Thanks for your opinion. It’s wonderful that in this day and age, we can so quickly quip and call each other names.
What you said was well-worded and inspirational, but I believe it is wrong.
“Because being a writer isn’t some magical lauded state of being or identity; it’s a description of having committed the act of writing.”
This is an attitude that I feel plagues all the arts today.
Then you and I are never going to agree, because you are in the camp that ART IS SPECIAL AND FOR THE ELITE and I’m in the camp that art is a thing that humans do.
But let’s just see where the rest of this conversation goes.
When I drive across a bridge, I hope that the people that built it knew what they were doing. When I talk to a doctor, I really hope that they know what they’re doing. These things are life and death, and I understand if you feel that writing can’t or doesn’t affect us in that way, but I do.
See but here’s the thing.
Building bridges and practising medicine are technical skills. You will not get better at them via trial and error, or by feedback from an audience. The costs of failure are very high.
Art is not like this.
If you’re shitty at art, you can get better -just by doing it more- and by consuming art and by presenting it to an audience for feedback and looking at the results and working with them. And if your initial efforts are shitty, the worst that’s happened is that you’ve wasted someone’s time and maybe been laughed at or scored.
One day, I want to make a list of lauded authors and artists who never attended school for their art. I think it would be really illuminating to the elitist set.
So I’m sorry if my “ASSHATTERY, ESPECIALLY MYOPIC ASSHATTERY, and ELITIST BULLSHIT ASSHATTERY” offends you, but unlike you, I don’t view the art of writing as something we all just do. I view it, as I wish more people would, as something that is learned, something that is taught, something that is improved upon to effect great change.
It’s not that i”m offended.
It’s that I think that your words are actively hurtful to young artists and writers and that they thus need to be refuted, strongly, in the same public forum on which they were made to undo some of the damage you’ve done.
It’s not that I don’t believe that writing isn’t a thing that’s learned and taught and improved. It’s that I think that writing itself is the process by which that occurs, and that elitism and gatekeeping are really harmful to that process. The moment you divide a group of people who write into ‘real writers’ and ‘not real writers’ you have discouraged the people in the latter group and curtailed their efforts.
So, yes it is an identity.
If your job description is your identity, that’s really really sad.
You see, once we viewed people by what they did - which was good and bad.
…that’s precisely what you’re doing….
Good in that we trusted people to be good and accountable for their work. Obviously bad in that it could lead to class and class warfare- which is a different conversation entirely. Today, we view people by what they like,
- “I’m a nerd.”
- “Team Edward.”
- “Baltimore Ravens fan!”
instead of what they have learned or accomplished or even attempted.
No really, we don’t.
Or maybe it’s that i have no idea who you’re including in your operation definition of ‘we’.
But sociology doesn’t support your ‘we’ over the general population.
Humans tend to identify one another in complex kinship networks; the group of people who you qualify as ‘coworkers’ may or may not overlap with the group of people who you qualify as ‘friends’ who may or may not overlap with ‘nerds’ etc. It can all be expressed in venn diagrams, with every individual person belonging to myriad different association groups. No one is every just one thing, and no identity can be narrowed down to a singular circle, and we all know that about one another but choose, when dealing with people, to only pay attention to the circles that someone else shares with us as they are relevant to the current interaction.
So people who are lazy or afraid of attempting the art of writing are allowed to say “I’m a writer”, when in reality they are a “Surveyor of Netflix”, who really likes documentaries about writers.
Oh for fuck’s sake.
See, here’s the crux of the problem.
You wish to exclude people who you don’t think are ‘real writers’ from using your label because….why? Do you think you’ll get cooties or something? How dare those plebes think they deserve the same title of merit as YOU, oh Real Writer?
Ur Horse 2 Hi.
Being a writer doesn’t make you a special snowflake.
It makes you a person who has written. It doesn’t make you a better human being, or a different class of human being, than someone who watches netflix and really likes documentaries about writers who has also written. If they’ve written, they’re a writer. Just like you.
