For the writers among us

A few thoughts and observations on that demon that haunts us ink-stained wretches:

“… writers don’t like the actual writing bit.”

“Being literate as a writer is good craft, is knowing your job, is knowing how to use your tools properly and not to damage the tools as you use them.”

“I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be.” Douglas Adams, (1952 – 2001)

The above three quotes are from Douglas Adams, best known as the author of the five books of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy trilogy. (I know, but that’s how he described it.) And from personal experience I can say that first quote is spot on. As well, I have written many short stories that prove the third one as well.

As for the second, that would be for the reader to determine. I like to think I write well, and use, but not abuse, the English language properly. One piece of advice I was given is “write the way you speak.” In other words, if you don’t commonly use “ten dollar words” in your daily vocabulary, don’t use them in your writing, even if you can get them half-off. You’ll sound pretentious and will probably use them wrong. My writing always uses the vocabulary and speech patterns I use in everyday communication and people have told me that when they read my stuff, they can hear my voice reading it in their minds. I consider that a compliment. The only time I vary from that is if the character requires it.

There are several other “rules” of writing that make little sense to me at least, such as “write what you know”. That may be fine if you’re writing a technical piece, but doesn’t necessarily apply if you’re writing fiction. When it comes to my fiction, many of the stories start with me asking myself “what if …?” then answering the question. How bleak would the literary world be if authors only wrote what they know? We’d have been deprived of works like J K Rowling’s Harry Potter series as well as many books that are now considered classics.

“Write what you know.” I’m a blogger – sporadically recently because there are things going on that interfere with the writing as well as Douglas Adams’s first observation – and my blogs are usually about things or events that either interest me or incense me. And given the newly elected government in Ontario, I think there’s going to be a few things that incense me. In my more honest moments, I frequently describe my blogs as “rants, raves or reasoned discussions – reader’s choice.”

One thing I read somewhere (I think it was a writer I friended on MySpace years ago) was that in order to be a writer, you must write 600 words a day. What that writer didn’t add was that it must be six hundred words you want to keep. I don’t agree with that word count. You can only write so much and if only 10 words will come that are “keepers”, then that’s ten words you don’t have to worry about later.

Many people who don’t write and don’t understand writing will often joke about the process and sometimes point to the hoary opening “It was a dark and stormy night” as an example of writing. Actually, I used that twice in one story just to see if it was possible to use it without seeming trite. Here’s what I came up with:

It was a dark and stormy night – a real nasty one – the kind I’ve come to dread ever since that night. I was sitting quietly, enjoying my beer, when I noticed the guy staring at me. I ignored him as I do anyone who is rude enough to stare. Then I sensed him coming over.

After a bit of small talk, he stopped talking and just looked at me. I looked back. “What, you want to hear about the time traveller?”

“If you wouldn’t mind telling me,” he said, signalling for refills for both of us.

I thanked him, then said, “I don’t mind telling, if you don’t mind listening. All I ask is that you don’t interrupt too much, because I don’t really like talking about it.”

He agreed and, after a sip of the beer, I started.

“It was a dark and stormy night “ I stopped as I saw him glaring at me, then I said “I know, I know – any story that starts that way has to be pure bull, right? Hear me out, then you tell me.

In the introduction to this piece I wrote “I planted my tongue firmly in my cheek and here’s the result”. I know it’s hard to tell from this short intro, but what do you think? Did I pull it off? If you like, I’ll post the entire story later this week.

Okay, let’s try to get serious for a few minutes here. Writing is, by its nature, a solitary pursuit. When you’re working on a piece, be it fiction, a blog, essay or factual, most writers don’t want anyone around to derail their train of thought. I usually have classical music playing quietly while I work. In one short story, I destroyed an entire planet with “Ride of the Valkyries” in the background. Yes, some writers say that so-and-so is their muse, their inspiration, but that doesn’t mean that muse has to be present all the time. I’m fortunate in that respect as I live alone so there are minimal interruptions.

“I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be.” Very true. I can’t count the times I’ve started writing something with a plan in mind only to have the characters dictate what happens through their actions. I usually just leave it since on the occasions I’ve tried to bring the story back to my vision, it didn’t work as well.  And yes, it can happen that something you’ve written will send a story off in a new direction rather than following your roadmap. I think it works this way: You write something and your mind picks up on that and asks “what if I follow that line instead?” That is what I mean by the character dictating the ensuing actions.

It seems that many good writers are also voracious readers. Not to see what the “competition” is doing, but simply for the enjoyment of the written word. No, the excuse that it cuts into writing time won’t work. Without some kind of break or diversion, your mind goes stale and your work will suffer.

