Don’t be a Slave to the Writing Process

Figure out your writing process. Don’t follow one blindly.

There are methods or a “process” that a writer uses.

You’ll be questioned about process if you ever get anything published in any meaningful way. But process can’t be transplanted from writer to writer. It’s something you have to discover for yourself.

Ray Bradbury wrote about his process.¹

  1. Make lists of what he’s thinking, short one to two word phrases.
  2. Find something that has a story behind it and write a lyric poem.
  3. Keep going as lyric poem turns into prose.

Following that process doesn’t work for me.

  1. I can’t write poetry.
  2. I can’t keep lists, because I barely have enough time to write as is.

My method is wildly different.

  1. Meditate daily.
  2. Come up with ideas when inspiration strikes or meditation leads me there.
  3. Run through everything I plan to write again in a meditative state.
  4. Sit down and type very slowly. That’s as fast as I can type.

That process isn’t going to work if your lived experience is different than mine.

Writing is an individualized act.

The product is generally recognized, but there are umpteenth ways to arrive there.

You’ll have varying success with everything you try.

It speaks to how difficult writing is.

You need to discover the process that best suits you.

It’ll be a mixed bag of the processes out there that no other writer uses to the letter.

Things like this are best figured out when you try things, everything you can find within reason until something gets you writing to the best of your ability.

It’ll be something close to who you are deep inside your soul.

Maybe you’re from the meditation camp or the poetry camp.

Whatever works is your process.

Resources

  1. Bradbury, Ray. Zen in The Art of Writing (p. 11-12). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

GK

Don’t be the Odd Writer Out in the Cold

How to be different without being too different as a writer.

Write something that people expect.

Follow the rules of genre gleaned by reading extensively in your genre. Have characters, stories, or settings that are familiar to the reader.

People need to connect with your story from the first line.

Once you have the reader invested in your story, it can show us something different.

  1. Your answer to a common problem
  2. Your plot twist
  3. The thing that sets you apart — your take — the thing that makes this piece worthwhile to read.

Moving too soon into what makes you special as a writer raises the barrier to entry for your readers.

Writing’s true value comes from readers.

If you write from far left field, it alienates the reader.

They never connect with what you written. Engagement isn’t there or the reader for that matter.

It doesn’t matter how well you’ve written something without readers.

Getting your foot in the door is getting harder by the day.

Anyone that wants a website can get one. Anyone can publish a book. Anyone can post a video on Youtube. The vast amount of content out there drowns out good content.

There needs to be something better about your piece.

Something that is relevant to the reader. It could be a character that they see themselves in. A place they’ve been before. Something they’ve done before.

Once they are hooked you can go your own way.

Things can’t change so much that you lose the readers trust, but you have some room.

Connect with your readers lived experience.

GK

Vulnerability for a Genuine Connection with your Reader

The advantage of letting people in through writing.

Connection is a scarce resource.

New ways of connecting like social media, the Twitters and Facebooks of the world simulate connection without delivering.

It’s time to return to what worked in the past, writing.

The opportunity for deep connection is slipping away. Reading is the only way to get that back.

Connecting with your reader is the purpose of publishing writing.

Connection is the purpose of a human life.

It’s the innate spark that has driven everything good we’ve ever done. Writing, scientific discovery, and cooperation are manifestations of that desire.

Being alone is one of the most painful things we can experience.

As writers, we’re in a unique position to fill that need of connection.

Being vulnerable is how you make that happen.

Connection requires the strength to be vulnerable — letting people into your life with the possibility of getting hurt.

That’s one of the things a writer must overcome to connect with readers.

The process goes something like this.

The people reading your work feel close to you.

Readers open their heart and soul to you, because you have already done the same.

Then your message gets across to be interrogated and verified.

If the message pans out, the reader interrogates their life with it.

We’re wired to seek out connection.

Being vulnerable is how you get there.

GK

Repackage your Truth to Write Something Great

The reason to “write what you know”

Write what you’ve lived.

Passion and motivation accrue when your writing something you believe to be. Your lived experience is a powerful tool that gives you insight where few others have it. Because each life is different and everyone is slightly different, we come at things from different perspectives.

People read to find insight about human nature.

That’s why fiction and memoirs sell as well as they do.

Share what you know better than anybody else.

People want truth, and truth comes from life. The life you’ve lived means something no matter how you’ve repackaged it.

Fiction shows a truth about life by changing the situation.

