1. Evan Foster
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    Evan Foster New Member

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    Aspired Writing

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Evan Foster, Sep 4, 2014.

    I am completely new to the writing scene. I have always aspired to write, and I figured that it was time to put action to thought. I don't know, however, where to start. From what little experience I have in learning curves, it seems that one should do what comes naturally with a little guidance rather than force regiment. However, I would love if you could share what helped you start writing and what books you may have read to mentor yourself. Thanks!
     
  2. stevesh
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    stevesh Banned Contributor

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    Oddly, there are those here who disagree, but my suggestion is to read, then read, then read some more. You can't possibly know what good writing looks like, then write it yourself, without a lot of reading. It really doesn't matter what kind of stuff you read, but you might start with books and stories in the genre in which you think you'd like to write.

    I've never read any sort of "how to write" book, other than style manuals.
     
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  3. obsidian_cicatrix
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    obsidian_cicatrix I ink, therefore I am. Contributor

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    Guidance is good but we each steer our own craft. I think it's easy for a novice writer to get caught up in the squals and become disoriented. The more I've written and sought and given critique, the better my perception of, not only how others view what I've written, but what works for me as a reader.

    In the last year I've started to appreciate where my strengths and failings lie. On deciding to convert my WIP from Third to First Person Past, a member here gave his opinion on my handling of it, and gave me two sound suggestions of books I could read to help me appreciate the benefits of writing in First Person more.

    And that's what works best for me. Interaction with other writers, and the bouncing back and forward of suggestions and ideas. I do have a couple of how-to books, and they are valuable in their way, but for me one of the joys of writing is the process of revelation that starts to occur just by putting pen to paper, and getting and giving feedback. When one applies oneself wholeheartedly growth is inevitable.
     
  4. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    Have you actually gone and written something yet? If not, go and do that. It's pointless looking for how-to books at such an early stage, writing is about passion and having no choice but to tell stories, for better or for worse, because not telling them is agony.

    Write a short story, or series of them, a poem, anything that is the actual reason why you want to write. If you are an aspiring writer, you must have stories to tell. Otherwise, how can you fix something that hasn't happened yet?
     
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  5. PensiveQuill
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    PensiveQuill Contributing Member

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    I did a short course in writing about 10yrs ago. Nothing momentous but it did help in setting forth a way to tackle the project. Before that I was lost in the woods and just kept procrastinating. Whatever works really.
     
  6. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't put much faith in how-to books, other than grammar. A basic understanding of how to tell a story is all that's really needed, and if you've read enough books, it's not difficult to learn that. Very, very few people have ever sold their very first book, so you'll have plenty of writing to do and learn from as well. I will say that reading various how-to books can give you alternatives, things to try - but definitely don't look at them as Gospel.
     
  7. aguywhotypes
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    aguywhotypes Active Member

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    I have only been writing for about 5 months. So I'm a newbie.

    I started out reading this huge book on how to write a novel. Wow did that ever burn me out.

    I then wrote a short story, flash fiction and that was the best advice ever and got me going.

    I'm a college dropout, did terrible in high school, especially English class and I'm dyslexic. Will I ever be a great author probably not, but if I can write ANYONE can write!

    So write, even if it's gobbledy gook, just write something and read a lot then read whatever book on writing you want to read, but just start writing, that is the best advice someone gave me.
     
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  8. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    I'll echo @stevesh's advice - read. Read a lot. Not just for pleasure, but with an eye to what the author does that makes the story come alive. I "mentored" myself reading as much as I could of writers I liked - Hemingway, Michener, Wouk, Uris, Dickens, Snow - then sprinkled in some different influences - Harper Lee, Mark Twain, Taylor Caldwell, James Thurber (to lighten things) and lots of others. I'm not afraid to read something twice. Or three times. Or more. Each time I'm drawn back to pick up some new nuance, some turn of phrase, something the author did extremely well. I made sure I read things that our literary history suggests are well worth reading, and I made sure I read things that just appealed to me.

