Getting down to the basics

Writing is a difficult and arduous endeavor. If that isn’t true for you, then take a hike! This blog isn’t for you! No, really. If writing comes easily to you, then I have very little to offer that hasn’t been covered before. This blog is more suited to those who look at the prospect of writing and have no idea where to begin.

Newbies, welcome! Beginners, come on in. Let’s get started.

I’ve given you my background, or at least as much as necessary to give a picture of where I began. So, let’s start talking about how to become a writer.

There is a plethora of writing advice and material to be had. So much that is isn’t only overwhelming, but also contradictory, discouraging, and often detrimental.

Let me also say, I am not a professional writer in any sense. I have never been published, and I don’t claim to have all the answers.

One thing about writing is that is not the same for everyone. What works for some will not work for others, and can even be damaging. The advice I give here is more for reference, as I am trying to become a published author myself.

So, where do we start?

The first piece of advice I am going to pass along may seem simple, even elementary, but it is overlooked so often that it requires a look.

Advice #1: Write.

Duh. I know, but you’d be amazed at how many people (this guy included) that don’t actually write as much as they should. And, I’m not talking about 10 pages a day. I mean as little as 10 minutes a day. Sure, writing emails, or doing a research paper or any other type of writing is going to flex your writing muscles, but not enough. I’m talking about writing fiction. Sitting down and pounding out a story.

This is often daunting to a new writer. I was terrified to start a story with the intentions of actually finishing it. I just knew that if I finished it and it was terrible that I would run away from writing and never look back. It was so hard to think about writing a story all the way through. So, for months, even years, all I did was begin stories, but never finish them. Or, I wrote story ideas, character sketches, or scenes, but never full stories.

It wasn’t until I had a great idea for a story that I was able to push aside my fear and just write. Originally, it was intended to be the first chapter in a novella, but it stands reasonably well on its own as a short story (“Sentinel” in the story section). It is certainly not a masterpiece, but it is a step in the right direction. It is also the only story to date that my wife has read and liked. More about this later…

So, if you find yourself in this same situation, please, just write. It doesn’t matter if you think the story is terrible. It doesn’t matter if the idea has been done before (more on this later as well). It only matters that you FINISH the story. That is so important. You can do all the research in the world, take all the notes you want, and come up with as many story ideas as your computer can hold, but if you don’t actually finish the story you will never begin to develop the understanding of story mechanics and structure.

Write with abandon. Don’t worry if you think the story is terrible. You can always just toss it. And, don’t be afraid to reuse that story idea later for a different story. This will help you to understand your mistakes in the first story, and to see what did work in that story. Don’t worry, with hindsight you’ll be able to tell what worked and what didn’t. Just let that story sit for a month or two before you come back to it.

Now, back to ideas that have been done before. I have often sat down with my journal to write story ideas and said, “I can’t do that. Its been done to death.” While it is true that there really isn’t any such thing as an original idea, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t write about it. Because, as soon as you do, you have written it from your point of view, and that makes it more unique.

True, you should understand what others have done first by reading as much as you can about your subject, but don’t for a second think that you can’t write about vampires or some other such thing because it has been done before. You just have to approach it with the understanding that it needs to be written in your voice. In other words, tell the story in your own way. Try not the think about all those that came before. You will subliminally call up those ideas, so be careful not to listen to them.

For example, if you want to write about vampires, fine. Here’s an easy way to try to rise above cliché and avoid cloning existing bestsellers.

-Combine genres and ideas together: If you just focus on writing about vampires, you’re going to run into clichés as you go. So, take the vampire story and drop it into another genre, or combine it with a completely different idea. “True Blood,” for example, turned vampires into a social movement similar to the Gay movements of the 80’s and 90’s and captured the feel of the AIDs scare. Even this may not be a new idea, but it helped her to bring a fresh spin to the vampire genre. The more layers you can add to an idea, the more likely you are to have something come out of it that is more unique to you.

So, write those stories with wild abandon, and don’t think about how it turns out. You have to exercise to get stronger, so too will your writing muscles grow if you put them to work.

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