When I was in High school, I learned that I had been named after a great poet from my country, who taught a young man, who built upon those teachings to libertate my forefathers. When I use the word poet, I like to think of him, not Tyler Knott or whoever else who writes to the lowest common denominator.
You really like elitism, don’t you?
Because when I think of the word ‘poet’ I generally mean ‘someone who uses the shape of language - its structure, rhythm, rhyme, and cadence - as well as its content to communicate a message or story’. Whereas someone who writes prose is concerned with content even if it’s to the detriment of all those other aspects.
Because writing is a powerful tool and I’m not really worried about hurting anyone’s feelings when I tell people that they’re being pushed along by the current.
Because the more people you can exclude and discredit, the more people you can discourage from attempting or disavow the attempts of or claim to be ‘not real’, the higher your position among the elite becomes, eh?
In my experience, most people are - and I am telling you that as someone who has done his share of activism, struggled with tyranny (and unfortunately failed by my obvious presence in this country, where everyone is free, but mostly free to do as little as possible) and traveled the world.
Most people are ‘pushed along with the current’? Really?
Because that’s some bullshit too, and tends to come from not paying attention to the interior lives of individuals and presuming that you are different from (better than?) other people.
I’d like to commend you at this time for resisting the urge to use the word ‘sheeple’.
I won’t call what you said “Bullshit”
Do you have a problem with using clear, concise, readily-understood language?
and I won’t try to attack your character
How magnanimous of you.
Are you attempting to imply that I’ve attacked yours?
Because what I’ve done thus far is attack the validity of your words, not your person.
despite how easy that is on the internet
You know that the internet is part of life, right? That it’s not a separate or outside place?
but at the end of the day, just because you have a blog or own a notebook doesn’t make you a writer - the genuine, driving desire to craft ideas to impact the world in a positive way DOES.
Yeah, but here’s another thing you’ve missed.
A great number of the people who have blogs and notebooks who write things down? Do it because they have a genuine, driving desire to craft ideas to impact the world in a positive way. Their blogs and notebooks are the means by which they do that.
You obviously spend a lot of energy calling people out for things you disagree with, which is fine, but I feel that most anyone who reads that bit of “advice” who has that desire will not launch into a tirade over it.
And see, here’s one of the things that makes ME a writer! When I get ticked off at something, my first impulse is to write a response and put it on a public forum for review and input by my peers! People who don’t have that impulse probably are not writers (though they might be, if they’ve written other things)
Instead of tossing around platitudes about how we’re all writers because we like writing
Oh no no, sweetie. You’ve misread my whole premise, it seems!
We’re not all writers because we LIKE writing (that’s what makes us all readers).
We’re all writers BECAUSE WE WRITE. You’ll get no argument from me that people who don’t write aren’t writers. I just find that in a predominantly literate society, that group is vanishingly small.
I would rather see people take up writing to actually do good. If that were the case, we might have a little less Cassandra Clare and little more Mark Twain.
Aaaand here we have the deep and true bones of elitism.
Because you have rank ordered Mark Twain vs. Cassandra Clare without and discussion of the merits or faults of either, without looking to their effects on their audiences or cultural impacts, without analysis or even comparison. You’ve just thrown out two names, one of a Literary Giant Of Western Canon (I.E. Dead White Dude) and another of a writer of fluffy teenage specfic books with the presumption that the audience will agree that the former is inarguably ‘better’ than the latter. This isn’t a matter of apples and oranges; it’s a matter of apples and nuclear submarines for which you’ve offered no rubric of comparison. Nuclear submarines are significantly better at making headway in the ocean, but they make shitty pies. Mark Twain offered better commentary and analysis of 19th century America and its relationship with Europe and the world, but he lacks attractive protagonists and doesn’t offer much fodder for fanfiction (or relevance and relatability to teenage readers, for that matter).
'Better' is a matter of what your goals are.
THIS IS REQUIRED READING
This is strange and entertaining. I neither agree or disagree with the following. I just thought it interesting.
