third person storyline into bigger chunks so that the main story was less choppy. This became the ‘style’ for Continue Online.
However, The Fiasco has another style. I wrote it in a way that the narrator was talking “to the reader” at times. This was a lot of fun. I got to skip the 3rd person outside view chapters and interject levity in using these “so how you doing?” moments. I expanded the world by adding dossier files to the end of chapters which was a nod to the Super Hero collectable cards of my childhood.
Fragments of Aeon has another style altogether, not just in terms of how it’s written (though I do love first person) – but in how the main character is written. I’m slowly trying out more refined writing styles that focus on better word choice (but, apparently, still repetitive as hell according to my first draft editor). This is also a bit of a style.
There are a lot of books that are simplistic in how they’re written. There are even more that feel like they’re written by English majors with not a single word under two syllables. That’s rough to do, hard to write, and almost insanely difficult to read.
Style changes how the reader handles the book. I’m still struggling to find one, and maybe the answer is “it changes with each work”.
Anyway, as with most rambles, I’m unfocused and scattered across a few ideas. It’s not easy to write these “verbal diarrhea” works and stay vaguely on point. The original concept here was on the act of writing.
As I said before, writing in and of itself, isn’t hard. It’s simply one word after the other until you reach the end. Like this.