Being a writer

I’ve reached a point where I consider myself a writer. As in someone actively writing and trying to get published. I was thinking the other day about what I’ve learnt in the transition from considering myself an aspiring writer to one who is a writer. There is a big difference.

First up I want to point out that my own definition of what being a writer is doesn’t suggest that I’ve actually published anything. This is actually quite an important point. Before I considered myself a writer the fact that I hadn’t gotten anything published was a thorn in my side. As if publication is the point at which you become a writer. It isn’t. You have to have been working hard before you get to the point of publication. All that time you devote to it is time you spend being a writer.

So onto the turning point. I’ve been writing stories for about ten years. In the past three years I’ve been writing a lot more and trying to get my self published. What happened that made this change? Of course it starts with writing. I’ve been devoting a significant amount of my time to writing. The more you write the more you write. It’s the gift that keeps on giving. That’s not all there is to being a writer though. Of course it is a major part of it. Something that really changed everything for me though was sharing my stories around. Getting other people to read them. This is actually a huge step, one you should take. Don’t be shy about it. The point of writing is for someone to read what you’ve written. If you want to be able to walk into a bookstore and see a book with your name written on it then you have to share your story around. Get some fresh perspective on it. It’s actually really helpful.

The other big step was sending out manuscripts. About five years ago I actually had no idea how to send my manuscript to publishers. It was such a big barrier for me. It was like the four steps meme;

step 1 write

step 2 edit

step 3 …

step 4 publication.

About two years ago I found that it’s actually quite easy. Not so much getting published but finding places that’ll have a look at your manuscript. There are plenty of publishers out there who take unsolicited manuscripts. They may tell you no and they usually give you no reasons whatsoever but it’s still a start. It’s kind of like resume dropping. Send it out and you’ll get something. Even if its finding out that your story isn’t ready yet.

If I was to rewrite the above steps it’d look like this;

step 1 write

step 2 write some more

step 3 edit

step 4 send it out for a critique. Making a critique group is a good idea.

Step 5 rewrite based on critique

step 6 edit

Step 7 another critique; maybe different people

Step 8 find a publisher who accepts unsolicited unagented stuff or get an agent.

Step 9 wait around for about three or four months – maybe doing some writing

Cultural Difference YOLO

For those of you who haven’t heard YOLO it means you only live once. I wouldn’t normally talk about YOLO since in Australia it has come to mean acting like a complete dickhead. I thought about it today though because through YOLO I found a distinct cultural difference between Japan and Australia, as well as the rest of the countries founded by Great Britain.

To set the scene I was teaching a class of grade nine students. I should note that while grade nine in Australia is the most reviled grade, in Japan it is one of the most hard working grades. To answer why in one sentence is nigh impossible. It has a lot to do with responsibility though. In Japan grade nine is the final grade for middle school. They have a great big, extremely important, will decide the rest of your life, test at the end of it. Actually it just determines which high school you can attend but that then determines the quality of your high school education, and ability to get into university. In short it is a pretty important test. That’s just a tangent though. Perhaps one day I’ll write a blog about it.

Back to what this blog is about and setting the scene. The students had to write answers to various English questions. One of the questions in this list was: What is the most important for you? I didn’t write the questions so don’t get up me for not adding thing or in life. While most of the students wrote things like friends and family a couple of them wrote life because YOLO. Well actually they didn’t quite write that. One wrote; if you die than you can’t do anything and the other wrote; you only have one life.

This got me thinking about what the sentence means to the two cultures. In Australia a person who says you only live once is about to skydive, drive at 160 km/hr in a 50 zone or smash a bottle on table and glass someone in the face with it. Basically be a bogan. Don’t get me wrong, nothing wrong with skydiving. There is a percentage of YOLOians in Australia that use it to mean something pretty wholesome like YOLO so I’m going to go live my dream instead of YOLO so i’m going to be a dickhead.