Back in college, my friend Sanket and I would hang out in bars and try to talk to women but I was horrible at it. Nobody would talk to me for more than thirty seconds, and every woman would laugh at all his jokes for what seemed like hours. Even decades later I think they are still laughing at his jokes. One time he turned to me and said, “The girls are getting bored when you talk. Your stories go on too long. From now on, you need to leave out every other sentence when you tell a story.” We were both undergrads in Computer Science. I haven’t seen him since, but that’s the most important writing (and communicating) advice I ever got.
33 other tips for being a better writer
Write whatever you want. Then take out the first paragraph and last paragraph. Here’s the funny thing about this rule. It’s sort of like knowing the future. You still can’t change it. In other words, even if you know this rule and write the article, the article will still be better if you take out the first paragraph and the last paragraph.
Take a huge bowel movement every day. And you won’t see that on any other list on how to be a better writer. If your body doesn’t flow then your brain won’t flow. Eat more fruit if you have to.
Bleed in the first line. We’re all human. A computer can win Jeopardy but can’t write a novel. If you want people to relate to you, then you have to be human. Penelope Trunk started a post a few weeks ago: “I smashed a lamp over my head. There was blood everywhere. And glass. And I took a picture.” That’s real bleeding. My wife recently put up a post where the first line was so painful she had to take it down. Too many people were crying.
Don’t ask for permission. In other words, never say “in my opinion” (or worse “IMHO”). We know it’s your opinion. You’re writing it.
Write a lot. I spent the entire 90s writing bad fiction. 5 bad novels. Dozens of bad stories. But I learned to handle massive rejection. And how to put two words together. In my head, I won the Pulitzer Prize. But in my hand, over 100 rejection letters.
Read a lot. You can’t write without first reading. A lot. When I was writing five bad novels in a row, I would read all day long whenever I wasn’t writing (I had a job as a programmer, which I would do for about five minutes a day because my programs all worked and I just had to “maintain” them). I read everything I could get my hands on.
Read before you write. Before I write every day, I spend 30-60 minutes reading high quality short stories, poetry, or essays. Books by Denis Johnson, Miranda July, David Foster Wallace, Ariel Leve, William Vollmann, Raymond Carver, etc. All the writers are in the top 1/1000 of 1% of writers. It has to be at that level, or else it won’t lift up your writing at all.
Coffee. I go through three cups at least before I even begin to write. No coffee, no creativity.
Break the laws of physics. There’s no time in text. Nothing has to go in order. Don’t make it nonsense. But don’t be beholden to the laws of physics. This post on my personal blog is an example.
Be honest. Tell people the stuff they all think but nobody ever says. Some people will be angry you let out the secret. But most people will be grateful. Otherwise, you aren’t delivering value. Be the little boy in The Emperor Wears No Clothes. If you can’t do this, don’t write.
Don’t hurt anyone. This goes against the above rule. But I never like to hurt people. And I don’t respect people who get pageviews by breaking this rule. Don’t be a bad guy. Was Buddha a Bad Father? — another one from my blog — addresses this.
Don’t be afraid of what people think. For each single person you worry about, deduct 1% in quality from your writing. Everyone has deductions. I have to deduct about 10% right off the top. Maybe there’s 10 people I’m worried about. Some of them are evil people. Some of them are people I just don’t want to offend. So my writing is only about 90% of what it could be. But I think most people write at about 20% of what it could be. Believe it or not, clients, customers, friends, family — they’ll love you more if you are honest with them. So we all have our boundaries. But try this: for the next ten things you write, tell people something that nobody knows about you.
Be opinionated. Most people I know have strong opinions about at least one or two things. Write about those. Nobody cares about all the things you don’t have strong opinions on. Barry Ritholz told me the other day he doesn’t start writing until he’s angry about something. That’s one approach. Barry and I have had some great writing fights because sometimes we’ve been angry at each other.