    At some point, you need to learn the vocabulary of the writing craft, and the how-to books can help with that (even of they can't actually teach you how to write). But so can the work of literary critics. So, the NY Times Book Review should be on your weekly reading list, not only to learn what new works have been added to the literary world, but to get a look at what makes them tick. As an example of how useful insights can turn up in a book review, I offer this selection from Jim Windolf's review of Tom Rachman's new book. The Rise and Fall of Great Powers, in the August 1 edition of the NYTBR:
    Best of luck.
     
  9. Evan Foster
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    Evan Foster New Member

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    Wonderul, thanks so much. I'll dive right in.
     
  10. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    My Shakespeare professor told this to us about starting our papers. It's been a while, but I'll paraphrase. "Just dive right in. Don't act like the paper's the Amazon and there are little man-eating piranhas swimming about that will jump up and gobble you into bits."

    So have fun! :D
     
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  11. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think "learning to write" is circular, really. I assume you're a life-long reader (otherwise I don't really understand why you'd want to write) so with that as a given, and now looking just at the writing...

    Write something. Analyze it, using whatever tools seem appropriate - crit groups, beta readers, self-reflection, comparing it to theories you've found in books on writing, etc. Re-write the original piece, or abandon it and write something else. Then analyze THAT. etc.

    You might also want to keep your goals in mind. Are you seeking publication, or self-expression? I think most writers are looking for a combination of the two, but there will be times when you'll have to make decisions that make it feel like a conflict between the two goals, so I think it helps to know which one you hold most dear.

    And I disagree about writing having to be a passion, or a need. I write because I enjoy it, but I didn't write for a good chunk of my adult life and I wasn't in agony - I was busy with other stuff, enjoying things that now give my writing depth and details. Experiment, explore, see what works for you. Enjoy yourself! Writing is FUN!
     
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  12. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    Agreed! Passion with writing is like passion in a relationship. At some point, you wake up, see that person you couldn't live without sleeping next to you, and wonder what the hell happened.
     
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  13. Darkkin
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    Darkkin Reflection of a nobody Contributor

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    Following the footprints in the sand...
    Read your favourite authors and reread them again. Get lost in the syntax and breathe the words. Some people will tell you write what you know. For many that shoe just doesn't fit, so write what you love. Watch movies with the subtitles on, and listen when people speak.

    Take notice of the things around you, learn to people watch and listen...Listen before you begin to write. The world is complex and diverse, people even more so and that transfers into writing. There is no hard and fast way to do it. What works for one person might not work for another.

    Take stock of your project, ask: Why am I writing this? Is it to inform, to entertain, to defend...What?

    (If you are writing non-fiction disregard the following)

    Challenge yourself. Sign up for things like National Novel Writing Month. Join the Flash Contests, and the Tri-Weekly Competitions for Poetry and Short Stories.

    Experiment with voice, interrogate your characters, get involved with the RPG's. See what happens when you take your characters out of your construct and put them into one of another's making. How well do they, (you), respond under pressure. Put them through their paces. Learn them...Their facial expressions, unconscious gestures, and speech patterns.

    Reading is a fifth dimension, an escape for many. Keep this in mind and make it real. Make the world tangible. Use all your senses. Observe: smell, touch, listen, taste, and look beyond what you normally would. Go for a walk, trace a railing, touch a sign. What does the air taste like? Is there a scent teasing you nose? Carry a mirror, what does the expression on your face reflect? What are you seeing...feeling.

    Transfer your experience laterally onto your character. How are they responding to what you just did? What are their reactions to the stimuli compared to yours?

    Some folks will tell you that writing is all about the story, it isn't. It is about the characters, their emotions and reactions. They are the medium through which a story is translated. Fiction is character driven. Know your characters, know your project....

    Okay, enough with the fiction tangent...

    Get involved with writing groups, both on-line, like you have here, and in your community. Check with the local bookstores, colleges, etc. If there are critique groups in the area, they will know.

    On-line is great, but being able to critique and debate face to face, is a precious opportunity. There aren't the inherent distractions of the internet at hand, the focus is all on the writing. It can be a heady experience. Listen to what others say in their critiques and take their advice with a grain of salt. Try seeing your work from their perspective and see if you come to the same conclusion.

