Tuesday, May 31, 2011

10 Things I've Learned Since Becoming a Writer - Guest Post, by Jamie Manning

10 Things I’ve Learned Since Becoming A Writer

By Jamie Manning

I’d like to give a huge thanks to Mr. Draven Ames for asking me to do a guest post on his blog…you rock, sir!

As I was wracking my brain to try and come up with a writing-related post, I realized that any and every topic about writing has been done to death. How-Tos, Dos & Don’ts, Character Creating, the list goes on and on and on. No way could I add anything new to that never-ending compilation, so I decided to simply tell you what I have learned since starting my writing journey.

#1 Writing The First Draft is Super Hard

Even though everyone who’s gone before you tells you it’s one of the hardest things you’ll ever do, for some reason you don’t believe them. Writing? Pshaw. Easy. So you sit down and begin. Then, like a Denny’s Restaurant in the South, walls are built around your creative brain so fast it makes you seasick. You can’t find the right word (or any word) to save your life. What do you do? Give up? You could. Or, you could do like everyone who’s gone before you did, and suffer through the pain, knowing that one day it will all be worth it.

#2 Revisions Are Even Harder (But Unavoidable)

Don’t let this one confuse you. #1 is plenty difficult. But revisions can be a nightmare, too. You pour all your heart into that first draft, only to realize upon a second read that You. Don’t. Know. Jack. Your sentences make no sense. You have flat, one-dimensional characters. Your plot holes are the size of Guam. You wanna burn the pages you just poured all your heart into (or hit that glaring DELETE button on your keyboard). But you don’t. You moan and groan and complain, but you revise anyway. You fix those sentences, give your characters life, pack those plot holes with Silly Putty. You revise. Because it’s your job.

#3 Reading Books Is the Greatest Way To Learn

If you’re a writer, you’ve heard it a million times. To get better at the craft, read. Read anything and everything you can get your hands on. Books (in and out of the genre you write), newspapers, magazines, even cereal boxes. Fill your day with words every chance you get, and you’ll soon start to notice that your writing looks just like those books and newspapers and magazines and cereal boxes. And you’ll feel proud, believe me.

#4 Toss Out Everything You Know About Writing

Everyone learns basic grammar in school. How to structure sentences, correct punctuation, etcetera etcetera. And generally in writing, those rules apply. But the great thing about fiction is that they don’t have to apply if you don’t want them to. With certain exceptions (you can’t use “tied” when you mean “tide”, for example), writing fiction gives you the opportunity to change—and even break—all the rules you learned about the written word. Want to use fragmented sentences? Do it. It’s fun (and liberating!).

#5 Other People Like The Stories In My Head

When I “finished” Blood Born (the book currently with my publisher), and began submitting queries, I was amazed that people actually wanted to read it. I mean, it really shocked me. It was the first time that someone (other than those close to us who have to like it) really liked what I wrote. It was an “Aha” moment for me (ode to Oprah there), and gave me courage to keep going.

#6 Being A Writer Wreaks Havoc On Your Tush

Now I’m the first to admit that I’m not Mr. Athletic. I enjoy playing with my dogs in the yard, or maybe taking a random, spontaneous walk every now and then, but I’m by no means physically fit. So maybe this one is tougher on me than most. But I never realized how physically straining writing would be. Sore fingers, sore wrists, sore bottom. Hydrate, people. Hydrate.

#7 Just When You Think You’re Done, You’re Not

You finish that first draft. You finish those revision rounds (2, 3, 4, infinity). You send your baby off to your publisher (or upload it to a self-publishing site) and finally exhale. You’re done. Finished. Kaput.

Oh but no, you are far from it. You realize you have more revisions to do. You meant to change that character’s name, add in that kissing scene you scribbled in the notebook by your bed at 2 a.m., Run Spellcheck! One of the hardest things about “finishing”? Realizing you’re never finished.

#8 Writing Is A Lonely Game

On top of having to sit for hours and days staring at a blank page (or screen), the realization that you are sitting at said blank page alone sets in and you want nothing more than to get up and go hang out with friends or go shopping or get lost in a book or TV show. But you don’t. No, you keep on staring at that lonely page until words finally become your friend again and decide to help you feel not quite so lonely.