Making the facts stand out like they never could in real life. Sometimes real life can do that too.

You can’t choose your life

You sure can choose characters, a setting, and a plot that shows your truth.

Writing on Medium (where this originally appeared)

Personal stories of facing adversity do really well. That’s the focus of Medium at this point. Fiction is hidden in some back corner.

People come here for stories about people changing

Being true to yourself does really great here, because the community is supportive in a way few places are across the web. Medium is growing a lot still. That has to mean something. Sharing stories of life, of your truth bring people to you. That’s the story Medium tells us.

That’s a formula many prolific writers on Medium employ.

They write personal stories and other types of posts like poetry, fiction, thought pieces, and interviews. Like Meg, Abby Norman, and E Price — the examples I remember off the top of my head.

Put your truth out there and people will come.

GK

Slaughterhouse-Five and The Handmaid’s Tale: Things to Like

Reading can show our lives reflected in a myriad of ways.

I have this allergy to classics.

Most books written before the 1950’s that is. I find sleep creeping up on me like an unfulfilled need. That’s after having a full seven hours sleep and not feeling tired at all. Something about them is dull enough to put me to sleep, and it’s just me. Unlike some, a book before 1950 takes me to sleep quicker than anything else.

Slaughterhouse-Five

I whizzed through the first chapter or two. Those chapters were Vonnegut trying to remember what happened in the war and preparing to write. There was this great exchange that setup the themes to come.

“You were just babies then!” she said.

“What?” I said.

“You were just babies in the war — like the ones upstairs!”

I nodded that this was true…

“But you’re not going to write it that way, are you.” This wasn’t a question. It was an accusation…

So then I understood. It was war that made her so angry.¹

Then the story started. Throughout I was confused about what was going on. The non-linearity threw me off.

Billy Pilgrim has come unstuck in time.

Billy has gone to sleep a senile widower and awakened on his wedding day. He has walked through a door in 1955 and come out another one in 1941. He has gone back through that door to find himself in 1963. He has seen his birth and death many times, he says, and pays random visits to all the events in between.²

I ended up grouping the events of the story into parallel stories.

One was the war. The other was after the war. And the third was being abducted by non-linear aliens. That reminded me of Arrival. The movie is two parallel stories that each follows a linear progression. It’s much easier to follow than the leaping Vonnegut did. That makes me believe I didn’t get everything out of reading Slaughterhouse 5. A whole bunch of symbolism was lost on me.

I kept trying to find a rationale reason for this time hopping.

Maybe he’s in the POW camp imaging his possible future. The more likely scenario is he’s an old man looking back on his life. That distracted me from looking at other more important things. The skipping around was a way to give the reader moments away from the conditions suffered in the POW camp.

A few comical moments made me laugh in the beginning.

But lost their humor. Now, I suspect that was intentional. The dark humor came when some thing dies, and Billy thinks So it goes. It speaks to the universality of death, whether it be fleas, cows, or people.

The Handmaid’s Tale.

It’s about an alternate divergence of history in the 1970’s.

Society regresses to an ancient state. Woman became a possession of men again has it hadn’t been in a while. The pressure on the society was great enough to allow it to happen. The story looked almost prophetic seeing the way history progressed from 2001 onward. The adoption of the Patriot Act in a time of intense pressure from the outside.

Some things in the book made me angry.

Like the way anything could be used to further a decrepit political ideology. The subjugation of a weaker group by the numerous and privileged. The impeachablity of the dominant sex and blaming the subordinate sex. The society described in The Handmaid’s Tale annoyed me, like the backwardness espoused by ethnocentric people. The subjugation of woman by other women was disheartening. Though that is actually a fact a lot of the time. Like the installation of a puppet government by a foreign government. The foreign power chooses a native figurehead and puts them in a position of power over their countrymen. The use of a select portion of the Jewish people by the Nazi’s to police the ghettos set up in Nazi Germany. And the symbolic position of people that had no real power.

The Handmaid’s Tale is about surrogacy without modern medicine.

That basically means state sponsored rape of woman with successful pregnancies and multiple marriages. The fact it’s government sponsored and enforced leads to normalization of rape. Reading through those scenes made me confused, because the Handmaid telling the story was so distant all the time. During the trauma that makes sense, but after it’s confusing. I don’t think society as a whole was ready to have an honest discussion about rape when this book was published.

A few passages resonated with my lived experience.

