Moments of Realization

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Before we begin today’s post… I would like to acknowledge the tragic events in Belgium this week. My heart goes out to the victims, but that’s about all I’m going to say about that. I see no value in giving those who caused the events any more attention on this blog. People whose idea of ‘bravery’ is bombing the elderly and unarmed women and children aren’t worthy of the space and time. So on to other things…

Yesterday morning I came to a realization. It’s one that I’ve talked about here.It’s something that I’ve wanted to believe, but part of me, somewhere, never quite believed…

A while back I made a change. I started acknowledging myself as a professional freelance writer. My job was now “Writer” (see some of my earlier thoughts on that here…). But was it a real job? Was I really doing this professional writing thing or was I just doing?

Earlier this week I ran into a blogger who boldly proclaimed that people who sit in a restaurant with their writing gear and peer off with a ‘pondering expression’ aren’t really writers, they are posers…

The thing is, I consider myself a real writer. Some times I write at a restaurant. Sometimes I sit and ponder while I’m working out what to say, what new words to put down, or how to modify the words I’ve written.

Then Thursday morning it hit me. No, this is a real job. I am a real writer. I do writer things like putting words on pages and editing and pitching and research and all those other ‘writer’ things. But I’m also doing the ‘real job’ things: I set (and keep) deadlines; I set and achieve goals;  I manage; I communicate with business contacts (not just Facebook friends…). I have an actual bank account set aside for business stuff and that’s what the writing stuff (in and out) is linked to.

This is a real job. The difference between being a writer and most ‘real’ jobs is that I don’t have a boss to report to. I also really don’t have employees (thankfully, I don’t have pay employment taxes for my fictional characters (yet) )

From all of this week’s experiences I find the following to be true…

  1. Writing can be (and for me is) a real job.
  2. Writing is as much a real job as you choose to make it.
  3. If you are going to make it a real job. You have to put the time in on all the parts, the ‘writing stuff’ and the ‘job stuff’.
  4. All of that can look different depending on who you are and what you write.

As long as you are treating it as a job, and actually doing the job stuff, writing can be a real job. There may not be a literal time clock to punch (unless you make one for yourself!) but as your own boss, when you’re honest with yourself, you know how much time you spend on writing and marketing and all those other things you need to do. (And don’t forget education, especially if you don’t know what you need to do!)

That’s it for this one dear reader. Until next time…

It’s your life, make it your best.

The Question

One of the things to come out of my recent NANOWRIMO experience was some serious thinking about the question.

There are a lot of questions purported to be the question: the question of the moment; the question of life; the (insert group or species here) question; and many more.

My the question for today is one that echos back through the world of fiction to the day, even the moment the very first story teller told the very first story.

My the question rolls through the halls of higher education like a tide. It dominates television networks. My the question dominates the nonfiction world as much as the world of fiction.

What is my the question? It is phrased many ways by many people but here it is: how did this come to pass?

The story in a story isn’t just a telling of what happened; it is an explanation of what lead to an event or result. In the same way a doctoral dissertation includes a literature review, a collection of past research that should lead to one inescapable question.

One of the best hooks in the media is to put up a picture and tell the audience you’ll explain how it happened after this commercial break.

How-to books tell how something is built; one story of how that thing came to exist.

My question is one that is asked at one point or another by every human being. My question is one that animal lovers occasionally insist that we share with other species. Can you imagine a dog or cat looking at you with a “what the heck?” expression? Your pet may have just asked the question.

Even medicine and hard science ask ‘how did this come to pass?’. A doctor recognizes that a broken bone was broken in a given way and that helps him or her determine how to repair the break. A geologist recognizes that  a rock got to it’s current location by glacial action rather than being formed in that particular spot.

You never need to feel dumb when you ask the question, dear reader. When you ask ‘how did this come to pass’, it’s not just a question it’s the question. It’s one of the great questions of history. It’s a question that’s been with us since the beginning.

That’s it for this one dear reader. Until next time…

Ask questions, that’s how we get answers.

Interesting question…

Here’s a question that came to me…

“Does writing on the blog affect your fiction writing?”

I thought about this, and yes it does. The blog affects my fiction writing in several ways.

If I work on just a words per day goal… say I decide to write 1000 words per day and then spend 600 on the blog. That would leave only 400 for the fiction. But, the 1000 words is a minimum. I can write more if I want to (this month I’ve averaged over 2000 a day just on the Novel…)

On the other hand, the blog gives me another avenue to look at and think about ideas and situations and to develop my thinking. This means that those ideas can be incorporated into my fiction in a more developed and thought out manner.

On the other other hand… it is a different kind of writing. Fiction and blog posts happen in different mental spaces, which means I can write one when the other isn’t quite pinging. This can distract (if you stick to the 1000 word goal) or it can ‘prime the pumps’ helping me get other stuff out of my head so I can be in a space to write fiction (or vice versa).

So, yes the blog affects my fiction. If I let it it’s a limiter. But, it also allows me to process and develop ideas to incorporate into the fiction.

They are also different kinds of writing, so they don’t necessarily conflict. I can do one when I’m not in the mental space to do the other.

In practice I think I (and others) have to take charge of what we are writing and make choices. Definitely follow your heart and write what’s on your mind, but you get to make some choices in terms of what form that takes. And, in any case some writing is better than no writing. Allowing yourself to be in the habit of writing blog posts is a lot closer to writing fiction that the habit of not writing. Some times it’s a lot easier to turn the flow of your words into a different course than to get it moving from zero.

