Thursday, February 18, 2010

James A Michener Insights 4

from The World is My Home: A Memoir by James A Michener

“For whom did I write as I sat night after night fighting the mosquitoes with those little bombs of insecticide the Navy gave us and pecking out my stories on the typewriter? Not the general public, whom I did not care to impress; not the custodians of literature, about whom I knew little; and certainly not posterity, a concept that simply never entered my mind. I wrote primarily for myself, to record the reality of World War II, and for the young men and women who lived it” (266).

Who do you write for? Who is the audience in the back of your mind as you weave your tale? Is it family? friends? colleagues? the literary world? God? yourself? The list could go on and on. This really is a loaded question, because the answer to it determines your goals and aspirations. If you’re writing for other people, you may never find success. People are fickle. What they like today, they discard tomorrow. If your goal is to please God and yourself, then you will find more satisfaction as a writer. And if other people also enjoy what you have written, then that is just cherries on top of the sundae. Don’t try to please others to the point where you lose yourself and your purpose. Write what is in your heart to write.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

James A Michener Insights 3

from The World is My Home: A Memoir by James A Michener

The next paragraph that I want to discuss has two major points. So I’ll discuss one today and one tomorrow.

“What I did was what I would do in all my later books: create an ambience that would both entertain and instruct the reader, invent characters who were as real as I could make them, and give them only such heroics as I myself had experienced or found credible” (266).

What does he mean by ambience? Ambience refers to the atmosphere of a setting. It has to do with the environment and the vibe it gives off. Every story must have a credible setting that puts readers into that scene. If you’re at the ocean, then let the readers hear the water break upon the beach, smell the salt-filled hear, and feel the hot sand beneath their feet.

Characters should always be real. Real people have faults and hurts and joy and goals and a host of other things. People are not one dimensional. Characters in a story should be well rounded and readers should be able to relate to them. Why is Spiderman more popular than Superman today? Because we can relate to Spiderman. We understand that being a hero is a curse for him. We understand that he must deny some of the things that he wants just so he can be this hero. Who can relate to Superman? Nothing can stop him, except kryptonite, which is some rock from outer space. Superman has no other fear. He has no faults. He is perfect and is therefore unrealistic.

The heroics part is completely up to you. It depends on the purpose of your story. If your hero needs to discover the ark of the covenant and beat the Nazis while he’s at it, then more power to you. The story calls for it. But if your story is a real life tale, which is what Michener wrote, then your stories have to be real. Stories don’t have to be fantastical to be great, but they do have to be real.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

James A. Michener Insights 2

from The World is My Home: A Memoir by James A Michener

“But at nine-thirty each night I would repair to my darkened Quonset hut, light a smelly lantern . . . and sit at my typewriter, pecking out with two fingers the stories I had accumulated as I traveled the Pacific” (166).

If you want to be a great writer, you have to have some type of writing routine. It may not seem like a lot to write, let’s say, two hours a day. Do that for five days a week and you have 10 hours at the end of the week. At the end of the month you have worked 40 hours on your writing. You can get a lot done in 40 hours. No matter your schedule, the important point is that you write. Write as often and as much as you can. Some days will go better than others, but that’s okay. That’s part of the process.

Monday, February 15, 2010

James A. Michener Insights 1

from The World is My Home: A Memoir by James A Michener

“Years from now the men who complain most loudly out here will want to explain to others what it was like. I’m sure of it, so I’m going to write down as simply and honestly as I can what it was really like. And then I reassured myself: No one knows the Pacific better than I do; no one can tell the story more accurately” (165).

Be confident in the stories you write. If what you are writing is something that you must write, something that is deep in your soul, then be confident that you are the one to write it and that no one can write it as well as you can. This is why it’s important to be true to yourself. Write what you know - to a certain extent. Write what you like to read and what you want to write. Don’t write what the world expects you to write. You have to write what is in your heart, what is buried in your soul. Only you know what that is, and only you can write it most accurately.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Wisdom of Sherwood Anderson 4

“Anderson’s own assessment of his early writings was that they were too much the product of his reading, that he had ‘come to novel writing through novel reading’” (67-68).

To be a good writer, you have to read. But reading can also be dangerous to the writer. You don’t want to imitate your favorite writers too much. You are the only you there is. You have a distinct voice that God gave you and that only you can provide to the world. You are short-changing yourself if you’re trying to be the next Stephanie Meyers, or John Grisham, or Stephen King, or J.K. Rowling. You have to be yourself. You have to use the talent and skills that God gave you and that you have worked to develop. The world needs your voice, your style, your view of life. Don’t lessen yourself by becoming a cheap imitation.

