Not blogging… and Writing!

So, it has been a very VERY long time since I updated this blog. It’s pretty much defunct. However, if any of you are still following it, I wanted to mention where I’m writing now!

I’ve started a cooking and writing challenge for 2016 called eating2016.wordpress.com – I hope you’ll give it a look and maybe follow it! It will be all about a bunch of important recipes that friends and family gave me when I got married last year, and how I taught myself to cook and keep in touch with friends in the process.

Hope you are doing well and getting excited for all the challenges 2016 will bring.

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Writing Dystopian Fiction: 7 Tips :: Writer’s Digest

The Night Owl's Guide to Reading

2230-dystopia-840x550Dystopianism always attracts readers.  As a lover and writer of dystopian fiction myself, I found today’s “Writer’s Dig” column on Writer’s Digest of particular interest.

– sld

Writing Dystopian Fiction: 7 Tips

by Roderick Vincent

I’ve been told to chill. “Don’t worry. Be happy,” they say. “It’s all good.”

I appreciate the cool, laissez-faire attitude, but I grew up alongside apathetic Gen Xers who were the first Internet trolls, the first gamers, the first Goths, and the first speed-metal heads who blasted Metallica’s For Whom the Bell Tolls. Now, Gen Xers might be considered dystopian downer dudes as we creep into middle age, but perhaps that sentiment will change when the government starts cutting up EBT cards and kicks us off the free, bitchin’ Santa Monica debt wave we’ve been riding for the last couple of fun-filled decades where “money for nothing, growth for free” pervaded. Like Jeff Spicoli…

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Plot and Originality

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I have often had my students do an exercise that they pretty uniformly hate “write two pages of interaction between your characters. They may only use dialogue, along with tags like “Cindy said.”” It turns out to be very difficult, the students say, to get them talking in ways that makes it clear how distinct they are as people.

However.

What I remind them of after they try this, after they have some success creating entertaining, distinct dialogue, is that most stories follow the narrative arc, and a lot of their stories follow plots that are… suspiciously… similar to the plots of their favorite books. Which means that what people will want from their stories is… good characters, memorable characters. If they happen to be in familiar circumstances, it won’t matter so much because we care about the people in them.

(or at least i’m telling myself that as i realize how unoriginal the plot treatment for my current project is feeling)

Do What Makes No Sense

I had a friend say to me the other day, when I offered her the opportunity to join me for an event that she wouldn’t normally attend, say this: “yeah, I’ll come. Maybe I will get a poem out of it.” It sounds clinical, this idea of subjecting ourselves to things specifically to see what creativity comes from it, but it also sounds adventuresome. Perhaps, the experience will change you. Or perhaps you will write a poem. Or perhaps nothing at all, but that doesn’t seem so awful either. I am talking about continuing your walk in spite of the chance of rain, not doing surgery on yourself; it is these small things with small potentials that I think change our thinking, not the showy glamour-stunts that people often think of when you mention doing something that makes no sense.

Prompting

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My writing friend E got annoyed the other day because her poetry teacher scoffed at the idea of prompts; imagine, putting constraints on writing! Real writing, it would seem, isn’t produced from prompts.

However, I have to believe that daily life is in some way a prompt; a pile of leaves on a lawn you walk past prompts you to think about the people you spent your childhood autumns with. It seems silly to say that our prompts must be sensory and organic rather than formed through deliberate conversation. Writing class is, if nothing else, one big complex, intricate writing prompt.

So if you start poems and stories off Tumblr prompts or from a book of prompts, remember that those stories and poems are no less yours and no less real for being from a prompt. Most of the constraints we put on length and subject matter and genre are just another way of prompting, of condensing the massive cloud of what we COULD write into the distilled drops of what we are writing right now.

Writer’s Colonies

I’ve realized that one of my most inspired and productive times is when I get to talk to others about writing, teach others about writing, or hang out with living, breathing, writing writers.

So the idea of being a part of a writer’s retreat/conference/colony sounds great to me: workshops, space to write, etc. Sound amazing to me.

