I started a weekly blog a couple of years ago for my friends to keep track of on Facebook. It seemed to work pretty well. Some weeks, I had a lot to write about. Others, not so much. It at least kept me motivated enough to keep writing. Then, a couple of weeks ago, I decided to start a new blog available to others who didn’t keep in touch with me through Facebook, and here I am typing it now.
Here’s what this blog is not: it’s not me tooting my horn about the stories I’m currently writing (though I will use myself as an example). It’s not me hollering about how cool and special I am. What it is is a look at the life of one writer. Each week, I’ll make a post on something related to the art of writing (building strong characters, dialogue, research tips, etc.) or something about the writer’s lifestyle (dealing with rejection slips, tips on submitting stories, etc.). Hopefully, you’ll learn something. If not, I at least hope you’ll find this an entertaining read.
The first thing that every writer has to deal with is the question of what to write, and there are a lot of options. With fiction alone, you have your choice of mystery, romance, science fiction, westerns, and so on. Then you have sub-genres within each of them. Hardboiled mystery? Time-travel romance? Apocalyptic science fiction? Spaghetti western? It’s a matryoshka doll of questions. Two writers whose advice may be helpful are Stephen King and Leonard Chang. King, of course, needs no introduction, or, if he does, it’s one with thunder and lightning. Leonard is a faculty member at Antioch University where I got my M.F.A. I never had him for an adviser or in workshop. In fact, the only conversation I ever had with him was when I was picking a semester adviser. Still, he keeps a blog of his own that’s very insightful.
King’s On Writing is a terrific look at writing with a nice conversational tone that really puts the reader at ease. The question of what to write about is something he discusses, and his answer is simple: “anything you damn well want.” That includes the outlandish stories about aliens, monsters and anything out of the ordinary. We’ve never met aliens but that doesn’t stop people from writing about them. Military science fiction has been my default genre for years, ever since grade school when I put down the T.V. remote and picked up a book for fun. You never lose dramatic tension during a war. To paraphrase H. Rap Brown, violence is as American as cherry pie. Of course, that doesn’t make it the only thing that I write. I’m always willing to try a Tolkienesque fantasy or a Stokerian monster tale. There isn’t anything wrong with switching genres, just as long as you write something that you find interesting.
This brings me to my next point: avoid clone writing. Clone writing is when you write something you enjoy in a fit of inspiration but it’s not quite something you’re cut out for. One of my favorite books is Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, and I had been toying with the idea of doing a Faustian story of my own for about a year. Part of it was a dare I made to myself to write about a character that was truly horrific, but what I got was just a series of drug abuse, murder, cannibalism and just about every sin I could think of. And it was meaningless. There was no ending to the story and nothing to glue it all together.
Here’s where Leonard Chang comes in. Leonard recently posted a story about a friend of his that I’ll sum up for you here. This friend was also a painter and, while taking an art course, an instructor splattered black paint over a classmate’s work, saying that he should never get too attached what he was working on. If something doesn’t click, and if it drags on for a year like this, it’s a clear sign that you should forget about it and move on to something else. I may be a fan of Wilde’s novel, but it’s just something I’m not meant to write myself.
Likewise, pick something to write that you enjoy as a reader, but be willing to accept your own limitations. It will save you a lot of sleepless nights.