Thursday, March 6, 2014

[Essay] From One Writer To Another

I remember being so excited when I first discovered I can fill up a notebook with words and even better - the words I wrote told a story. I showed the notebook to my favorite English teacher. And I will always bless her for loving my stories, for the encouragement and for inspiring me. 

That was in high school and I remember back then how my stories were more narrative and have very little dialogue and how I can finish a novella in under three months and now it's taking me years to finish a novella. But back then, I didn't really know how to plan my story, sketch my characters or develop a plot. After taking some classes I have learned to be more organized as a writer, to flesh out my characters so they will read like real people, to plan my story as a whole with a clear beginning, middle, and ending. I have learned to better describe people, places and things using the five senses. And somehow, despite learning all these great techniques, I feel inadequate. I fear I am breaking some rule (and I probably am). And some days, I feel like I wish I never took those classes because now, I couldn't write without having to think about the rules of good writing. I feel trapped!

Well, you know what, that is what the first draft is for. Forget the rules and just write. If you are a plotter, by all means, plan and work out the details of your story and then write. If you are the more organic type, then just write out your story and see where the story and/or the characters will take you. If you are a hybrid like I am, where I sketch a very basic plot, settings and a very detailed character list, then do that and then write however you want. The first draft is to get your thoughts down on paper. If it looks like a jumbled mess at the moment, and your writing is crappy, don't worry about it. That's what revisions are for. So rule number one: Forget the rules and just write.

Before discovering the joy of writing, I was a reader first and will always be. As a writer, I tend to write in the genre that I enjoy reading. It make sense doesn't it? You tend to read what you enjoy and so when a reader becomes a writer, they write what they know and read about. So, if you find yourself wanting to write in a different genre, you better read lots and lots of books in that new genre that you want to write in because we all learn by example and what better way to learn than from the words of the best selling authors out there, am I right? So rule number two: read a lot of books in the genre that you would like to write in and for heaven's sake, don't read like a reader, read like a writer! Take note of how the quotation marks are placed, look at the dialogue, look at how the story is structured, take a really close look at the characters and take time to understand the characters, discover what makes them tick; look at the narrative parts of the book and take note how the author describes something; do the words on the page conjure images in your head? Does it make you see, feel, smell, taste, and hear what the characters are sensing? In short, be a very observant reader.

We all lead busy lives. How do we find the time to write when we have day jobs and we have crazy family schedules? The solution to that is to always keep a small notebook and pen with you so that when an idea strikes, you can easily jot it down. Or, if you're working on a book or project, and you find yourself stuck behind a person who has a big binder of coupons and three carts full of groceries at the checkout counter or during Black Friday, instead of stressing out about the long lines and having to wait forever, pull out your notebook and pen and start writing. Or if you have a phone with a note-taking app, use that instead of paper and pen - just don't forget to back up your data every night so you don't lose those precious ideas. I really don't recommend writing your ideas down on scraps of paper or table napkin. While it is true that scraps of paper or a sturdy table napkin is somehow always around when an idea strikes but the reality is, we have a tendency to misplace those scraps than a notebook or our phones. Also, if you spend two to four hours or more a day reading tweets or Facebook updates, set an alarm for yourself so you'll be forced to cut down on your social media time and reinvest the extra time on your writing. Write during breaks at work. Speak to a recorder when you're driving or walking the dog if an idea strikes you. It doesn't matter how little or how much you have written in a day. What matters is that you wrote every day. Even if it's just one sentence or one paragraph, if you write everyday those little words or paragraphs will one day become a chapter and then it will grow into a book. So rule number three: write at every opportunity you get and it doesn't matter how much you have written in that short amount of time. In the end it will still be a book.

I don't know about you but growing up in my family, writing a book is just another hobby that doesn't pay the bills especially when you're new to the art and business of writing and that my so-called writing time is not really sacred. It can get really frustrating when you have declared, "after dinner is my writing time and that no one is to disturb me unless the house is on fire," and yet various members of your family keep disregarding that request for a time out. I say, do what it takes to enforce that. If it means locking yourself in your bedroom/bathroom/car to keep everyone out of your hair for the next five minutes or five hours so you can write, then so be it. I got a little bit of luck in the sense that I am not a morning person. I am more of a mid-morning person who, sadly, needs about 10 hours of sleep every day. So I can't wake up at 3am to write because my brain will just be dead and squeezing the creative juices out of it will only make the writing process slow and painful. Maybe pure torture. You don't want that. Trust me on this. I find that I am most productive between 10am to 4pm then I'd pick up speed again between 8pm to midnight. And because I am at work by 10am during the work week, I have disciplined myself to write during breaks to take advantage of this productive streak then by the end of the work day, I go home, relax for an hour or two then I write again from 8pm till I ran out of thoughts or until midnight when I turn into a pumpkin, whichever comes first. I get a huge amount of writing done at night because everyone (meaning husband and dog) are both asleep and the house is so quiet I can hear my brain loud and clear. So rule number four: observe yourself and take note of what time of the day you are most productive and what time of the day your brain and imagination feels so alive and alert both at work and during the weekend and use that timeframe to write on top of stealing minutes to write bits and pieces every day.

I hope these four simple rules help you with your writing. But before I go, let me share one last thing...

Sometimes, writers need a lot of inspiration and motivation to continue writing and most often than not, writing can be solitary, lonely and downright depressing especially when you see other writers announcing their book release left and right and here you are, with nothing to show except for a skinny, unfinished manuscript that will most likely never see the light of day. And then you have self-doubts plaguing you every now and then. Every writer needs someone who will pull them up and remind them of how truly gifted we are. And this is my special message to you, my dear writer friend. You chose to be a writer because you care about the world you move and live in, you care about sharing your wisdom, your imagination; you want to help people; influence the world in your own way and touch someone's life through your words. And you can do all these amazing things and it is easy for you to write, to overcome obstacles, even writer's block. You are an amazing creature and you have a destiny, a purpose in this world to bring awareness, comfort and love to those who read your words. It's okay to have a little doubt because it will only push you to do great things. Use it as your stepping stone to go where you want to go. Everyday is a celebration of you and the power of your words. Every word, every page and every day is a step closer to bridging the gap between you and your writing goals. You can do this!