Have a shocking title. I blew it the other day. I wanted to title this piece “How I torture women” but I settled for “I’m guilty of torture.” I wimped out. But I have some other fun ones. Like “is it bad I wanted my first kid to be aborted” (which the famous Howard Lindzon cautioned me against). Don’t forget that you are competing against a trillion other pieces of content out there. So you need a title to draw people in. Else you lose.
Steal. I don’t quite mean it literally. But if you know a topic gets pageviews (and you aren’t hurting anyone) then steal it, no matter who’s written about it or how many times you’ve written about it before. “How I Screwed Yasser Arafat out of $2mm was able to nicely piggyback off of how amazingly popular Yasser Arafat is.
Make people cry. If you’ve ever been in love, you know how to cry. Bring readers to that moment when they were a child, and all of life was in front of them, except for that one bittersweet moment when everything began to change. If only that one moment could’ve lasted forever. Take them back to that moment.
How would you outline a novel that is being told from three different perspectives?
- Writing Software. If you’re someone that relies mostly on your computer, there’s tons of writing software that helps you keep track of narratives, scenes, and plans in different ways. There’s a post here with links.
- Paper and Pen. I do a lot of my outlining by hand. IN THEORY I use colored pens to denote different things (this never works out), but they’re still a very useful tool when noting down who is tackling what scene, and why.
- Plot Maps and Scene Cards. Again, I’m a very hands-on person, and having things to shuffle around and rearrange really help me. Austin Kleon in Steal Like An Artist also recommends the hands-on approach, using writing calenders and journals to track both your progress and your To Dos.
i have two alternate point of views do you have any tips on how to keep the point of views from sounding too similar
I have a technique (if you can define haphazard scribbling as a technique) of something I’ve been calling a Voice Check, which… is sheets of paper noting the differences in speech patterns for each character, so nothing fancy. Here are some suggestions!
- Note speaking differences. It is somewhat hard to denote accent in writing without it being obnoxious, but you can keep track of phrases, speech patterns, and ways of speaking for each character. My mom has a tendency to pepper her speech with 99% more ‘you knows’ when she’s on the phone with her sisters (I used to sit there and silently count them with my fingers until she smacked me). Another thing you can note is how much people say; some will use whole paraphrase for what others can fit in a three word phrase.
- Note perspective differences. Adults are going to hold different opinions then teenagers, but most important, both may not be able to convey why they hold those different opinions. What is obvious for one person is mud to another, and when switching back and forth, you can convey that breakdown in communication. Not only this, they’re just going to see the world differently due to different experiences, and it’s your job to rely why. If one character wants to storm the castle and the other wants to stay hidden in the forest, be sure to note down why their opinions are so different and what that tells the reader about them.
- Be sure to contrast them, both on paper and in your head. Conversations are fantastic because you can get a lot of back and forth between two characters. They’re also nerve-wracking if you’re afraid they won’t sound distinctive. Never fear, just keep your character differences in mind, double check their speech patterns, and know that you can also edit in the future! Having them talk to each other, regardless of how much of it makes it to paper, is a great way to draw out their differences and their distinctions
This post on Dialogue and Voice should be able to help you map this out more. Good luck!
Hi, I used to be so passionate about writing. I literally wrote all the time and it was my life. For the past year or so though, I just can’t get myself to do it. I just simply don’t have any ideas (or any ideas that haven’t been done in some form before). When I do manage to write something, I stop because I think it’s terrible. Part of me feels like I just don’t have talent anymore, but I don’t want to give up. How do I get back into writing? Thank you xxWe have several tags that I hope might help you - Powering Through, Motivation, Inspiration, and Writer’s Block. Other than that, I hope the following advice can help you:
This is hard, but it’s not hopeless! You can do it, anon.
- Start slow. Don’t force it. Set a time, but if that’s too hard, write when you feel like it. This isn’t something you should force.
- Start small. Don’t feel like you have to write a novel. Start with snippets, play with ideas, try new forms.