#9 Writing Is Not A Lonely Game

When you think #8 is going to get to you and you’re gonna go crazy being by yourself, #9 smacks you in the face. You come across other writers on blogs, Twitter, Facebook and other Social Media sites who are more than willing to lift you up when you’re body is dragging and tell you that “You Can Do It!”. There’s no greater feeling.

#10 When You Find Out You’re Getting Published, #s 1-9 Are So Worth It

No, getting published isn’t what you set out to do when you write (if it is, try rethinking this whole ‘being a writer’ thing), but it certainly feels
awesome when it happens, and you realize that all that hard work has
finally, painstakingly paid off.


Eden Baylee said...

Sweet post, Jamie, and I agree on almost all your points except #4 - Toss Out Everything You Know About Writing

The unfortunate thing is that schooling in the mechanics of writing is not what it used to be when I was going to school—thirty, okay, forty years ago. With e-mail, texting, and social media - people write less and less in full sentences, abbreviate words, and take short cuts where ever possible. This is fine on FB, Twitter, texting, but I disagree that basic grammar & proper sentence structure can be compromised in fiction. Misusing words is an obvious "no-no" as you pointed out, but it goes beyond that.

When a writer doesn't string words together properly, or is misspelling words, using incorrect tenses, changing POVs mid story, incorrectly punctuating, then I have problems. I have problems understanding what the writer is trying to say. Errors of this type make me think that the writer: (a) didn't get the book edited (B) didn't care (c) all of the above.

The liberating part of writing should be in imagination of the storytelling, not in taking liberties with the language. If I cannot understand the writing because the author lacks the ability to properly communicate with words - then I won't read it. To me, it would be akin to watching a great movie in a foreign language that I don't understand, and there are no sub-titles.


ps: #6 was great!

Michele Shaw said...

All so true and well said! I love throwing out the rules and doing it my way! I don't mean improper grammar and such, but simply writing from the heart and in a pattern uniquely me. I also couldn't live without my connections to other writers. They keep me sane. Great post!

Paul Joseph said...

Outstanding post, Jamie! I am in full agreement with every one of your assertions. I felt so relieved when number one was behind me, only to learn exactly what you stated in number two, particularly the part about burning pages. I actually want mine to bleed. I want them to feelt he same pain they are causing me - but then, I remember I created them.

As I've said, I am very much looking forward to reading your debut. Keep up the great work, my friend!

Jeff King said...

Great post… and the ten things we learn about writing, is different for every writer… and that is the awesome part.
The ten things that you learned obviously worked for you, so I would never say they are wrong.
It just mine are different, but similar.

The most important thing I have learned revolves around voice, and dialog… and how they play off each other.

Voice is unique to every writer, it’s the way our brain composes the story into words on the page. And voice should be unique to every character, that way they become independent, real and unpredictable. Just remember to let characters have their own “voice” let them think, speak and act their own way.


Draven Ames said...

Thanks for stopping by, Michelle and Paul. I'm sure that Jamie appreciates the reads and comments. I liked the post as well, obviously.

Jeff- I agree completely. Voice is very important. Once I finished my last edit, I had to go back and edit my voice back into my novel. Sometimes you lose it to edits, if you aren't too careful.

Eden- I feel what you are saying. But sometimes voice trumps grammar. That's all I'm saying. Not all book long, and not every page, but sometimes.

We get a chance to show off Eden's stories on Thursday. Hope you all stop back by.

Jamie Manning said...

Thanks for all the comments, you guys. I agree with all of them. Writing is such a subjective medium that to me, no one is wrong (within reason, of course!)

Thanks again Draven, for having me!

Greg said...

I find #2 to be the hardest part, mostly because I could revise and revise and never be satisfied with the results.

Anne-Mhairi Simpson said...

Numbers 8 and 9 are so true!! And I also agree that sometimes grammar and even spelling can be ignored. Not all the time, as Eden points out making the book hard to understand. But sometimes disregarding the rules is the only way to express that fresh new idea the right way.