I’m Not a Spy. I’m a Writer.

Sometimes, I want to turn on my phone’s recorder and secretly document the conversations going on around me. I haven’t (yet), but sometimes, the conversations or characters are so good that it’s really hard to resist. I want to remember this person’s accent, that person’s speech patterns – or just the people in general.

To give you an idea of the conversations that tempt me, here are some examples (yes, these really happened):

1. Two older men (50s plus) arguing about the legalization of marijuana at a bar (1 for, 1 against). The part I remember best went something like this (paraphrased).

            A: That makes sense to me.
            B: Of course it does! It’s your theory!

2. A conversation overheard by a friend of mine on an elevator. It was between an elderly couple:

            Husband: [to his wife] Pete and Repeat were in a boat. Pete fell out, who
            was left? [Silence] Pete and Repeat were in a boat. Pete fell out, who was
            left? [Silence] Pete and Repeat-
            Wife: -If you don’t stop with that crap, I’m going to poke you in the eye.

3. A couple of twenty-some year olds discussing the particulars of iron maiden – the torture device, not the band.

4. A beggar on the street singing to people about politics. He must’ve sung to at least twenty people to vote for a specific person: “If you’re wearing a green sweater, vote for —.” “If you have a roller suitcase, vote for —.”

I won’t say you can’t make this sh*t up, but why bother when it’s happening all around you? People are crazy and amusing and interesting (and horrifying and disgusting). You never know what they’re going to say or do. Or even what types of characters you’re going to meet. If you’re looking for inspiration, that’s where I’d look first.

That’s why I find myself wanting to record snippets of people to better milk them for my writing later. So far, I’ve resisted (since it’s fairly creepy and quite possibly illegal), but I will admit I’ve taken written notes and written down more than my fair share of quotes. With a goldmine like that, can you blame me?

 What about you? Do you have any good ones to share?

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A Life Worth Writing: A Quote for Memorial Day

Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing Benjamin Franklin Quote

Said a man who did both.

On a day when we stop to remember those who served in the United States’ armed forces, it seems appropriate to quote one of our first patriots, Benjamin Franklin. A man who helped that nation begin. A man whose deeds have been written about and read for over a century. His words seem to epitomize one of the main goals society gives us for life: to make our stay here worthwhile, memorable.

Isn’t it a natural human desire to be remembered? To want our loved ones to be remembered?

A few weeks ago, I caught part of a special about the families of soldiers killed in action and a group called American Gold Star Mothers, Inc that supports them. One of the main comforts that many of the people said the group gave them was the fact that they felt their children were remembered. That they hadn’t died for nothing and been forgotten.

That’s also a power that writing has. The written word has the power to immortalize people, to spread awareness of their existence, and to show that they have not been forgotten.

Nonfiction writers and journalists are the ones most associated with this heavy task. Memoir writers, autobiographers, biographers – people who write the true stories of people’s lives. People they thought had a life worth writing about and, therefore, worth reading about. But those writers aren’t the only ones. Bloggers and even fiction writers shape a written record of the time, it’s rules, and their experiences. Real people can be immortalized through characters they inspired as easily as true stories.

So how do you choose what is worth writing? How do you know what will be worth reading? I don’t know. And I don’t know that it’s worth agonizing over. In fact, there’s probably only one question about it worth asking: what or whom do you want to be remembered?

Write Music with Words

This is a great visual representation of the use of rhythm, word choice, and amplification in writing. It should be mandatory for all school children. Maybe, then, they’d understand why knowing how to write more complicated sentences is important.

Don't just write words. Write music.

Remember: the techniques used in poetry aren’t limited to poetry.