- Doodle. If you sit down and can’t write, find some way to move your pen. Drawing might lead to words, which will lead to sentences. Don’t be afraid to channel your childhood self.
- Get help. Find encouragement. Join a writing group just to listen, hang out on writing boards. Find someone to bounce ideas off of. Find places you can get ideas.
- Do something that’s not writing. Pick up a new hobby. Take pictures, paint. Do something that will encourage your creativity in other ways. The words will come, they just need a little help.
What is your advice on writing about places that you’ve never been? (i.e. London/England, Edinburgh, Tuscany/Venice/Italy, etc.), settings that will become focal points in your novel, but you want to make sure you get the details just right?
Thankfully, you live in the wonderful age of the internet, where you can find out just about anything you want to know about a place you’ll never be! There’s a lot of things you can do. Try:
- Tourist Guides. Don’t lean too heavily on these, but if you want a basic overview of a city, they’re an okay to start. The best ones lay out neighborhoods, popular places, and what the environment and weather is like. Make sure it’s updated (or alternatively, find an old one for doing a story set a few years or so in the past).
- Internet People. People! On the internet! Who live in these places! There’s no shame in going trolling for people with first-hand experience; just be polite when you approach then and understanding if they don’t want to answer your questions.
- Google Earth. No really, this is a godsend. You can scroll through streets to get your description just right.
- Read stuff based there. There are lots of books based in places that lack that certain something; the author hasn’t been there, and they seem to be just naming locations rather than living them. Get some secondhand experience by reading books written by people who have been to the places; take notes on places that stand out to you, and chase those down in your own research.
Ultimately, it’s going to be tough, but doable to describe a place you’ve never been; historical writers do it all the time, and their secret is lots of research. You can manage the same if you stick to it!
In one sentence is the spark of a story. Ignite.
Mission: Write a story, a description, a poem, a metaphor, a commentary, or a memory about this sentence. Write something about this sentence.
Be sure to tag writeworld in your block!
Anonymous asked you:
I feel like I’m being selfish for wanting my friends to read the things I write, and get real depress when they don’t. Sometimes I stop writing for months because they didn’t read a story I made, but then I feel bad because I think that’s selfish. Is there a way to stop wanting people to read what I write?
Here’s a critical thing to keep in mind: never rely on your friends to validate your writing.
I understand the feeling, and I’ve been there. When my friends stopped reading my stuff, I felt like I didn’t have anyone to write for anymore. We want to have that audience, someone to write for, someone to enjoy the stories we’re creating and get as invested as we are in these characters. We need that voice of positivity, the person who says, “I really need you to keep writing!”
But depending upon friends or any personal relationship to do this can backfire in a bunch of ways. Here are a few of them:
- The need to please the friends. It’s easy to get locked up with the feeling of, “I need to give my audience what they want,” and friends can very easily influence us. Sometimes, this is fine. But once the “need to please” interferes with the story you need to tell, this route turns icy fast. Part of writing is often doing things that the reader won’t like, and a fear of making your friends angry can hinder telling the story the way it should be told.
- Friends who aren’t readers. This in itself is an inherent trap. With someone who doesn’t take writing or reading seriously, it’s highly likely that this friend, even with the best intentions, may not take you seriously either, and they certainly can’t understand what you’re going through as a writer.
- Friends who are readers. Again, even with the best of intentions, a friend who’s well-read might give you instructions on how to write your story. “Wouldn’t it be cool if…” or “You should totally do this…” or “This is exactly like this one book I read…” While all these comments might seem helpful, or at least innocuous, to your friend, they can be pretty damaging to you and your creative process.
- Friends who are writers, not critique partners. Another perilous path. Not all writers are good critique partners, and so a writer friend might mean well when they force their own style or ideas onto you. They might mean well when they’re commenting on what you’ve written, but bad critiques from friends can feel like an attack on your friendship.
