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So You Wanna Be a Writer, Pt. 4 (An Exercise)

As is the case with most things that I say, this is stolen. But this isn’t stolen from another writer, this is stolen (and adapted) from a music video/film guy friend.

If you want to be a writer (professionally and not just as a hobbyist), here’s a litmus test for your dedication. Can you get up early and write a short creative sketch of the sunrise (oh, say, 250 wds)? Then can you do it again tomorrow? And the next day? Can you write 30 descriptive sketches of 30 consecutive sunrises? The simple exercise in discipline is hard enough, and it will tell you just how much you actually want to write. But on top of that, the writing component is quite difficult as well. How do you see the sunrise in a new way every morning? How do you express it in a new way? Can you get through the verbal cliche-flailing, and actually create 30 distinct scenes?

Adapt the exercise if you want. Stand in the same place every night and try to sketch 30 consecutive midnights. I have one student doing daily sketches of the same glass of wine. If you do try to do this (no matter how good you might already be), you will learn a lot about yourself as a writer, and you’ll have to move in new ways through the English language. Get off the worn footpaths of description. Kick through walls. Climb fences. Trespass.

So You Wanna Be a Writer, Pt. 3 (Prose for Body and Brain)

Occasionally, in conversations with some Worthy Aspirer, I will be asked about the mechanics of description. Specifically, how does one make something vivid? Being easily distracted, it is not hard for me to quickly frog my way into bigger discussions about the nature of metaphor or vicarious experience or even the nature of knowledge itself. Not that I really know anything about these things, but how hard is it to speculate and wonder aloud? I do think such meta-topics are important, but kicking them around isn’t always immediately and practically helpful to someone trying to describe a country road or a lonely dog.

So here is today’s (or perhaps, tomonth’s) hot tip Read the rest of this entry »

I Blogged Elsewhere

So, friendly old Powell’s asked me to write them an essay related to my life/writing. Which I did (The Amazing Tale of the Butterfly-Unicorn-Ballerina-Princess and the Giant, Creeping Land Squid). Check it here. Or don’t. You don’t really have to. No one is watching to see if you click.

Research (For Reals)

So, I’ve often been told that you have to write what you know (incidentally, this has always made me feel burdened to know everything). As a side effect, whenever I get to know something, I feel the need to write it. Last week, while picnic-researching a potential location along the northern coast of California, I came to an understanding of what is meant by the phrase “elephant seal.” I now present you with some evidence of my research (complete with family).

At this point, I can almost promise the elephant seals an appearance in some future adventure.

On Reading (and Occasionally Not Finishing) Books

I am currently in a compressed binge of narrative ingestion. When I am writing, books begin to pile up, either physically teetering on my desk, scribbled on a mental post-it, or in an Amazon shopping cart/wish list. Reading is dangerous while writing. But reading is an absolutely essential part of being a writer. And so the binge system develops. I meet a deadline and collapse into the words and stories of others. When I am once again refreshed and itchy with my own ideas, I reemerge feeling like a hen backed up with eggs. Read the rest of this entry »