As a writer, when you read you are learning how to write. How does the writer move from scene to scene? When does the author use dialogue and when does he/she summarize? How does the author show and not tell? How is the character developed? How is the scene set? These are just examples. You’re not looking to copy them point by point, but you’re learning how to write, how to make your own style better. You need to know your own weaknesses and read authors who are strong in those aspects. Description is a weak part of my writing. And I hate reading long descriptions, but I have to if I’m to learn how to write those descriptions. If I don’t want to write descriptions, then I just need to stick with drama. I also read popular writers who aren’t that good at description, but I see how they work it out as well.

Read to learn - not to imitate.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Wisdom of Sherwood Anderson 3

“He wrote versions of two novels, perhaps drafts of two others, and incalculable amounts - pages, reflections, dialogues, descriptions, notes - that cannot be categorized or retrieved” (65).

Not everything you write is for the public’s eye. You save the best of your best for that. What is important is that you are writing. Write what is on your heart. Write a much and as often as possible. Let me use this analogy. Let’s say you’re a baseball player and you want to make the major leagues. Can you do that if you never play? Of course not. You have to work at your game, getting better, working on weak aspects of your game. And you’re always up to play. You don’t get better by watching TV while other major league hopefuls are out there working at their game. You have to get out there and do whatever it takes to make yourself better. Don’t beat yourself up because every at bat doesn’t turn into a home run. Sometimes you have to strike out, so you can learn what to change for your next at bat.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Wisdom of Sherwood Anderson 2

“When (Sherwood Anderson) felt he could steal the time, he wrote at the office. In his room at home he acted out his life and sat in silence, but he spent most of his time there - often most of the night - writing” (65).

To be a writer, you have to write. That’s all there is to it. You can’t spend all of your time watching TV, playing video games, or hanging out with friends. You have to write. And if you’re serious about it, you will write every time you have a chance to do it. There are way too many things that can get in your way. Even our own procrastination will get in our way. Sometimes, we just don’t feel like writing. We like to use the excuse of writer’s block. If you’re blocked on one story, work on another one. Anderson wrote all types of things.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Wisdom of Sherwood Anderson 1

I’ve been reading Sherwood Anderson, a Biography, by Kim Townsend. I always try to glean as much wisdom about the writing life as possible. And I was able to glean some words of wisdom from Anderson’s life.

“Anderson had been writing for years, and about himself, but a few years after he arrived in Elyria, he began to do so in order to bring himself into being. . . . Beginning in Elyria, he wrote in order to put one life aside and to discover another. Writing, he later said, was ‘curative’; it helped him face himself, to talk to himself. Reaching others with his writing, even the writing itself, these things were secondary. What mattered was that putting words down on paper enabled him to live. He would give up anything to be able to do it, lose it all - his business, his family, what was left of his sanity if need be. Nor would he pause to consider others’ feelings. . . . writing was his only salvation” (65).

First, let me say that I don’t think writing should be such an extreme effort as Anderson undertook. There needs to be balance in your life. And with that, God should be first, then family. If writing is before either of those, forget about it. You will live a miserable life. Is it no wonder that so many writers turn out to be alcoholics?

Now, on to my points. A true writer can’t help but write. It’s a part of who we are. As a writer, if you don’t write, you cease to exist (or at least you feel that way). Publishing is secondary to the true artist, because an artist will continue to create his/her art, no matter if the public likes it or not. We’re told today that we have to do this and do that; we have to create a platform; we have to have a resume for why we wrote this book. What happened to just letting an artist be an artist and writing what he/she feels the need to write. Sure, it helps to write what others want to read. But should a writer sell out? I say no, but let me write a couple of best sellers and I might change my mind.

I guess it goes back to why a person writes to begin with. Is he/she doing it for the money or because it’s a part of them and have no choice? That is where the real issue lies. I have always been a writer. As a kid I wrote stories on my lined paper that was supposed to teach me how to form my letters the correct way. In high school a creative assignment would turn into a ten page tale with all of the pieces of a great tale. In high school I started writing poetry that was disguised as song lyrics. As a kid I wrote plays that were performed in my backyard and at church. A writer is who I am and if I never published a word, I would still write.