How Did you Become a Writer?

image from open clipart.org uploaded by j4p4n

 

No idea who first said it, but someone said: “If you write, you’re a writer.”  It wasn’t a conscious decision filled with tedium and angst.  I picked up a pencil, learned my alphabet, and have been part of the writer’s club since first grade.  My first stories all fall into the haunted house genre.  Ghosts, friends dying or disappearing, and an ever increasing series of rooms.  I told the story “Winchester” with the same stakes, except sometimes my characters didn’t survive.  So better and told by a child, I guess I was too ahead of my time to rake in all that Hollywood money.  At least I have creative satisfaction?

I’m mentioning this anecdote because a common writers’ blog question is “when did you decide you wanted to be a writer?”  Is telling stories a choice for some people?  Like is anyone in a room saying “I’m about to have an amazing idea for a story, but I need to get a jump on quantum mechanics so hard pass on inspiration.”  Or are these people like “my dream was to be a plumber, but damn the money and security of writing is so tempting, I quit my trade school despite all the people encouraging me to follow my passion.”

The other thing I love about “when did you take the plunge to become a writer?” is the implication that a person stopped being anything else as soon as they choose writing.  Yes Bob, I was a student, but Mrs.  Williams asked me to write a story and I enjoyed it so much that I decided screw it, I’m a writer now!  Or Wendy was a stay at home mom but then she started moonlighting as a blog content creator.  Now her kids are in the orphanage, aspiring to write a compelling enough version of their life that maybe their mother will acknowledge them creatively even if she had to abandon them for the work.

The framing implies everyone who writes should have the one goal: to make writing a full-time profession and excludes the reality of most writers.  It’s a passion we pursue around our lives, not a career we move towards single minded.  And props to the rare, lucky, privileged few who make writing a full-time gig.  I don’t mean to erase this group, I just think they’re a minority.

A more apt question in my perspective: “Was there ever a time you weren’t a writer or didn’t want to write?”  Or even better “How big a part of your identity is writing and are there times where you feel it over grows its boundaries?”

None of the writers I know have a “and that’s when I realized I was a writer story” but most of them have “and that’s when I realized I’d gone too far,” or “now when I have time, there’s no writing,” anecdotes.

What about you?  Is “when did you become a writer?” a meaningful question?  Are there times you wish you weren’t a writer?  Is writing enough validation of your career/hobby or do you only thing published writers have a claim to the title?

What’s in a Name?-A name I stole from another Author’s Blog!

image from open clipart.org provided by Astro

 

Rick Polad shared What’s in a Name?  It inspired me to create my version.  And since we both admit we’re crap at creating names (well he struggles, I admit I’m crap at it), I figured I’d steal his title to keep with the theme…because I don’t want to waste time creating another title not because I couldn’t.  


It’s content that matters right?  Except if your title or name sucks, no one will ever get past it and into all the good stuff, which can leave writers stuck.  Even people good with names, can feel stymied by the pressure applied to first impressions.  Bland titles that don’t search well in Google or Amazon.

I have a few thoughts.  First don’t use character names that start with the same letter in a single story. I know Polad speaks about using Rose and Rosie as two different character names in the same work.  I’m thrilled it worked out for him.  As someone with dyslexia it wouldn’t work out for me as either an author or a reader.  Those two names read the same on a casual glance.  Figuring out the characters are separate and keeping them separate would slow my reading down to a snail’s pace.  I might need to make notes.  So don’t make your characters’ names so similar please.  


 I go one further and try never to use names that start with the same letter.  People skim, they don’t read anymore.  I don’t want to confuse anyone kind enough to read my work with names that tangle different characters together into one person.


I also suggest using one name for a character.  I’ve read a lot of books where halfway through characters develop nicknames that are either shorten versions of their full name (i.e. the author tired of writing the full thing out) or the character develops a random pet names.  It’s annoying to keep track a bunch of different names.  Use one name even if it’s not the real name have everyone call him Snake or whatever.  
There is ONE series of books where the author used nicknames to her advantage.  In it she has the main character name those around her after their predominate traits.  It works because it helps us get to know her main character and because the main character’s insistency on these nicknames ends up forcing other characters to adopt them.  The nickname that uses the character’s defining trait becomes how everyone addresses the guy formerly known as Bob.  


I’d like to tell you not to make the name ridiculous, but I use outrageous names all the time.  What I will say is that it’s a balancing act to make names unusual and other names more standard.  Consider when a name might be too on the nose or when one person has a unique name in a sea of bland.

And Now Helpful Resources:
 First is Behind the Name If you’ve got a theme, this site will fill your queue with potential names.  You can search through meanings, country origins, and genders when hunting for names.  All of this can be a sly nod to a reader or something meant only to tickle the author.
My second favorite site is the Fake Name Generator.  Ashley, in writers’ group, gave me this site and now I’m sharing the love.  Identity genorator offers “believable” if you are looking for that living in the real world vibe.  Fill in the specifics you have and let the site give you the rest.  It’s an interesting creators’ tool.  