    Take at least one writing course so you can lay down a firm foundation upon which to build. And remember, writing is a craft and every craft takes practice.
     
  14. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    I would like to ask the OP an important question at this point. Why do you want to write?

    Do you love to read and have always wanted to write? Do you have a story to tell? Do you want to record your life history? Do you want to make something that was wrong in real life come out right in fiction? Are you interested in a particular place, culture or time period and want to explore it?

    Why do you want to write? The most important question you can ask yourself at this stage.

    If you want to write because it's something to do on your computer, but you don't have any stories or poems in your head and you don't like to read, I'd say you're lacking a vital ingredient. Kind of like somebody who wants to play the guitar but doesn't actually like music and never listens to any. If that's the case, I really don't know what to tell you except find a reason to like what you want to do.

    However, if you already have characters, plots or poems in your head (the ideas) and you can string words together into coherent sentences (the tools) ...then I'd say just start.

    Sit down, open a computer document file, and start. See what happens. Don't tell other people you're doing it, because that puts pressure on you. (Avoid the beginner's temptation to write three paragraphs then start asking everybody what they think.)

    Just start in earnest—either at the beginning, the middle or the end of the tale you want to tell, and just write. Be true to yourself, and don't worry about what other people will think of you. Create the kind of characters you love, let all sorts of things happen to them. Don't worry about being silly or depressing or too violent or too sexy or too boring. Be honest, be daring, be creative, be original. Be fearless. ENJOY the process. You are in total control. Keep at it till you know you've 'got something.'

    After you've got a fair amount done, then I'd say pick up a few 'how-to' writing books and see what they have to say. Avoid the ones that promise success in five minutes, and go for the ones that deal with specific writing issues instead. By this stage, you'll have an idea which writing issues matter the most to you. These books will help you to organise and refine what you've written, and maybe work out a few mistakes you've made. You will make mistakes, but that's part of the learning process and is NEVER a waste of time. Besides, nobody else knows you're doing this yet, right? So you can correct mistakes on the QT, and nobody will be any the wiser.

    Then see what you've got, and see how you feel about it. Once you've finished a first draft, THEN start thinking about showing it to other people and getting feedback. That's when you really break out of your shell.
     
    Last edited: Sep 6, 2014
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  15. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    I do love that Amazon idea! I'm still chuckling...
     
  16. Ben414
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    Ben414 Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'll echo everyone else saying go ahead and dive in, but I'll disagree on using how-to books after you've gained a bit of writing experience. I was also brand new to creative writing about a year ago. I had the urge to write, so I wrote some and then took a college course in creative writing to further develop my skills. I started to see potential in myself as a writer, but I still felt odd in my sentence structure, flow, etc. I liked my stuff, but the writing just didn't capture the mind like veteran writing does almost naturally. It's hard to explain, but that's how I felt.

    My writing really took a giant step forward after I read Dwight Sain's Techniques of the Selling Writer. It taught me many new techniques to think about when writing, and how to make my writing sounds... writerly. I don't agree with all of the things that Sain said--he even states in the beginning of his book that you shouldn't always follow all of his advice--but I think it's good to understand techniques that many writers find helpful so that you can purposely choose to either ignore or accept them. I think this is the biggest point I can make. How-to books don't shoehorn you into a specific way of writing; they allow you to more easily and more quickly find your own path purposely off the more established path.

    Furthermore, how-to books can't possibly hurt you; they can only help you or not help you. In my opinion, they are an extremely good use of a neophyte writer's time.


    Also, I'd specifically recommend Techniques of the Selling Writer.
     
  17. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think it's possible for SOME writers to get caught in a sort of technique-trap, where they don't want to do any writing until they've "figured it out" and "learned how". Reading how-to-write books keeps them from actually writing.

    Doesn't happen to everyone, of course. But I think it's important to be writing AS you're reading. It makes the reading more meaningful and easier to understand, because you can go and try something right away, AND it ensures that the person doesn't become an expert on writing who's never actually written anything!
     