I’ll list those and explain their significance.

In reduced circumstances you have to believe all kinds of things. I believe in thought transference now, vibrations in the ether, that sort of junk. I never used to.³

I see this happening in my life.

Living with a limiting condition like Muscular Dystrophy is another version of reduced circumstances. That probably had some impact on my belief in meditation. And how ready I am to believe things based on very little evidence. I need that illusion of having control more control than I do with meditation and karma, so the situations I find myself in aren’t quite as helpless as they really are. Control is what we want in life, but the only way to get that is controlling what you can and letting the rest go. Holding control over everything means you have a little control over a lot of things. When all we really need is great/er control of the few things that matter, like our view of the world, and the way we move through it.

In reduced circumstances the desire to live attaches itself to strange objects. I would like a pet: a bird, say, or a cat. A familiar. Anything at all familiar. A rat would do, in a pinch, but there’s no chance of that.⁴

I hang on to things I’ve made.

Especially with abilities I no longer possess like drawing, writing with a pencil, or walking. And the projects I devote my limited time to like the stories I’ve written. When people lose a little of the autonomy that those around them have, they cling to the limited things that they have control over.

It’s impossible to say a thing exactly the way it was, because what you say can never be exact, you always have to leave something out, there are too many parts, sides, crosscurrents, nuances; too many gestures, which could mean this or that, too many shapes which can never be fully described, too many flavors, in the air or on the tongue, half-colors, too many.⁵

I include too much detail.

This is something I encountered in the beginning of my writing journey. My stories were too muddled with extraneous description making it completely uninteresting to read. Some blog posts I’ve written were like that a year ago. Choosing specific details, the right details separates first-hand experiences from imagined situations. But choosing that is a mental process so replicable. That’s what using senses in your writing is all about. Choosing the right details to put into writing the transport you there, and make something more real than fiction ought to be.

You can only be jealous of someone who has something you think you ought to have yourself.⁶

We want things we believe we deserve.

When things don’t happen how we like, we fixate on those qualities we hoped to attain but failed at. Then we see it everywhere around where it wasn’t noticed before. Jealousy happens when we want things we can’t have. Other people that have those things become the focus of our jealousy. That reminded me of the rampant jealousy I feel, because there’s so much I can’t do that I ought to be able to do. You can be jealous of anyone if they have something you believe you’re entitled to. The costs of those things are lost, just the object is remembered. Like writing everyday requires giving up other things like reading articles, social media, checking e-mails, listening to music, or responsibilities. People just remember the accomplishment of making progress. The cost is payable, and the benefit is attainable.

The arrival of the tray, carried up the stairs as if for an invalid. An invalid, one who has been invalidated.⁷

People can be invalidated by taking away their autonomy.

But an invalid suffered from an injury or disease. That was a powerful reminder of the fact that people can only take away what you allow them to. I have always been impaired by Muscular Dystrophy. My struggle has been making people see beyond my physical appearance to the stuff inside. I’m like everyone else on the inside. The only thing wrong with me is the external — my muscles are weak. Fighting for what I am, the person inside to be seen has been with me my whole life. What other people think about my ability doesn’t change the facts.

God is love, they once said, but we reversed that, and love, like heaven, was always just around the corner. The more difficult it was to love the particular man beside us, the more we believed in Love, abstract and total.⁸

Love is a concept that we need to believe in.

It’s a security blanket that we will find this magic person that makes us feel loved the way our parents loved us. It’s like hope. It’s like God. It’s like dreams. Those concepts are what we need to keep living life. They are the promises that keep us going. Without them there is no life — there is on death — there is no meaning. Things that are necessary don’t fade away. They endure. They become justified no matter the circumstances. They grow to meet challenges. They are immune to the wear of time. They don’t fade away. There is no recourse in life but to believe, to have faith that they are always right and pure. Then to see things just right so that the illusion never blinks out of existence, because they are necessary for life.

I’m a refugee from the past, and like other refugees I go over the customs and habits of being I’ve left or been forced to leave behind me, and it all seems just as quaint, from here, and I am just as obsessive about it… I become too maudlin, lose myself. Weep.⁹

Things might change but there is always something left of the old.

Change isn’t to wash clean a chalkboard and write something new. Change is painting over an old masterpiece and leaving bits of the old in place to marry with the new. Things don’t vanish. They are reinvented, tweaked, and damaged, but they never disappear from existence no matter how we cling or try to forget. Things never leave the world. They are remade over and over. Transformation isn’t transient. It’s the constant state of life. Even death isn’t stagnation. It’s a redistribution.