That’s it for this one Dear Reader.

Until next time follow those dreams. Write and be healthy (I’m over 26,000 words this month and I haven’t wanted do bang my head against the wall once!)

Small Change, Big Difference

In our writing and many other areas of life changing a small detail or two can have big results.

Take a look at this picture…

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Both pieces contain precisely the same number of rings in the same ratios and rows. It is a one ring difference in how expansion rings are placed that results in a circle or a pentagon; one ring to the left or right and you change the pattern. We do the same thing with the words and punctuation in our writing.

Perilous punctuation

This one is a classic I learned from my dad… Woman, without her man, is nothing. Woman, without her, man is nothing. We only  move a comma over one place and it makes a significant change in meaning.

Punctuation helps show how words are connected and flow into bigger ideas. Change one point of punctuation, even slightly, and you change the meaning of the words in the larger context. All of those commas, semi colons, and periods out there actually mean something. They control flow and order. They show how things are connected. Those parentheses, quotes, and dots of ellipsis mean stuff too. They can tell you when a thought is a side bar, another person’s, or trails off.

Punctuation is a powerful tool to be use with care. If you plagiarize or jump in to the world of contracts, a punctuation mark that is missing or in the wrong place doesn’t just affect how you ideas are presented it could cost you money.

It’s not just the punctuation either.

A small change in the words you use can change the meaning or the shad of meaning. This could come in the form of a different word, an additional word, an omitted word, or in some cases a word form (remember gerunds? They’re nouns, They’re verbs. How you use them changes the meaning).

In my masters thesis I studied differences in language use between people learning to read and their literacy tutors. The biggest difference?: The use of qualifiers, words that shape how and when something is meant and allow for an individual instance or situation to vary from a constant state. “I’m a happy person” versus “I’m usually a happy person”; one can only be a current or constant while the other is allowing for situational changes.

Adjectives are another case of words to choose carefully. is the shirt sky blue or turquoise. Would you say that the color of the (insert object here) purple or violet?  Is the lake your character just fell into cold, chilling or freezing. Choosing the right word can really set the description or create a different situation.

We can also think in terms of word order. Ok, the snake is red, yellow and black; are the red and yellow stripes together or the red and black. One is a king snake the other a coral snake; one is relatively safe, the other is poisonous.

This is why we take time…

Small changes can have major effects in terms of meaning. This is why we a writers need to put actual effort and thought into the words we use, and then go back and reread and edit. Sometimes the idea could be cleaned up or made stronger. Sometimes we weren’t as attentive or clear as we thought we were on the first pass. Sometimes that naughty little keyboard lets the wrong letter or symbol creep in.

Editing allows us to perfect the thought. To make sure that what we are writing is what we really want to say. It is one of the real differences between that killer prose and pointless junk (actually some days it’s why I like writing better than talking to people; when I write I can go back and see my goofs, if I just say it it’s out there and there’s nothing to be done).

Small changes can result in big differences in effect and meaning. In our writing (and life) the small choices we make can have real effects on the results we get. We need to take time and care to make sure we get them right.

I think that’s it for to day dear reader. Until next time, if you’re going to give, give your best.

What do we add?

Last week I was watching a webinar about authorship and creating the life you want. One of the questions in the chat roll was one of those hard/easy questions that can be fun to explore: “what can a fiction writer do to make the world better?”

One answer that came up is that the world needs entertainment. I think that that is a fair answer, there is certainly a market for entertainment; but, in terms of making the world a better place, I think there is another answer. Fiction writers can make the world a better place the same way that non fiction writers do: presenting, talking about and examining ideas.

In addition to my writer hat I have a degree in psychology (I may have mentioned that already). In the study of psychology one of the things we try to do is describe behavior (and if you’re more daring, the experience of behavior). Fiction is another venue in which we can examine and discuss behavior and the human experience. Actually, it’s a way of examining and talking about the human experience that has real advantages. Sure, it isn’t empirical evidence, but in fiction you can feel safer in exploring the more uncomfortable parts of behavior and experience.

Fiction is fiction, the stories don’t have to be about real live people. This means that you can study the what ifs of the human experience in situations and ways that would be unethical to put a real person in for an empirical study (sorry folks, you really can’t ethically give someone a birth defect on purpose, kidnap them and force them to change religion or subject them to a car crash just to see what happens to them, but you can write a story about it).

you can also talk about things like how science changes lives (that’s called science fiction), politics, history, religion, or just about any other subject that you feel like talking about. Sure, you’re only telling a story (or reading or watching it), but you are also opening up an opportunity for people to think about and discuss ideas.

One of the entertainment draws of fiction is that it gives you an opportunity to be exposed to things outside of your normal experience. That’s a built in gateway to expose people to ideas outside of their normal experience. An old roommate of mine liked to point out that every telling of a story is someones first time hearing it; translated that is… every time we tell a story is a new chance for someone to first experience and explore some of the ideas involved.

Language, words, syntax, the whole business in fact is meant to carry meaning. Language is made up of symbols and ideas.
We can make the world better through the stories we tell. We can present and talk about ideas. We can teach, demonstrate, inform, and discuss. We can open a persuasive dialog and help people make choices and take action in their lives.

No, a story won’t change the world; people do that. Our stories present ideas. Our stories can help people to make the choices that will change the world. It has happened and it will happen again.

Well, that’s it for this week.
Till next time: write stories, draw pictures, make stuff, explore the world around you and know that you can have an impact for good. That has been given to you and nobody gets to take that away from you.