Blogs versus Books: A Battle of Motivation

BLOG: Have you finished the posts for this week yet?
WRITER: Ummm, no. I was just going to-
BLOG:-Then, you better get on that. We have a strict posting schedule to keep up.
BOOK: [Coughs] Excuse me. I believe I was guaranteed at least an hour of undivided attention each day.
WRITER: Yes. That is-
BLOG: What are you talking about? We got people waiting for these articles.
BOOK: Yes, but your whole purpose is to suppliment me. You can’t possibly think you take priority.
BLOG: Will anyone but us know he skipped a day with you? No. You want people to keep coming to a site, you need new stuff. You can have your turn once he’s finished a week of posts.
BOOK: Do those people pay for those posts? No. If he wants to make this a business, he needs something sellable. You’re nothing but a false high. Good for a 24 hour’s worth of likes and gone the next day.
BLOG: [Simultaneously] Listen, buddy-
BOOK: [Simultaneously] Tell this cretin-
WRITER: -Enough! You’re both right. But I just… I don’t…
[The writer collapses into the fetal position, rocking and muttering about needing more hours in the day. Blog and Book exchange incredulous glances, then, resume their argument over the shaking writer as the scene fades to black.]

Ok. Yes, that’s a bit overly dramatic. But there’s a lot of truth to it. The more projects you start as a writer, the more decisions you have to make about workload and which project gets priority (*cough* time management *cough*). If some of those projects are blogs, and some are books (or other not-yet-published works), then those decisions can be harder.

Blogs projects can be seductive because they have something that unpublished works don’t: feedback. People comment. People like your work. You can see instantly if someone visits your page or clicks on an article. That’s addictive! Someone likes it! Someone’s reading! I should post more to that and get more attention! It feeds the pleasure center of the brain and makes us want more of those responses.

Unless you’re posting them on your blog, books don’t have that. The only feedback you get from books is your own and that of any writing circle you take it to (maybe friends or family if you ask). For the most part, writing a book is a solo task, and it requires a ton of self-motivation. There are no clicks or likes to keep you going. The most you’ll probably get is progress, a feeling of accomplishment, or pleasure in how the story is taking shape.

Next to the excitement of blog feedback, that’s a bit weak. It lacks immediacy. With blogs, there is an impression of needing to do it on that schedule. Needing to post and keep up with it because there are other people besides yourself waiting for those words. Unless you have a publisher’s deadline, that’s not true of a book.

The only problem with that is that unless you’re making money off the blog, progress on the book is actually more important. And missing a blog post is less important than it seems. Is anyone really going to notice if you miss one? Probably not. As long as you’re keeping up with it fairly regularly, it won’t really affect your traffic either – again, unless you make your living off the blog.

But guess what? If you make your living off the blog, it’d be a higher priority than the book anyway, right? (If you think about it…)

So, as addictive as that blog interaction is, be wary of letting it seduce you into throwing aside all your priorities. You can check your stats every few hours instead of every few minutes. You can even work on the book first before writing your blog posts for the week.

(Just don’t tell Blog I said that, ok?)

The #1 Artist Problem

As I was reading the most recent article of Garden & Gun Magazine (Yes, you read that right, and the brilliant juxtaposition of the title was precisely what hooked me into trying it the first time – in a what in the world? kind of way), an article by Roy Blount, Jr., stuck out to me: “Traveling Salesman: The not-so-glamorous life of an author on the road.”

It’s about his latest book tour (as you may have guessed) and the frustrating fact that although people would come and laugh hysterically as he read excerpts to them, most of them would walk out without buying. This is an all-too-common tale, and to me, the heart of the problem is expressed beautifully by the perspective of the author versus that of his daughter.

Daughter: “You give them joy.”
Roy Blount, Jr: “I want to sell them some joy.”

Doesn’t that epitomize the problem with society’s perspective of the arts?

Writing is a job. Painting is a job. Musician, entertainer, actor, seamstress – these are job titles. The people who have these jobs can’t afford to work for free any more than doctors can afford to take only charity cases. If a doctor was complaining that people always told her what a good doctor she was but never booked any appointments, would you even think to tell the doctor that at least they respect her? No. The doctor was talking about her business. Talk isn’t going to put food on the table unless it’s backed up with cash.

And neither will joy.