Here’s my shout to the ether: what do you love or hate about writer’s colonies?

Do you know of many of them?

What are they called? 

Do they offer scholarships to deserving early-stage writers? They are both the least well-known of writing devotees and also, often, the least flush with funds. 

Feel free to private message but my guess is your followers and mine would be grateful if you reply to the post or reblog with your suggestions added! What do you think?

Place Pieces

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I have been accused of writing stories that are place-less, that deemphasize setting to the point of everyone being confused about what century and what universe they are in. This isn’t such a horrible thing; if you love writing concept-pieces or if you like that uncertain, blurry-edged scenery, this is a kind of compliment. However, in the spirit of always expanding our knowledge and abilities, maybe give a place piece a shot.

What’s a place piece? It’s a piece of writing that could only happen at one time, in one place. Try reading about your favorite place and time in history, or about a beautiful place you’ve visited. Find a moment nestled in the past or present where the way the place is, the atmosphere of that time, demands the story you want to tell. Give us all the rich detail that we can get in a place piece that can’t be as relevant in a concept-piece (if you are trying to write about the concept of heartbreak in general, we are way less concerned with what the downtown attitude of Boise, Idaho is); give us the way time is wearing on the characters, the pressures that drive them. This is a precise kind of writing, but it’s also an inspiring way to start a story, and if you write about a place you know intimately, your readers will feel like they are getting an intimate guided tour of that place even as they become engaged in your plot.

Real Talk

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I have never been as discouraged about my writing as I am now.

At the same time, I’m conscious that I’m writing better stuff than I ever have before, and revising more deeply and to greater effect.

It feels, to me, like I have to be constantly engaged with writing and writers and talking about writing in order to get to the good heart of it. A side effect of constantly surrounding myself with good writing and good writers is some tough comparison, and some ‘real-talk’ at myself about the quality I’m working with in my own manuscripts. That doesn’t mean being depressed constantly, but it does mean that sometimes you will have low-opinion days, and I think the advice is the same as always: write through it.

“nothing can save
you
except
writing.
it keeps the walls
from
failing.”

Ruthlessness

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I heard about T.C. Boyle, a prolific author, and his personal writing habits the other day, from an old friend of his. Evidently, the man started his career in a 2 bedroom apartment with his wife and kids and there was always noise and something going on but he would find some headphones or shut the door and bust out prose. Tons of it – just mountainous heaps of story. He came out with about a book a year and still does. 

Now, fortunately for him, he’s got more space and more money, but supposedly he still goes to a cabin by himself to get that writing done. It’s not something that gets done while out with friends, or while forging another potential career path. Writing is something that cannot be effectively multitasked, even as our society has given us more and more ways to do so.

The moral of the story, as was told to me was that a writer has to be ruthless, that you have to cut things out of your life to make room for writing. There are parts of me that agree with this, but there are subtleties that defining writers as ruthless doesn’t reveal. I believe there are writers whose pace is slower, who are going to take longer (maybe much longer) to get their work polished and read and published, who are still writers. They have chosen other things to be more important. I’m not sure that excludes them from the world of ‘writers.’

The truth though, when it comes down to it, is that you are gonna have to scratch, claw, and bite to be a writer; it will not accidentally happen to you. Not scratching and clawing and biting others; that makes you a social climber, not a writer. Just scratching and itching the page, filling it with words and emptying it again, cutting it into puzzle pieces and figuring out a better shape for it. You, and only you, and not you with all your hobbies, busyness, and friends, will do that work.

It reminds me of an angry French teacher I once talked to who remarked about her own students in a loud, irritated tone, “THEY EXPECT THE LANGUAGE TO FALL UPON THEM LIKE THE WATER OF A SHOWER.” Most likely, unless you are far more blessed than I, writing won’t do that to you, especially with lots of distractions present.

(collaborative writing is cool – not discounting it – but if you are writing your own stuff, having your friends around doesn’t count as collaboration.)

What do you all think about being ruthless? Is it a necessary quality for a professional writer? Is there a better way to phrase how professional writers must be?