That’s all I have on these two great books.


Hope you enjoyed reading. Please clap if you did.

References

  1. Vonnegut, Kurt. Slaughterhouse-Five (pp. 18–19). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.
  2. Vonnegut, Kurt. Slaughterhouse-Five (p. 29). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.
  3. Atwood, Margaret. The Handmaid’s Tale (p. 105). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.
  4. Atwood, Margaret. The Handmaid’s Tale (p. 111). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.
  5. Atwood, Margaret. The Handmaid’s Tale (p. 134). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.
  6. Atwood, Margaret. The Handmaid’s Tale (p. 161). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.
  7. Atwood, Margaret. The Handmaid’s Tale (p. 224). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.
  8. Atwood, Margaret. The Handmaid’s Tale (pp. 225–226). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.
  9. Atwood, Margaret. The Handmaid’s Tale (p. 227). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.

GK

Reading about Writing

 

I read another book about writing as part of my DIY MFA. It’s Maps and Legends: Reading and Writing Along the Borderlands by Michael Chabon. He’s one of the authors I enjoy reading. I’ve only read The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay so far. His writing was the third adult book I’ve ever read.

 

Maps and Legends in an anthology of roughly two dozen essays by Chabon. It’s about his thoughts and how he wrote his works. Throughout a few thesis ideas emerge. I’ll do my best to summarize those points. There’s a lot packed in 274 pages.

 

Successful writers bring new ideas that fit together well. Examples were the Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and the series His Dark Materials by Phillip Pullman. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was the first to write about the detective with a series to characters giving their takes on event. All in the direction of unraveling the central mystery. Those nested story didn’t explore, distract, or rephrase that said before; they added information. That’s basically the difference between literary and the beginning of genre fiction.

 

In His Dark Materials by Phillip Pullman a few key ideas combine to make a great story. Those plot elements, rules of the world, character traits all have to combine to enhance the story. Just serving as a wall the character faces and changes to overcome isn’t enough. That’s what happens so much in fiction. The cowardly face the obstacles that most challenges them. Feats of courage. Like how Froto has to leave the only home he has ever known. How Sam wants to be a good person so he goes. Every character is designed to be a foil to the things they face. Like Ethan’s struggle in Pines, Book 1 of Wayward Pines by Blake Crouch. His time in the military makes the resistance he faces in the small town that much worse. Or how Harry feels alone until he finds a community in the Wizarding World. I always thought my plots were good enough, but I’m missing a huge part. The resonance achieved by plot elements, character traits, and the rules of the world must play each off the other. I’ve been missing that key consideration so far.

 

The idea that ghost stories are the beginning of short stories. I would argue that a little bit. Sure they were around in the beginning. But previous stories aren’t always a direct blueprint for what comes after. Hauntings from sight unseen seems an obscure place for short stories to begin with. But isn’t something hanging in your thoughts like that in a literary story? Things lurk in your head from defining moments. Until you deal with them, they hang around haunting you. I agree that ghost stories could be the precursor to literary short stories. That connection could help when I get stuck. Maybe I’ll use it.

 

Fiction is the bridge between things imagined and things real. Fiction has fictitious parts. It’s in the name after all. But some things connect it with reality. That’s always something. How real the characters feel in fantasy. How some science still works how we think in science fiction. How the sky and the environment is normal in thrillers. But characters are the big things that make something real. Those bits of real are required for the reader to believe that somewhere out in the multi-verse the story is actually possible. In other words, fiction must always be relatable.

 

Something you’re exposed to serves as inspiration. It doesn’t have to be the most obvious things. If you look hard enough, ruminate hard enough inspiration strikes. Some things work better than others. It’s the writer’s purview to decide what stories to go after. Choosing could very well determine success or failure.

 

Maps and Legends fills me with hope for the future in writing. There’s a long way to go before I can’t progress further in writing. Writing and reading will never end up on the dust heaps of history. There’s more. Humble roots and inexperience don’t matter. Get your head down and write.