*Edit 11/7/18 I just found Reedsy has a interesting detailed name generator that offers names for Villains, heroes, mentors, and side kicks.  Or names specific to fantasy races, or names bases off of certain languages.  I still prefer Behind the Name, but Reedsy’s resource has too much possibility to exclude.*

Next I recommend a writers’ group or series of peers.  Ashley gave me a name for one of my characters and she let me know another’s name isn’t “too on the nose”.  Having outside feedback is key to getting into a potential readers’ mindset.  


Last, when all else fails, I bang the keys of my computer and see what rises from the gibberish.  I like grabbing scifi names this way.  
Talk to me.  Do you have trouble creating names for people and places?  Do you have tips, tricks, or favorite sites to help?  Any other thoughts on what not to do when naming a place or person?

Question on the Hour: What place does Music have in Your Writing?

 

photo by Amanda Standfield

 

Do you listen to music when you write or is the room dead silent?  Do you use a special mix with specific songs or do you pick a genre and then let Spotify or pandora pick the playlist?  Do you prefer songs with lyrics or are you into pure instrumentals?  Can you write only with music or only in silence?

For starters, my music service of choice is Pandora.  Ever since the service came out, I loved its evocative name and the way the service introduces me to new music has always intrigued me.  Countless hours in college fiddling with the radio settings and “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” different songs, forged a lifetime bond with this service.  I keep some channels so fine tuned that some songs I like don’t play on one station, only the other.  All this personalization is perfect for writing because I can pinpoint what kind of emotion and tempo I want while I write. 

As a general starting place, I listen to pop/dance music when I write.  The fast beats encourage the words to flow fast and constant.  Most pop/dance is repetitive and uncreative (sorry), which helps me get to a state of mind without coloring my prose.  Unless as you read this you’re thinking “oh no no no, don’t phunk with my heart,” Black Eyed Peas make consistent appearances on this channel.  The best part of my dance music motif is that when I get stuck on a certain scene, I can stop writing and start an impromptu dance party!  Nothing drives progress like an endorphin hit.

That said, I have a short story I inspired by one specific song.  To write it, I looped the one song the during the whole writing process—hours of the same song, and I still find that song mysterious and inspiring.  Something about its slow start that transforms to frantic drums and ends abruptly –

For reference, while I like pop/dance just fine but they aren’t my go to genre.  Except Lady Gaga whose amazing, my music preferences just for enjoyment include hard rock, metal, alt rock, grunge, and folk.  Angry and loud or pensive and angst (but never Emo they feels are manufactured).  I like songs I can channel feelings through and release.  Problem with this kind of music is that sometimes it makes me feel too much.  The writing becomes too personal or I’m too busy wallowing in an emotion to refocus on what I meant to do.  I might occasionally listen to a folk or rock station briefly so I can capture that bit of that depth my writing, but I don’t want to live there.  Writing or reading a story that’s all brooding anger and open wounds sounds terrible and exhausting for everyone involved.

Do your music preferences match what you listen too?  If you use a writers’ playlist, what does it reveal about you as a person or as a writer?  Follow up thought: do you longer works have playlist?  What about your characters?  My favorite creation, Roxi, has a playlist and I wonder how many other authors’ creations take on a life of own through music.

Swiping Inspiration

graphic from open clipart.org by qubodup

 

Writing is theft.   Confession time: there are no characters, situations, or concepts in my writing I haven’t lifted from a real world experience.  While anything is fair game for a story, I’m most focused on having “real characters” that a reader can relate to and believe are real while I make a world full of the fantastic these normal people have to deal with.  Because I like character studies, my most stolen tidbits comes from the surrounding people. 

When I talk to you with that over eager, boisterous barrage of questions, I am interested in you, but I’m also pilfering all your experiences and responses to mash up later when I sit down to write.  Do not leave me alone in a room because I rifle through every drawer.  There’s no shame in my cat killing curiosity and there’s no end to it.  Tell me to back off anytime now.  I know my intensity is off-putting, and I try to keep a lid on it.  If we ever meet, I hope you’d never suspect how hungry I am to hear your life story.  How much I want to dig into an abstract hobby of yours.  I want facts I can check to see if you’re the honest sort, but either truth or lies, I’ll incorporate that study to some Frankenstein-esque mash up of you and four other people I met this week.  It’s alive, and the only part I can claim rights to is how I fit the Tetris blocks together.   

What in your day-to-day life do you steal the most inspiration from?  Are your gems personal experiences and past events?  Or do you explore expansive new places, plumbing each place for its local traditions, retooling them to your desires?  Do current or past politics spur you into creative world building?  Are you seeking to recapture old myths and fairytales in an unique way?  Or maybe you dream of technological break through in the present and think of what they’d mean in the future (or what they would mean if delivered to the past)?  There’s so much information offered, rife for a writer to pluck up and entwine into a new story.  How is a creative to choose?  Tell me what you hunt for, what parts of your story are the “most real” and how do you obscure the origins of those tidbits?

