Tag Archives: arrogance

Writing into the Void

I used to be arrogant about my writing. I knew I could write a good line. I knew I could write believable dialogue. I knew I could create a solid plot out of thin air.

But I was writing into the void. I’m not sure who called it this; who used the word void to describe it. I read it somewhere but I am not sure who wrote it. Sorry about that, but the word resonated not the name attached to it. I used to call it writing into the vacuum, but void is better, void is more precise: it describes the process exactly as it happens.

Writing with nobody to read your work, nobody to see the flaws, nobody to show you the little things you have to know. Friends? Family? They are good for “Can I write?” Not because of what they say, after all they are unlikely to tell you you’re crap, but for the look in their eye as they say it. You can see the surprise, the respect; they know that the story works and they show that to you in their reaction. What they can’t do, however, is read your work as a writer would.

So you teach yourself, on your own, bit by bit, sphere by sphere, move by move. Sitting there writing away, learning how things work on the page the hard way, self-educating yourself to write.

I used to call close-third-multiple: viewpoint writing, because I had never heard of close third and needed something to describe what I was trying to do. Struggling with keeping the viewpoint firmly fixed in a single head in a single scene. Why? Because it felt right. It felt like that is the way it should be. Writing, reading, revising, rereading, revising, rereading…. every time spotting another instance where I let a line slip, when I had fallen out of the character’s head. Learning that the best way to learn how to write close third is to write first person.

Not knowing why this worked, just groping towards a style. I already had a voice. I’ve never had a problem with voice (I started writing at 11 obsessive teenager scribbling is very good for letting your voice through) but style, now that was a fish of a different genus.

And so it went with passive sentences too. Using the grammar checker  — remember when grammar checkers talked about clause splicing and so forth, no readability stats, no way of knowing which sentences was passive and which were not (computers still aren’t to be trusted on that score, not completely; they’re machines: they don’t know the meanings of the words you’re using. So always be careful, but they are useful — just don’t have the green lines on. Because those things are irritating, distracting and utterly worthless).

So I’d do a grammar check. 3% passive sentences. Then I would go page by page. If it flagged up a passive sentence on that page then I’d go paragraph by paragraph. Zeroing in on the sentence. Finding the right paragraph and  going sentence by sentence through that paragraph until I found it. Then altering it. Switching it around. Until it was not flagged as passive any more. Learning how to write sentences first time out of the box so my grammar check always says 1% (0% happens very occasionally. Some sentences have to be passive — it’s not a mortal sin, only a clumsy one).

And so on, with story structure, with character scenes vs plot scenes, with action vs reflection, with pacing. All the time on my own, writing into the void arrogantly sure that I could write.

And then I found writing sites.

I’d done nanowrimo and been on those forums and I think I managed to help some people and upset a whole lot more. Not much changes there.  What can you do? You are who you are.

But on other writing sites I started seeing the wood for the trees. I started seeing the little things that make all the difference. I started learning the lingo. And I started to talk to other writers for the very first time. And I wrote and I wrote and I wrote, all the time, everyday, bit by bit, and I posted to threads, and I asked the questions, and my confidence grew.

Especially once I started giving and receiving critiques, that is where I started making the hard choices, the writer’s choices. Working for the story not my ego.

Arrogance is based on your own fear that maybe you can’t do this. Arrogance will make you give fixed answers to questions of style and pace and voice. Arrogance will blind you to the way forward.

Confidence is based on knowledge. Confidence allows you to see that there are many answers to any question about the craft, the art, the truth, and they are all correct. Confidence will show you the way forward.

Arrogance is false and confidence is real.

PK’s Caveats: Caveat 1: I may not know what I’m blathering about. Caveat 2: There are no rules about writing, there are just things you can get terribly wrong. Caveat 3: If people apply the words never or always to storytelling techniques, ignore them.

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So What

People ask, “What should I do to become a writer?” The simple and true answer is always, has always been, will always be: “Write.”

But what about after you start writing. I’m not talking about show don’t tell, a bonfire of the adverbs, point of view smoothness, I’m talking about you.

You,

as a person,

as a writer.

If you ever find yourself thinking, “I am a great writer,” make the next words to rumble through your brainpan be, “So what.” Even if it’s true, and you make Shakespeare look like a tyro, think, “So what.”