 

GK

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Image credit: Photo by Tim Gouw on Unsplash

Proustian Chronicles: The End of a Volume

 

I recently finished reading Swann’s Way, volume one of seven in Remembrances of Things Past or In Search of Lost Time. That volume is 600-something pages. I’m reading a guide at the same time. After each volume, I’m comparing my thoughts with the verdicts delivered by the reading guide. That isn’t exactly the best way to get the most from reading this but as the preparations for reading more literary work. I have my eyes on IQ83 by Haruki Murakami.

 

That’s a long way away or maybe sooner than I think. Anyway this is a summery/reaction to Swann’s Way and the reading guide the group’s using, Marcel Proust’s Search for Lost Time: A Reader’s Guide to Remembrance of Things Past by Patrick Alexander. The book is divided into three parts. The Overture, Combray, Swann in Love, and Place-names: The Name.

 

The Overture is a real bore in my mind. There are a few interesting tidbits in there, but forty pages seems overkill for a waking up sequence. It’s long but effectively primes you for the writing style you’re likely to experience. Brevity is a tad more important later on. It never reaches the expectations of today’s rapid gratification.

 

Combray is the memories Marcel has of his childhood. It details his experiences of visiting his ailing Aunt Léonie in the summers. There’s a lot there about his childhood desires and experiences. The guide refers to Combray as one of best childhood experiences in a novel of this era. Reading through, I noticed a few things. Marcel is ailing from some mysterious condition which I suspect is just getting colds that are quite severe. That sickness reduces his activity considerably. Still, he’d much rather stick his head into books. Marcel attributes good qualities to people he likes and people he would like to be like down the line. These memories Marcel remembers were triggered by eating something he enjoyed in those summers, lime tea and madeleines.

 

I like to think Marcel and I would be kindred spirits if we ever met. That makes me feel good, and that’s reason enough, but there’s more. I have Duchenne’s Muscular Dystrophy, and that enabled me to distance myself from peers. In addition, I loved reading. That love is what got me into writing. Then, I wanted to be like those charismatic people who can entertain an entire room without breaking out in sweat and make people like them. And I remember my past history to a similar extent. I think we’re pretty similar.

 

Swann in Love was my favorite part of Swann’s Way. According to the guide, it’s the closest that Proust gets to traditional story structure. I agree. There’s a beginning, a middle, and an end. Swann meets Odette. He doesn’t commit right away. Then, he’s in love with Odette. Swann gets jealous. He asks too many questions and finds difficult answers. In lack of love, he tries with another woman. That’s the plot of Swann in Love.

 

The beginning of this part was the first time I loved reading this book. It makes me a little sad that the other sections won’t follow the basic plot structure. And a theme of this book is love leads to jealousy. That’s true. Love always comes with some unwelcome jealousy as a bedfellow. That’s especially true if you have abandonment and anxiety issues. Jealousy can make love sweeter by contrast. Working on your self-worth might reduce these issues. Surely possessiveness makes the jealousy worse. That’s a theme in this book that bugs me. Any number of themes bug me, so that’s basically a given with anything I read.

 

Place-names: The Names wraps up everything. It cross applies the lessons learned in the previous sections of Marcel’s young life in Paris. Then, it echoes the fact much more is going to change.

 

Each section is like a novel in its own write except the transition sections: Overture and Place-names: The Name. That’s not the way any book is organized these days except memoirs. Because In Search of Lost Time is the very first memoir as far as I know.

 

rob-mulally-123849
Photo by Rob Mulally on Unsplash.

 

That method isn’t acceptable in fiction these days. I know it’s not fair to Marcel Proust, his many fans, and the English literature community to compare a book written something like 120 years ago to stories these days. That comparison is of paramount importance to current writers of fiction trying to learn from Proust. What elements of Remembrance of Things Past can be used to write fiction in the time we live in now? What elements won’t work? For example, putting two storylines in one piece of fiction. They need to smoothly merge from one to the other despite section breaks. Some things can end and be picked up later but never left hanging forever except at the end. Simultaneous story lines are permissible if they’re all pushed together.

 

I read an example of that recently. Drinking Coffee Elsewhere by ZZ Packer. The title is uninspiring to me, but the writing is top notch. That story artfully combines numerous storyline to create a synergy more powerful than any one alone. For an example to a story continuing through section breaks check out The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon.  That’s the best example I can think of off the top of my head.

 

I didn’t get to my conclusions matching the guide: 4/7. That seems pretty good for a start. I’ll get better by the end of this.

 

See you around guys.

 

GK

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Cover photo credit: Photo by Dan Freeman on Unsplash.