Why Do You Write?

image from open clipart.org by Firkin

 

It’s a simple question, but one I’ve found a lot of writers have never asked themselves.

I write because I have stories and I want to tell them.  Compulsion pulls me through where a reasonable person may surrender.  There are days where I think “even if no one ever sees this, I need to complete it.”  That’s an internal part of writing, when an idea gets too big to hold in my head and needs to come out to the page.   There are stories of mine I’ll never seek to publish.  I “had” to write them, but that doesn’t mean they are good or meant for public consumption.  Two, even though they are fiction, just mean personal things I don’t want to share.  Others are artistic dabbles that I either think aren’t good or may be acceptable but not noteworthy enough to go through the work trying to publish.

I write because I enjoy reading but it’s rare I find an engaging story.  Arrogance at it’s finest, to think I can be more unique and captivating that those already published.  What I want is so niche it’s probably not worth creating.  If I’m looking for a gritty urban fantasy with relatable characters, attainable goals, and both good and negative parts of magic and myth running the world, there must be other people looking for that.  Urban fantasy readers can’t all be there for the romance and laughs.  Some of them must be like me looking for the substance.  American Gods exists and was a huge hit.  There are so many other directions a work like that could go that I want to see.

I write as a way for reaching out to others.  As someone shy, nervous, and concerned about other’s feelings and perspectives, there is no better way to broach difficult topics than through fiction.   It’s a lot harder to feel attacked by an idea expressed in an imaginary world than an idea that will affect people now.  Stories create space for people to say “that’s an interesting idea, could it work here?” or “I wonder if issue X is relevant now and what that looks like?”

I write because it distracts me when my anxiety is high.  To a lesser extent: I write when I’m depressed because I need something beautiful or I write when the world spins out of control because writing is all in my hands.  Most writers I know have an element of this.  They are pensive, depressed, anxious, socially awkward and writing mitigates that for them.

I write because it’s one of the few skills I have that makes me proud and leaves me feeling accomplished.  I write because I have something to say and I’m always exploring new ways to express my points.

And now you, the reader, know me better.  Tell me something about yourself.  Are you a writer?  What do you write?  If it’s fiction in nature, why write it?  If you’re a reader, what do you read and why read it?

The Rules of the Game

image from open clipart.org by nicubunu

 

I am the self-appointed editor of our group round robins.  Anyone who’s read our work knows I am LEAST qualified of the four of us.  ProWritingAid is the great equalizer, or at least I have to tell myself it is.

As the editor I have self-imposed rules.

 

1. Don’t change the core of other’s sections.  Whatever they wrote is what they intended and I have to work with that, not hack and slash around to change inherent meaning.  Too much change makes it “my story” instead of “our story” which runs contrary to the round robin’s goals.

 

 2. Seamless flow from one writer to the other is the goal, but I can’t change all the phrasing to be “Jessica” (or anyone else’s) style to achieve this.  It’s not right to erase someone else’s voice on a joint work to showcase another’s.

 

This worked well in our first round robin.  I used ProWritingAid first to correct grammar, style, to catch and rework repetitive phrasing, and to delete adverbs.  The major change I made was plot continuity driven.  One writer misread another’s part of the story.  Where Anges finds a dead body that writer interpreted it as Anges being the dead body.  I had to change content.  I adjusted three lines.

 

Fast forward to our second round robin project.  We used Reedsy to find a prompt.  The gist was: “Your grandmother makes pancakes for you every morning.  Your grandmother dies, but there are still pancakes the next morning.

 

This prompt was a different challenge from the last.   The first story blooms from three words/themes.  Using a specific scenario, encouraged more partnership instead of competition to “take over” the story.  This second round robin was smoother and required a lot less finessing to make it seem like one person had written the work.

 

If reworking it was simple why isn’t it posted here?

 

The “problem”: I hate my part of the story.  Not all.  I’m happy with the first three almost four paragraphs, but it goes downhill fast.  My ambitions to churn the most words and be the first to “finish” a round robin in fifteen minutes left me with a rambling sticky mess.  I do not want to publish such a poor expression of my writing.  Everything I think is weakest in my form is on display.

 

What might be worse, my closing section only drives towards a handful of endings.  I broadcasted the only natural conclusion, and that’s driving me to play with the less obvious choices to thumb my nose at myself (because I hate authority so much I’ll rebel against myself when I become the authority and isn’t that an unattractive personality quirk).

 

Help!  Do I publish and unfinished story as it stands?  Do I scrap this work as hopeless?  Do I make my changes because if I cut the last two paragraphs I could write three kinds of separate endings on my own?  Are more drastic changes to my section a benefit I gain as the person completing the editing work?  Do I have to keep everything I wrote in the spirit of the exercise and endure the cringe?  Tell me what’s a “professional” writer/editor to do in this situation with my minor conflict of interest.