- Laziness or flakiness. Take any of the aforementioned examples and apply laziness or flakiness. This can be absolutely detrimental to us, because if a friend can read ten books but not your one chapter, or if a friend can write a hundred thousand words and not comment on the pages you sent them, this can feel like a million different bad things. We might think they don’t care about us, or that our writing is so bad that they won’t read it, or that they’re unwilling to help us as friends – any or all of these things, plus more. We often have no shortage of insecurities, and a friend who can’t/won’t prioritize reading our stuff above whatever else they have on their plate can hit us hard and throw an axe at our creative process.
- Fraying relationships. Not all friends will understand what you, as a writer, are going through. It’s very personal to us. Because some friends simply can’t understand, we might let it hurt us and tax our relationship. A friend who’s great for a night out partying or shopping or even sitting in a coffee shop and just talking hours away might still not be good at understanding you as a writer.
Whenever a friend, whether reader or writer or D.) None of the above, is hindering your ability to write, take them out of the list of people who get to read your writing.
And pay attention to that phrasing: “who get to read your writing.” Don’t let yourself think, “Writing is important to me, and my friend is important to me, so why isn’t my writing important to my friend, too?” Because then you might devolve into bad, bad thoughts of, “I’m stupid for letting my writing be important to me,” or, “My writing will never be important to anyone but me,” on and on until we fall into some dark places.
Never weigh your validation as a writer on whether or not your friends can make time to read your stuff. Write for yourself first and foremost, always.
So, what’s an alternative to friends?
Find writers like you — writers who share your interests — and form your own mutual support group. Be that writing friend that you want to have. Make time to read and support other writers who make time to read and support you. And if you ever feel down, ask one of your support group peeps to read something you’ve written and offer only positive feedback. There’s no shame in needing a bit of ego inflation.
There’s a huge community of writers here on Tumblr, and I’m willing to bet you’re not alone with this problem. Lots of writing blogs have ways to connect with other writers as well, so check them out!
My friends and family tell me writing isn’t a real job and that I should do it on the side. They say it wouldn’t be a very smart choice to make it my job and that I should wait until I’m famous to do it full time. This really discouraged me. Do they have a point? If they don’t, how do I respond to this?
This is really hard to deal with. While I don’t understand their reasoning exactly, I can see where they’re coming from. More and more websites aren’t paying writers for their contributions, relying instead on paying in ‘exposure’ (never work for ‘exposure’). Fictional short stories don’t pay very much, and novel publishing is a long, hard, and scary process.
- Figure out what kind of writing you want to do. Be specific. The more detailed you can make your reasoning, the easier it will be to shut other people up. If you clearly know the industry and know what you’re in for and they don’t, you can silence them with your knowledge.
- Find monetizing options. Copywriting is the least exciting thing out there, but it might pay the bills. Cracked only pays 100$ an article to start with, but it’s a good way to cut your teeth. Learn the ins and outs of what makes money and how much it makes.
- Specialize. Let’s say you want to be a journalist. In order to have an edge, you can get together specific skills-learn a foreign language, become well-versed in economics, study climate change, etc. Even if your path is fiction writing, you still want to find that thing that calls to you and make it your thing.
- Have a back-up plan. My parents stressed having a back-up plan, or a ‘paying’ job when I told them I wanted to be a writer; therefore I have an MA in Teaching ESL. You can stay close to the industry-work in publishing, write for literary magazines, etc-or you can find something you really enjoy and wouldn’t mind doing until you ‘make it’ as a writer. Don’t get me wrong; a lot of writers work shitty jobs before they get their start, often because they have no choice. If this is what you have to do, it’s what you have to do. Don’t be ashamed of working at McDonalds to pay for rent; keep your eyes on your goals, and keep working.
- Get Team You. You need a support team, a Jaeger pit crew, some people to help you get where you need to go. Find that support! Get friends with similar interests, talk to internet buddies. You need encouragement; don’t let others drag you down.
Lots of artists struggle for support from their friends and families; you’re not alone. Stick to your guns, make plans, and work hard. You’ll get there!