Write who you are. Crack open your breastbone, grab your heart from its visceral mooring, and smash it into the page. Give it a few bloody twists just to make sure your heart print is firmly and forever smashed onto the page.
Your stories are you, and you are your stories.
– Chuck Wendig, Damn Fine Story
I’ve read a bunch of writing books. And if I’m going to be honest, I’m going to read a bunch more writing books. In part, it’s because there’s still a part of me that’s looking for the secret even though I know there isn’t one. (Except, write.) (But also, maybe it’s in this other book over here…) But mostly, it’s because I like to read writing books.
I like the memoir-y tomes that talk about the struggling novice writer and the eventual triumph. The ones that meditate on the inner life of writers. The ones that make me think, maybe these are my people.
I like the books that present yet another way to look at structure and plot and character and narrative. Anything to try to help me figure out my own thoughts on those things.
So. I read books on writing, and as I do, the magpie part of me likes to pull out the shiny bits from each of those books and collect them.
When I found myself furiously scribbling notes and collecting quotes for reading during the dark times, I figured it was time to just endorse this whole book: Damn Fine Story by Chuck Wendig.
If you’ve never read any Chuck Wendig, well, you should give him a try. He has a lot of books and a prolific blog and a hilarious Twitter feed — lots of different ways in which you can familiarize yourself with his writing. (Seriously, check out some of his Twitter exchanges with author Sam Sykes. One of them even became a horror movie.)
He has a very particular style, especially when he is talking about writing (or politics), that is equal parts hilarious, profane, and profound.
In Damn Fine Story, he breaks down the elements of a good story and tries to verbalize how to be a good storyteller. He goes through structure and character and theme, and uses a lot of Die Hard and Star Wars references to get his points across. The book is irreverent and joyful and doesn’t take itself too seriously. It is, in short, very much Chuck Wendig.
In lieu of just quoting the whole thing to you, you should go grab a copy and read it for yourself. And if you know any writerly friends, it would make for a good holiday present.
The only thing to do when the sense of dread and low self-esteem tells you that you are not up to this is to wear it down by getting a little work done every day.
– Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird
Week one of the flash fiction inktober thing down!
I’ve found this week very productive, despite the tempting distraction that is a brand new copy of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and an egregiously huge TV. Building in the flash fiction bit to my morning has allowed me to feel more playful and experimental in my writing again, which was something I had been missing during my more recent Large Project slog.
Some days were certainly easier than others, but each day brought with it a new little idea. Most of them I was happy to just visit the once, but there are a couple in there that I want to polish and hoard and maybe expand.
Since each piece is so short, it’s given me an opportunity to look at the finished first drafts and pick out the problems I have a tendency to repeat — it’s much more obvious when you have several drafts to look at than when you are in the midst of the one big one. I’ve gotten some perspective too on what made a couple of my other larger projects not work so well. So now, I can be a little more deliberate in how I piece things together, and I can direct my attention more consciously to my weak points.
All in all, educational so far. I do need to come up with a plan for what I’m going to do with all these first drafts at the end of the month though…
And now, a rant.
For some reason, I’ve seen an excess of articles this past week once again espousing writing “rules” in that particularly prescriptive hard-and-fast tone of voice that I find grating. This week I’ve seen a confluence of attacks, once again, on adverbs. And sometimes even adjectives.
On the one hand, I get it. All things are now STATED with AUTHORITY because qualifiers make you weak. Even though dealing in absolutes obliterates all nuance (that every aspect of everything has). That includes the unnecessarily harsh prohibition against using adverbs. (Use even one, and — egads! — you will become a Bad Writer™!)
And again, I get it. Mostly, when this rule is repetitively bandied about, it’s frequently about annoyingly using adverbs excessively and gratuitously. I get it.
But it’s said in this way, this looking-down-my-nose-at-your-ly-suffix way that makes me want to… I don’t know, glare at a houseplant (Sorry, houseplant. It’s not your fault.).
When it comes down to it, the writers that I most admire and wish to emulate are not afraid of or averse to using adjectives and adverbs. Those things are, as with any of the other aspects of language, merely tools. The writing that I like uses these tools and wields them skillfully and with great intention.
Here is Ursula K. Le Guin’s more moderate perspective on adjectives and adverbs:
Adjectives and adverbs are rich and good and nourishing. They add color, life, immediacy. They cause obesity in prose only when used lazily or overused.
I recommend to all storytellers a watchful attitude and a thoughtful, careful choice of adjectives and adverbs, because the bakery shop of English is rich beyond belief, and narrative prose, particularly if it’s going a long distance, needs more muscle than fat.
– Ursula K. Le Guin, Steering the Craft
And maybe, this more measured take on it is what people mean. But it’s not what they say.
(Incidentally, if you haven’t read Steering the Craft, I highly recommend it. It is a small, powerful book that can be revisited over and over again.)
As part of NaNoPrep, I’ve been reading a few books on writing to refresh my conceptualizations of the essential elements of stories: structure, character, style, etc. It’s been highly gratifying so far to remind myself of the mechanics of writing, and it’s rebooted my brain a bit to read more critically as well. I generally find it rewarding to get into the nuts/bolts, nitty/gritty, guts of things, although sometimes I’ll do it to distraction as a way to procrastinate the actual doing of things. (Constant vigilance in the War of Art and all that.)
In addition to reading and brainstorming, I’ve also been working my way through season 10 of Writing Excuses. Writing Excuses is a bite-sized podcast (~15 minutes per ep, tagline: “Fifteen minutes long, because you’re in a hurry, and we’re not that smart”) that contains a lot of depth and a lot of insight.