And, I think I’ve done it again – started off with one idea in mind, but ended up somewhere else. I could have probably spent much less time writing this if I’d simply said “write about what interests you; write it with passion and in cohesive sentences and the readers will come.” To finish off, a quote from Robert A Heinlein (1907 – 1988), the great science-fiction writer “You must write.”

Enjoy your day and remember to hug an artist – we need love too.

Cat.

You never got beyond the picture

This morning I received a notification in my email that there was a message for me on MySpace.  You do remember MySpace don’t you?  The social network until they tried to fix what wasn’t broken and drove all the artists and writers to other sites; and before Justin Timberlake tried to turn it into a music site?  Yeah, that MySpace.  Actually the only reason I still have an account is that, despite having tried on at least three occasions, MySpace won’t let me delete it.  I tend to ignore it unless it is to delete friend requests and messages.

This was the message I was told of this morning:

Morris says

Hello ,
    How are you doing ? Hope all good ..
I am so sorry if i have intrude to your privacy ..
I am actually new on the  site ..
Just browsing through i saw your profile  ..I viewed and read through your profile already  ..
 I will love to know more about you , hope you don’t mind ..huh !!
Telling you little about me –
I am a father of a 5yrs old boy ( Luis ) … i consider myself caring , loving , honest , loyal , calm
and flexible in heart , with good heart and sense of humor ..this is just little about me ..okay ..
  I wait to read back from you ..alright ..and hope for a chat with you ..
You can live me your mail address or just write to mine..okay ..ms.erickson@yahoo.com
Take care now and have a great day …
    Morris…

Doesn’t sound too bad until you read the following, which is in a section on my profile titled “about me”. Then you understand why I chose that particular title for this posting.

If you wish to contact me personally, I will only do so through the MySpace messaging facility. Please DO NOT ask for my personal e-mail address, IM address or telephone number, or give me yours, because I will delete your message. If I consider your message offensive, or especially dumb, I will write a blog about it and help you make yourself look foolish – and yes, I’ll include your MySpace profile name. If you present me with what is obviously a scam, not only will I post a blog about it, I will report it to MySpace and the appropriate authorities.

I added the bold to this excerpt.  Seems pretty straightforward doesn’t it?  Very easy to understand?  I thought so.  So why on earth would this man give me his email address?  The answer must be that he never got beyond the name and “interesting” profile photo.  One more thing.  Had he truly read my profile, he’d have noticed a little section headed “Details” wherein I mention that I’m a lesbian.

So Morris, everything I’ll willing to share is on my profile and oh yes, here’s the blog I said I’d write.  And just to make sure he reads it, I’ll respond to his message with a link to this.

To my followers and readers, enjoy your day and remember to hug an artist – we need love (and honesty) too.

Cat.

An essay on friends

In my posting “Some of this, some of that” of earlier today, I mentioned a friend in New Jersey.  That started me thinking about friends and friendship, so of course I have to write about it.

Friends come into our lives in various ways – through work, social settings, social media or mutual interests to name four ways this happens.  Obviously by “social media” I‘m referring to sites such as Facebook and other such sites.  And yes, I’ve actually met some of the people on my Facebook friends list and count them among my dearest friends.  And there is one lady, mentioned in “Some of this, some of that” who, because of some of our conversations, I do consider a friend in fact, not just on Facebook and am looking forward to meeting her some day.  Ms M, keep that in mind 🙂

One lady I first met through a mutual friend on MySpace (remember MySpace?).  We began chatting and arranged to meet one day at a Starbucks and have become good friends since.  By the way Carol, coffee’s on me next time 🙂

I drove a cab for several years and some of the people I first met as passengers have become friends and even though I haven’t driven in seven years, we remain close.

Sometimes people enter our lives, become friends, then suddenly are gone again.  My view is that we were brought together with these people for a specific purpose – either so they could influence us, or we, them – then, when the purpose is accomplished, they move on. Or their purpose is to introduce us to yet another person.  Yet because they were a part of our lives for even a brief moment, both we and them are better people for having met.  At least we hope they are better people for having known us.  I’ve had that happen a couple of times and yes, I am a better person for having come under the influence of these people.

I treasure my friends, am honoured that they consider me a friend as well and am always flattered when they comment on something I’ve posted either here on WordPress as words or as images on Facebook.  If you have close friends, friends you value, tell them so.

Now, enjoy your day, offer prayers and whatever support you can for the victims of Sandy and, remember to hug an artist – we need love (and friends) too.

Cat.