In Japan it means something quite different. It’s nothing about living life to the maxtreme. pursuing your dream or being a dickhead to everyone because fuck those guys, Instead it’s YOLO so don’t fuck it up. A grade nine kid in Japan inspired by YOLO will study harder, Aim for higher grades. Try and get into a the better high school so they can get the best University they can. Look for a good partner have kids and inspire them to travel the same path. A Japanese YOLOian is a paragon of Japanese self discipline and inspirational to all. To me, a fifteen year old kid that decides life is the most important thing so I’m going work hard is a pretty amazing thing to witness.

It’s a pretty big difference. It makes me wonder. If YOLO creates a paragon in Japan, does that mean the same for Australia. Are the YOLOians in Australia paragons of what it means to be Australian? Perhaps so. As mentioned there isn’t just one kind of YOLO in Australia. There is the kind that use it to push themselves to fulfill their dreams. In Japan it may mean to work hard but working hard doesn’t necessarily equal fulfilling your dream. For example, I want to be a famous writer. One thing that pushes me to keep on writing everyday is YOLO. I would hate it if at the end of my life I sit there on my death bed and think I should have worked harder on my writing. Even if I never get anywhere with my writing I want to be able to say I tried. Writing isn’t my day job though. I’m also an English teacher. If I only worked hard at being an English teaching then I would never fulfill that dream. In Japan, someone who YOLOed their whole life. Worked hard, got a good job, made a nice family etc, may at the end of their life look back and think yea but I never did that thing I really wanted to do.

Conclusions? Both are right. Well not those that say YOLO so I’m going to be a dickhead. They’re dickheads. A merging of the two would be ideal. YOLO so work hard at everything you do. Make that perfect life but also fulfill your dream. Be fucking awesome because you only live once. I guess the trouble comes down to defining awesome.

Encouraging Creativity

One of the things I appreciate the most about my childhood was my mum’s encouragement in all things creative. She was particularly encouraging of music and writing. I never really developed much of an aptitude for music but writing is now a hobby I hold dearest to my heart. My mum encouraged all of us to write short stories and poetry in our spare time. When we finished she’d type it up, print it out, bind the story with tape and get us to illustrate it. There are still copies of these stories around the house. They were quite good. The whole process was very enjoyable. My sister and I both share a love of writing and my brother is a genius on the piano. Although I don’t know if my brother would attribute his love of music to mum. Writing was more her thing. I hope to do the same for my children and continue the creativity streak running through my family.

Creating Worlds

How to create a fully functioning world for you to populate with characters and write stories about.

Writers are fortunate that they already have a fully functioning world to write stories about.  It’s very convenient.  All you need then is a scenario.  Something interesting happening in our world.  For crime fiction this scenario can be someone commits a murder.  The writer then goes about writing what would happen in our society if someone commits a murder.  Crime fiction often goes that extra step and asks what if someone committed an unsolvable crime.  How would you solve it?  What if you want more than just writing a story in our world though?  What if you want to create a completely new world?  How do you go about it?

I will give you my method.  How I create worlds.  To create a world all you need is a question.  Find one thing to change in our world and you immediately create a completely different world.  That may sound like an exaggeration but with the right tools one question changes everything.  Take the crime fiction.  Instead of the unsolvable murder we set it in a world where murder is perfectly legal.  Suddenly our story ceases being a crime fiction since the action isn’t a crime.  The first thing we need to answer when changing something about our world is; is this possible in our society? If our government made murder legal what would happen?  The answer is probably that society would fall apart within the year.  That could be your story right there except that it would never happen.   That’s how you know that such a thing wouldn’t function in our society.   So obviously we have to change our society to a society where not only could that happen but it has.  As the creator of worlds you now have to make the society functional.  It doesn’t have to be perfect.  In fact you can design it so that it’s on the brink of collapse.  However you do it.  Idealistic utopia or on the verge of anarchy or somewhere in between the society taking shape has to deviate from our society to make the new constant functional and believable.

How do you create this new society though?  A good starting point is with the typical Joe Blow of this world.  What is his life like?  You don’t need to give him much character or anything.  Just start up a dialogue with him as the average guy on the street.  Interrogate him about the world.  In this process it is important to remember that to Joe his world is totally normal and if he was a writer perhaps he’d be pondering what a world with murder as a crime would be like (well there’s a storyline idea already).   Ask him questions and the world will start taking shape around him.  For example:

Me:  So Joe, tell me, what would happen if you murdered your neighbour.