A piece of music, a piece of art, a piece of writing, does not change the world. They may help show aspects of reality so somebody else can take action, find a way to fix things, or simply see the world differently, but the artwork itself does nothing.

It’s not science.

It’s not medicine.

It’s not engineering.

It’s art.

Take the craft seriously, but never ever take yourself seriously. Keep thinking ‘So What’ whenever you are praised for your work. Obviously, accept the praise (no need to be churlish) but don’t believe it.

Because if you stop thinking ‘So What’ you will fall into self-indulgence and ego. You will argue with editors and other people whose job it is to help you hone your work. You will fight over every word.

And turn out self-indulgent rubbish.

Then sooner or later you will publish a story. A story filled with brilliance and wit, observation and imagination, a story so good that they should make it required reading for all six billion of us.

And the readers, tired by the recent codswallop of your vanity, will say, “So what.”

PK’s Caveats: Caveat 1: I may not know what I’m blathering about. Caveat 2: There are no rules about writing, there are just things you can get terribly wrong. Caveat 3: If people apply the words never or always to storytelling techniques, ignore them.

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Arts and Crafts

What is art? I don’t know, but I know it when I see it.

What is craft? Hard bloody graft.

Can you have art without craft? Nope. You can have beauty without craft, you can have meaning without craft, you can have reaction without craft, but you cannot have art without craft.

Why?

Because art requires intent. You have to intend to draw that line, use that word, hit that note. You can draw, write, or play without thinking about what you are doing — without a goal, just doodling along — and create art, by happy accident, because of the hours of work you have put in learning your craft.

Grafting.

As I writer, I don’t call myself an artist, ever, I don’t even think of myself as an artist, ever, but occasionally, if the world lines up just right, I may create art. I can’t waste my time thinking about that though, because my intent is to create good stories. I have spent hours, days, weeks, months, years, decades developing my craft skills.

In the beginning, when I knew nothing, it all seemed easy. I have a facility for words, for characters, and for plots. I’ve always had the ability to write a great line, create a memorable character, and form a plot that holds together. This is not ego talking, this is just the way it is, but it is also not enough.

I know people who can sing, have great voices, but who have never bothered to practise, to expand their range, to learn how to sustain a note or twist it into another. Because of this they are not singers, they are just people with great voices. Potential is not enough, at some point you have to put the work in. You have to graft, you have to practise your scales until your fingers bleed on the strings, because otherwise, when you need to hit that particular note at that particular time in that particular improvised bridge, your fingers will fumble and the music will stop.

Talent is not enough, but then you can graft as hard as you like for as long as you like and without talent you will never be anything more than competent. Sorry about that, sorry if that offends your proletariat principles, but grafting is not enough either. You do need to have a flair for what you are doing.

I think talent, for the arts at least, is just creativity. Some people are born more creative than others and then at some point in their childhood they focus on some expression of that creativity and people call it talent. There is nothing mysterious about it, but it has to be there. If you don’t have that twist of mind then you can practise as hard as you like. It won’t matter, because knowing your scales is not enough. Anybody can learn to play their scales, but there is only one Jimmi Hendrix and he grafted for years to gain the ability to make a guitar do that.

Some lucky folk have a sort of generalised creative talent, music, drawing, writing, they all come easy for them. Lucky buggers. But, unless they practise each particular form of expression, they still won’t be proficient in those skills.

Some people want to take short-cuts, they hire in craftsmen to create their visions, or they develop their skill for bullshitting so they can convince people that this badly drawn doodle is art, because they are an artist and they say it is art. It’s a living I suppose, but in the deep dark dead of night do they realise that they have squandered whatever talent they had in the pursuit of some ideological nonsense?

Art requires craft and craft requires graft. It is what it is. If it was easy then why would you need to spend all that time practising?

The graft raises your craft skills to the point where art can happen, but even without the art a craftsperson creates great stories, great songs, great images, all the time. Things that hit you between the eyes, get your blood pumping, make you think.

Because they have grafted and grafted and grafted to learn the skills to do that. Because they have taken the craft seriously. Because they don’t think they are artists.

PK’s Caveats: Caveat 1: I may not know what I’m blathering about. Caveat 2: There are no rules about writing, there are just things you can get terribly wrong. Caveat 3: If people apply the words never or always to storytelling techniques, ignore them.

First posted to ‘Firedance Blogs’: http://firedancebooks.com/blog/

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