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?

Would You Rather….

image from open clipart.org by oksmith

 

Fellow writers: would you rather a reviewer tell you that the book’s story and characters were amazing but the writing quality didn’t meet expectations or that your book’s writing was mind blowing but the characters and story were cliche retreaded territory?  Follow up bonus question: are your feelings hurt by either or these critiques?

 

I’m asking because I write a lot of book reviews (check me out on Goodreads/shameless plug) and they are critical, even on books I like. I wonder like many aspiring writers might, what effects if any of my reviews have on the authors and on my ability to reach out/break into their world of publication.  Am I speaking to other readers or do authors also follow discussions on their books?  Am I closing doors by breaking a book down or am I showcasing a thoughtful and attentive mind by considering so many facets?  For me these answers break down to whether my comments are offensive and insults are often in the eye of the beholder.

 

Assuming for the moment that critical discussion on aspects of a book don’t automatically equal injury, I want to know what specific kinds of critical discussion would be fair to discuss with an author.

 

Personally, I’d rather have characters and plot that a reader falls in love with than pitch perfect writing.  Things I want to hear include: “The characters felt very real,”, “I felt like I knew everything about these characters,”, “I needed to know more,”, “I’ve never seen this kind of story explored this way.”

 

That said, I have a distinctive sing song almost poetic style in all my writing.  I have an unique “tone.”  If someone compared my writing to another person’s style, I’d be curious to read more of that person’s work and excited to meet a kindred spirit.  If someone doesn’t like my style, I get that too.  It’s heavy in description, relies on alliteration, and is simile/metaphor heavy.  I know it’s not everyone’s cup of tea.

 

Grammatically, I know I need serious help.  Critiques to that effect can dishearten me after I’ve gone through editing that relates to correcting grammar, but it doesn’t cut me.  Either I can go back in and correct the grammatical errors (a bonus to electronic publishing), or I’ve made the error in favor of how a phrase flows or draws out a feeling fragmented instead of a full detailed thought.

 

Does it all boil down to where we as writers are insecure?  My confidence in writing style makes me believe problems in my book must be character/plot related, and therefor I’m more concerned with feedback from those quarters.  I still want the feedback.  For me there is never enough feedback or feedback that’s too harsh as long as it comes with specific examples so I can follow another’s thoughts.

 

Please give me your thoughts.  Do you fear another kind of feedback?  If someone published you would negative or mixed reviews hurt your feelings?  And how do you rate books/media?