Friday, December 21, 2012

Sucking on vacuum; Setting the bar

I'm going to make this personal again.

My passion for writing happened blossomed pre-internet and out in the sticks. So for eight years, from middle to high school, there were only a couple of weeks of "creative writing" in my rural school.

By graphite and by dot matrix, I wrote 99% of my output in a vacuum. My family didn't know what to make of it. (My grandpa thought it was all an excuse to avoid chores.)

My senior year English teacher, Mr. Hoyt Dearmond, gave me extra credit for a Halloween story. The next day he pulled me to the side. He confessed that my werewolf story kept him up all night. I was hooked.

After many years after that I finally found a crew of on honest writers that give me good feedback. Overall, I'm for workshops.  If you do some research, you'll find that a lot of the authors you love had a support system. They either drew inspiration from each other, like Mark Twain and Charles DudleyWarner being neighbors before they collaborated on the Guilded Age to Robert E Howard and H.P. Lovecraft writing engaging letter to each other about the nature of man and civilization.

Beyond getting another set of eyes on your work, there is a feeling of validation to be had in talking to people about the craft of writing. Finding the Write Crew for you, though, is more like an episode of Community than Dead Poet’s Society.

Each member needs to get a balance of several things:

  • Good news vs bad news: You need honest colleagues that can deliver you bad news about what doesn't work. Anyone who constantly tells you that your work is flawless is either lying or clueless to your story needs. Constant badgering  without some constructive feedback is no good either.
  • Talking vs Writing: As friendships and respect grow. You’ll find that your discussions drag on into long phone calls. Hour long phone calls on the travails of writing in general are hours your not actually writing.
In addition to a fresh viewpoint, you'll get extra ideas and influences as people introduce you to new authors, new stories and new genres.

A lot of pros read more than just what’s in their style/genre. Right now, the Literary world is befuddled right now with the younger writers who are mixing and mashing tropes, adding character studies to zombie plagues and introspection to alternate realities.

Meanwhile, the “genre ghetto” is spinning out SciFi murder mysteries and undead nior.  And then there’s the supremely talented Dan Simmons whose breadth of work defies the market's passion pigeon holes.

These are writers that recognize that in order to grow, they need to expand beyond what originally inspired them to write in the first place.

And that’s a getting onto the front porch of where I wanted to end our short walk around the Bright Cave. 

If it’s one thing I've noticed among a lot of writers is that while they may not have ended up where they hoped to be, they “fell” to a higher place by aiming up. Or perhaps the more accurate corollary is that you get only mediocre writers unless they aspire to do more.

Sure your passion may involve a thrilling, romantic story of super spy robot P.I.s , but EVERY story is better with engaging characters who are in a conflict for stakes that matter to them and the reader.  If  you strive for those higher goals with every novel, you have better chances making a better story and winning over new readers.

And in the end, isn't that what every writer really wants?

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