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  18. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    I have to disagree with this. How-to books can be like critiques to new writers - "God". The first book they read becomes The Way to Write. Anyone who has been on writing forums for any length of time has seen the meltdown by some new writers when people disagree with The Holy Writ. Get a grammar book if your sentence structure is iffy; read fiction to learn about story-telling. Write. Then write some more. If you sense something isn't working, then get some how-to books for ideas on what else you can try. But there is no one book out there that's going to give anyone all the answers, or can guarantee to make you a good writer.
     
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  19. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    I don't necessarily agree with the idea that you need to start writing by reading about writing. You yourself wrote first, THEN learned what you might have been doing wrong. Then you learned how to make your writing better. I don't think it hurts to have your own writing a starting point. (You might discover inherent strengths as well as weaknesses.)

    And as @BayView pointed out, reading too many how-to books before you actually write anything can make you so scared of making a mistake that you never really get going. As @Link the Writer said: "Just dive right in. Don't act like the paper's the Amazon and there are little man-eating piranhas swimming about that will jump up and gobble you into bits." :) If you make mistakes, you can correct them. If you're so afraid of making mistakes that you inch along and aren't willing to take chances and try new things, your writing may become stilted, fearful and unoriginal.

    There are certainly lots of ways to approach the issue, and if reading manuals before you start actually works for you, fair enough. They can certainly give you some good ideas, and the best ones are also quite inspirational. They're just not necessary as a starting point, and CAN create a bit of a straitjacket.

    I was nearly 5 years into my novel, and had reached the end of my first draft before I read ANY how-to books. (I now have a shelf-full of them.) I would not have traded that experience of free writing for anything. It was the most enjoyable period of my life. Sure I made tons of mistakes, but they were all correctable. What I didn't lose was the intitial impulse to write, and I wrote my own story my own way without ANYBODY looking over my shoulder telling me what not to do. It's been heavily re-worked since, and there are many 'mistakes' I will never make again. But will I have as much fun writing my second one as I did the first? I don't know. I've started it, and somehow it feels flat. Not filled with energy like the first one was.
     
  20. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    That's what the workshop is for.
     
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  21. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    But we're polite man-eating piranhas. ;)
     
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  22. elynne
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    elynne Active Member

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    it's not a how-to book, or even specifically about writing, but I'll always recommend Art and Fear.

    as to how I got started writing... in grade school, when we were given writing exercises and everybody else groaned and complained, I would be delighted--and often keep writing, well past the required word or page limit. as I grew up, I just kept reading and writing, and never stopped. ;)
     
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  23. Ben414
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    Ben414 Contributing Member Contributor

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    I will acknowledge there is a possibility that someone could be too scared to write after reading it; in my case, I was actually more intimidated by writing before reading Swain's book. I would read my stuff and know that it somehow didn't sound right. It was frustrating to not know how to even begin to fix it. Swain's book provided me with confidence because I was better able to deconstruct my own writing, and the purpose in writing various ways. If you approach a book like Swain's with the idea that it is a theoretical framework instead of gospel, it can help you find your own unique writing style more quickly than without it.

    I guess the best advice is to know how you as an individual learn best and plan accordingly. I just wanted to show that a how-to book was invaluable in my development as a writer, and I think it can be very valuable to many new writers.

    I didn't mean to say that you need to use a how-to book first, but I do think it is very helpful near your beginnings as a writer. I agree that it doesn't have to be the first thing that you do.
     
    Last edited: Sep 6, 2014
  24. Evan Foster
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    Evan Foster New Member

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    Excellent responses! No one knows that I am planning to write anything. I feel no pressure, and will just dive right in. I greatly apprecciate the wisdom and am inspired by such an active, honest community.
     
  25. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

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    Ahaha! That's exactly where I am right now, and have been for a while. I'm married to writing. The honeymoon is over, the magic is gone. After having written 8 ms's it's become work, kind of, even though it doesn't bring me a lot of money yet, and sometimes when I see my writer-friends being all starry eyed about the whole writing thing I realize I miss that feeling. But I'm still here, in the business, even though our relationship isn't very romantic at the moment. Although I do feel kind of excited when I get a new, really good idea and I try to hold on to that feeling for as long as I can.
     

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