You Know You Might Be a Writer When….
As I’ve mentioned before, I am inordinately fond of Cracked.com. They are bizarrely insightful for a site self-described as a humor site. I will frequently click in to one of their articles with one set of expectations, only to be completely surprised (and often informed) by what it actually contains. One of their recent articles, though, is once again not quite what I was expecting.
The article (listicle, rather) is 4 Weird Side Effects of Learning How to Write. I was half expecting it to be filled with straightforward writing-y things, like your grammar gets better and you become a snob about em-dashes. The things they list, though, are more craft-of-writing things.
But what was most surprising to me was the fact that I already exhibit almost all of these effects.
Item 1: Regular Conversations Sound Banal
One of my recent breakthrough moments in advancing my writing was the day I realized that most of the time, all my characters talk like I do. In other words, I have difficulty finding the individual voices of each character. I’ve tried to fix this by becoming more aware of dialogue as I write it, and also by occassionally studying real conversations in real life. As the article points out, though, the difference between written dialogue and actual dialogue is a bunch of ums and ahs and false starts and slurred sentences in the latter. When you think about it, it’s really amazing that we’re able to get any information across at all. But what I’ve realizes is that some of these flaws of conversation can help add to the character and emotion. Lately I’ve been experimenting with dramatic pauses in written dialogue that mimic similar effects in real conversation, but without the stuttery awkwardness. When it works, it’s like the best of both worlds.
Item 2: You Read a Ton More
This both is and isn’t true for me. On the one hand, I’ve read precious few novels lately, something that I kick myself about every time I see lists and reviews of new works of scifi and fantasy. But on the other hand, I do read more non-fiction work than I’ve ever read in my entire life; most with the hopes of expanding my horizons and thus expanding my writing. Some things are actual theory-of-writing works, but most things are simply interesting pieces that delve into the complexities of human nature. I’ve also been reading a lot more history-type stuff lately, since I’ve realized the old trick of taking inspiration for stories from stories that already happened. Last summer I sort of set up my own Revisionist Women’s History course, reading books on female leaders of the Mongolian Empire and female power and politics in the Ottoman Imperial Harem.
Also it probably goes without saying that I read a lot more porn lately too.
Item 3: Your Old Favorite Novels Are Now Awful
This actually happened to me long before I started focusing seriously on my writing. When I was in college, I took a class called Race and Gender in Science Fiction that really opened my eyes to not only so-called feminist science fiction and fantasy, but also just overall better character and plot construction that doesn’t rely on tropes. A couple years ago I also spent a full day watching all of Anita Sarkeesian’s excellent Feminist Frequency videos, which are an entire media studies course in and of themselves (also, not to be a Sarkeesian hipster, but I was totally into her and girl crushing way before the whole Women in Video Games brouhaha).
But learning more about writing and plot construction really brought out new holes in stories I loved, as well as new stories I have read since. For example, like all nerd women of my generation, when I was in middle school I was into Anne McCaffrey in a big way. I would still venture that her early works, especially the earliest Pern books, are still justifiable classics. But as rabid as I was for her, I wasn’t as engaged with her later works, and eventually stopped reading them altogether. Recently I realized one reason why: she got in a habit of setting up tension in the story, only to resolve it almost immediately. I remember this specifically in the Acorna series; almost every major problem that was introduced was resolved before the end of the chapter, sometimes within about three pages. As much as I habitually eschew tension and discomfort in my own life (I know, ironic for someone into BDSM, but I think there’s a lesson in that) I’ve come to realize that Things Going Wrong and a careful balance of tension is what makes an engaging story. So, with her later works, McCaffrey wasn’t able to keep me engaged with the books, and I eventually stopped being engaged with her work altogether.
Item 4: You’re Never Not Writing
When I was in college, a writing professor told me that if you are interested in writing, the most important thing to do is Keep Writing. I remember he specifically said that even if it was just writing the copy for cereal boxes, it still helped you practice communicating through written words. Well, I do a significant amount of writing in my day job, so I’m good on that, but I’ve met people who actually work on writing stories every single day, practicing not only their prose but their plot, characterization, description, and so forth. I felt guilty that I so rarely get the time to sit down and actually pound out story ideas, and when I do I’m often wracked with writer’s block (and those two facts are probably related).
But then, early last year, I had an epiphany: I do write all the time, constantly even, and have been doing so since I was a little kid. I write in my head, through daydreams. My daydreams are filled with curiosity about and creativity inspired by the world around me, and I often thread those ideas together in mini plot elements. I think my brain is so used to thinking in this sort of proto-storytelling format that it influences my subconscious and leads to some of my more epic dreams (just ask anyone on my facebook list, where I spam dream summaries regularly). Now, the trick is learning how to take those daydreams–which, in my head, are rich with visuals and emotion and sensation–and translate them to the linear, written word. That’s where the practice comes in, and that is something that I have been working on significantly more lately. But I felt a lot better once I realized that my rampant fantasizing meant that I was already on track.
In fact, it was that pride in my daydreams that lead me to come up with the pun in my name (when gmail required me to have a “last name” in order to get an email): Corvidae Dream. Say it outloud, if you haven’t already. 😉