Yes, the doctor probably likes that people think she’s a good doctor. And the writer is probably very happy that his book makes people laugh. Neither one of those facts is helpful in a business sense.

That’s where the difference between the doctor and the artist kicks in. The term “doctor” refers to a respected position in society that people recognize as a profession. A career. It is something you do for the purpose of making money. The term “artist” can mean any number of things to people in society, and, unfortunately, many of them involve the impression that you should do things for free or at the same prices as a big box store. Too much of society has this idea that the art itself is so fulfilling that artists should be happy with that and not need paid (which goes a little with the selling out conundrum).

When even family and friends have trouble understanding that you’re running a business, it can be hard to stay motivated and not get frustrated. It can undermine your confidence in your work and affect your ability to price it appropriately (and not way too low to continue the business). It can affect almost any aspect of your life and your work whether it’s finding the time to hang out with friends (their business stuff counts as conflicts but not your work) or simply getting credit for the hard work you do (When are you going to get a “real job”?).

That’s why I consider this the number 1 problem for artists. Getting work, getting paid – those are serious issues, but everyone faces them. Plus, this attitude affects both. I don’t know how to fix it. I don’t know if it can be fixed. But I definitely empathize with Roy Blount, Jr.

Yes, writers want people to like our books, but nothing shows appreciation for your writing quite so well as book sales. As the old adage says, “Say it with cash.”

A Well-composed Book Is a Magic Carpet

A well-composed book is a magic carpet on which we are wafted to a world that we cannot enter in any other way.” -- Caroline Gordon quote

“I can show you the world,” quoted the book.

Clearly, I’m a bibliophile, but the power of books is simply amazing. Through the conventions of language, we can experience different places, cultures, and points of view that we might otherwise never be exposed to. We can learn facts. We can learn skills. We can learn empathy. The possibilities are truly endless despite the fact that we are all using the same conventions – the same dictionary set of words.

But the order and the thoughts behind them shape them so differently, making them stronger or weaker by their arrangements alone. And when they come together just right? When the words mix perfectly to form images and emotions previously unexperienced? Now, that is truly magical.

Travel Delays Are Writing Opportunities: A People Watching Writing Prompt

aiport

It must be 3am in this shot. That’s about the only time I’ve seen one that empty.

Why is it that we pay more attention to other people when we travel? I’d like to think it’s because we’re exposed to people from more cultures – who dress and behave differently and pique our curiosity. But it’s probably only because we get stuck in airport terminals with nothing to do.

Wait. As writers, we always have something to do: write. (duh) If you’re traveling with your laptop, it’s a great opportunity to work on your current novel/short story/other project. But even if all you’re armed with is a piece of paper and a pen, you can still get some decent writing in.

And if you need a writing prompt, look around. The people watching writing prompt has never been easier. Most of the time, there’s a vast variety of people to choose from, and with the state of the world, the potential for conflict is limitless even if you’re only at a bus stop or a train station. See someone arguing with an attendant? Make it into a story. Get stuck listening to a screaming child? Make it into a story. Have a surprisingly fun conversation with a stranger?

You get the picture.

Make a habit of this, and it can change your perspective on delays. A layover, a late train, a broken-down bus – those are golden opportunities to write. Why waste them?

Checking up on Blog Change

People change over time, and so do blogs (how’s that for a segue?). Since I started twytte and Words & Deeds, they’ve both evolved a great deal. There’s some overlap with the original plan and some parts that weren’t even in the brainstorm. But what do you expect after 10-11 months? Especially when half the time (or more), I’m so focused on getting a blog article written in a tiny window of time that who knows what I’m actually writing? On a busy week at work, blog planning goes out the window.

Yeah, um… Sorry about that.

Still, it’s kind of a fact of life (or my life), and as much as I might try, that may not be completely avoidable. Which means that every so often, I need to take the time to check in and make sure that the blog’s going in the right direction, that it hasn’t strayed too far from the main purpose, and that it isn’t getting messy and disorganized (like my room on busy weeks…). There’s some overlap there, but you get the point.