Joe:  Their friends and family would probably either come round and ask me why I did it or they’d kill me.  Or both.

Me:  Ok so people don’t kill each other because they’d probably be killed?

Joe:  Plenty of people are willing to take the chance.

Me:  oh Ok.  What about if you made it so that his friends and family couldn’t kill you or talk to you about it?

Joe:  How would I do that?

Me:  Maybe if you made your house impregnable?

Joe:  Build a castle?

Me:  Yea

Joe:  Oh I don’t have the resources for that.

Me:  What if you did?

Joe:  I suppose they’d try and destroy my castle  (another story idea)

Me:  What about people who do have the resources?  Do they have private armies and castles?

Joe:  Oh yea, the rich live in high security houses with a personal trained guard

Me:  Do the rich wage war on each other?

Joe:  It can happen.  if one company wants to take over another they can do it with force.  Usually it destroys the assets they want so it’s not that common. (another story line)

Me:  Do the rich kill people since they can’t be harmed?

Joe:  Some rich people hunt humans (another story line)

and so on…

Just so you know, I’m not working on any of those stories.  In fact I just wrote up that dialogue then based on that one simple question; what if murder was legal?  Now this may not be spot on.  That doesn’t matter, it’s not about doing a research paper on what the statistical probabilities are were we to make murder legal.  It’s about creating a believable world.  Maybe allowing people to kill each other would create some perfect kill free world.  Maybe they never had to specify not to kill people.  Maybe everyone is extremely polite and civil to each other terrified that the slightest social faux pas would result in their death.  Perhaps no one questions a murder because they assume the person deserved it.   Maybe the paranoia of being killed is too high for some people that they kill before they can be killed.  The possibilities go on.

This is how I create worlds.  I start with a question.  Then,  I put people in that world and start asking them questions.  Making characters who are experts in a certain area in that world also helps to flesh it out.  Instead of just a societal perspective you can also gain academic perspectives.  As the writer of this world you can interrogate anyone.  These characters need never even make it to the story you write.  They are there to bounce your ideas off.    In addition to fleshing out your world these dialogues create more and more questions.  One questions leads to many.

This is the way I do it.  I’d be interested to know how other people create worlds.

Even if you are not a writer, creating worlds is a fun logic puzzle.  Enjoy.

Writing Characters

Something I think about when writing; maybe it’ll be something you think about too.

When I am writing a new character into a story I always try and remember that this character is also a main character.  In fact all characters are main characters.  You may wonder how could that possibly be.  When I say main character I don’t mean the main character of my novel.  I mean that all characters are the main character of their life.  When I bring in a random store clerk into the story for example.  They aren’t just a random store clerk.  That person has their very own novel going on.  They’re just guest staring in someone else’s story.  The great thing about writing when you have this in mind is that soon you have a whole bunch of novels in your head not just one.  Suddenly you’re creating a world not just a setting.  It’s also how people think in real life.  Everyone in the real world believes they are the main character.  We go through our life experiencing a wide range of different genres as the main character since that’s all we can experience.  Imagine how much more poignant it becomes when a person who thinks they are a main character realises they aren’t.

What does this mean for writing though?  Do I write a back story for every single person in the story?  Of course not.  Do I write the story in such a way that the reader doesn’t know who the protagonist is?  Well it could be interesting but no.   When I write a character it is all about the impression that that character is a person instead of a character.  Again how do I do that?  Well the answer is simple to say.  Maybe not so easy to do.  First impressions count.  No matter how insignificant a person is in our life we always form some kind of an opinion about them.  The more creative of us even try to think of what that person’s back story is.  An impression is all you need to give a character a third dimension.  An impression can be just what they look like and what that means to the main character or it can be the impression the writer builds for the reader.  This person speaks like this, moves like this, dresses like this, does this; what do you the reader think about them?

This is how I write anyway.  I’d be interested to know how others write their side characters and main characters for that matter.

How do you write your characters?

What do you prefer as a reader; archetypes or multi-layered?