That’s what I’m going to be doing over the next few weeks – looking over both blogs and deciding how they’re doing and what/how they need to change. Since the original year-long writing experiment of twytte is almost over, I have to decide what’s going to happen next with it (Check out “Happy 11 Month Anniversary! 1 Left… And Then What?” for more on that.).

But even though it doesn’t have an official countdown to change, I feel like Words & Deeds needs some work, too. Maybe clean up the categories, make sure that topics are staying in line with the main idea of the site, consider bringing back more words & phrases – stuff like that. I also need to take a serious look at my schedule and make some decisions (Losing sleep to get stuff done is not a feasible long-term plan. At least, not for me.).

So why am I telling you this?

Well, if you’re interested in having input in any of that. Now’s the time. If you want more of a specific topic like grammar, theatre, using literary devices, etc., tell me in the comments, and I’ll factor that in. I mean, I can look at the stats and guess what people are more interested in, but if you’re a regular reader and want some power over what’s going on, I am open to suggestions (within reason).

Otherwise, I don’t really know why I’m telling you this. Schadenfreude? The misguided hope that my erratic schedule and quarterly blog check-up may be of use to you? (I can’t be the only one who needs to keep an eye on blog change – every business needs occasional audits!) Or maybe, it’s simply the ill-founded conceit that people read this regularly and want to know what’s going on (A girl can hope.).

Whatever the reason, now you know to expect some changes (and at least have some idea of why), and you have the opportunity to influence those changes if you so desire. After all, if change is inevitable, you might as well try to shift it to your advantage, right?

How to Change Characters without Losing Your Fans

The longer your story or series is, the more likely that one or more of your main characters is going to change significantly. And as far as realism is concerned, that’s good. People change based on their experiences, so changing is a big part of making characters feel more realistic. Plus, it’s useful if you want to keep your readers guessing by breaking your promises without really breaking them. The only problem with major character changes is how to do it without losing all of your fans.

For a lot of books, the main reason we read them is because we like the main characters. That means that if the main characters change in a way we don’t like, we can stop wanting to read the books. On the other hand, if the characters stay the same in book after book (not learning from their mistakes, for instance), then that can lose readers, too.

Picky, picky, picky.

So how do you change characters enough to make them feel real without losing readers? Well, you could study long-running series and see how they did it (FriendsThe SimpsonsNaruto, the Harry Potter series, the Star Wars book series, etc.). You might find that some of the changes in those series did in fact lose fans; however, they still had a big enough fan base to keep going without worrying about being able to sell the story (they had to do something right, right?).

But if you don’t feel like researching on you’re own, you can go by my observations and hope that I’m right.

 1. Keep the core principles.

If the character believes in something with all his/her heart, it’s going to take a helluva lot to change that. So for almost all characters, the main things they believe should stay the same. If they don’t, there needs to be a really good reason.

 2. Make it gradual.

Even real people don’t change dramatically overnight unless they have some sort of come-to-God moment. See Sergeant York for an example of that – living through getting struck by lighting results in sudden strong religious beliefs, but even then, only 1 particular belief changed that happened to affect multiple behaviors. Not every aspect of the character changed quickly, and he had to fight old habits that he no longer believed in.

So most characters should change gradually, and even if a character suddenly decides to change something, actually making the change happen is likely to be a long, hard process.

 3. Know what the character adds to the series. If the character spent the first few books being comic relief, making the character more serious might leave a void. You can do it, but something else needs to fill in for the lost humor if you don’t want the tone and style of the series to change. Or the character could show a serious side while still being a smart aleck.

The nice thing about long-term series is that they give 2D characters a chance to grow more depth, but be wary of completely losing the characteristics that gave them appeal in the first place.

That’s all I can think of right now, but there have to be other tricks to changing characters without losing all of your fans. If you can think of any, please, share. Can you think of any series that changed characters really well? Or ones that tried to and failed?