Author Archive

Learning to whistle.

Posted: February 13, 2013 by Rien Reigns in Rien's Words

Learning to whistle..

 

Okay, maybe not a village, but it takes more than an individual. Or it should.

Yes, one person can write a story all on their own, but it’s foolish to think that they can get a decent finished book to print without any assistance.

Thanks to modern technology and the advent of vanity press, on demand printing, and ebooks, anyone can put their works out into the aether. However, this doesn’t mean that they immediately should once they’ve finished their 60,000+ word book. Traditional publishing can, and often does, take a year or two from the date the publisher says “Yes, we’ll publish you,” before the world sees you’re heart and soul laid bare on the page. During this time a team of people are being employed to make your book as best as possible. Hopefully. There’s agents, editors, copyeditors, cover designers, a marketing team, and many others you may never meet.

In my opinion there’s one more group of people that are essential. Beta readers. These are the first people who will see you’re work. They are your test audience to gauge how strong your story is and if there are any glaring errors in character and plot. The beauty of beta readers is that they can be employed at various stages in the writing process, whether or not you’re self-publishing or going the traditional route.

One of the issues I had when I started writing was that I was grossly mistaken in thinking I could write something worthy of print on the first go around. I figured that editors and others could fix whatever issues arose, if there even were any. One of my idols is Robert Heinlein, and one of my favorite stories is The Door Into Summer. It took him only 13 days to write and had very little editing. Granted it is one of his shorter works, but still, to have that skill. While I still hope to one day accomplish such a feat, I now realize how foolish I was to think I was at that level.

Writing is like any other art form. While there are those who will find they have a great knack for it, it still requires great amounts of time and dedication to become the best you can be. The beauty I find in writing is that it doesn’t have to be a solitary journey. You can get feedback along the way. The key is finding the right people who will assist you. You may have had people who’ve said you should write a story, but you should take a step back and ask yourself if you’re willing to do what is necessary, and if they actually mean it. Are they saying it out of politeness and just because you’re friends?

When it comes to finding beta readers you need to be subjective. Don’t just find people who will fan the flames of your ego and lead you into delusion. This is where a writing group can come in handy. If you can find the right one. There needs to be the right balance of ego stroking and constructive criticism.

Writing a book can be a traumatic experience as it is akin to baring your heart and soul to people you will never know. It can be crushing when someone says they don’t like your work, because it feels like they’re saying they don’t like you. Of course pleasing everyone is impossible and shouldn’t be your intention. There will inevitably be people who won’t like what you’ve written, but if you’ve done all that you can to write the best book possible, people who do like it should outweigh these mistaken fools.

In closing, I want to talk about the evolution of storytelling. Before written language we had speech, and I’m certain telling stories has been around almost as long. Without the written word these stories were passed down from one generation to the next verbally, and most assuredly changed and evolved in the process. If you’ve ever played the game telephone you’ll understand. In a way I think of beta readers as the evolution of this process, allowing the original author to tell a tale, get input from others, and then finish the tale while maintaining overall creative control, to an extent. Thanks to the internet and dedicated fans we now have fan fiction galore which carries on this ancient tradition.

There is also the creative commons licensing route in which the author grants others the right to adapt and alter their work legally. It’s a route I intend to explore with a couple stories in mind. One of my favorite actors Joseph Gordon-Levitt is leading the way and has created an online creative commons group, hitRECord,to explore all artistic endeavors. I highly suggest you give it a look.

So, it may not take a village to write a story, but it should be a journey shared with others.

To quote Stephen King, “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot, and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut.”

I couldn’t agree more. It is through reading that we grasp how the written word brings other worlds to life. I think it’s safe to say that storytelling has existed just about as long as language has. Every time we tell someone about an experience we had, we are essentially telling them a story. Granted, they aren’t always good tales, but none-the-less, they are still stories.

In just over the last year, I’ve started listening to audiobooks while I work, since it doesn’t interfere with my job. It’s actually how I revisited Stephen King’s On Writing. But here’s the question. Does listening to an audiobook count as actually reading?

I say yes, and no. I think if you have a good grasp of how the written word is properly used, then yes, it can count. Maybe not wholly, but at least a fraction, say 1/3. I often find myself imagining that I’m reading the words as they’re spoken. I also say yes, because you’re exposing yourself to the art of storytelling. However, the reason I say no, is because even though I see the words in my mind, I don’t see the way they are on the actual page with all their punctuation and style. This is why if I have the print copy, and the opportunity, I occasionally like to follow along by reading while I listen.

One of the first audiobooks I listened to at work was The Road by Cormac McCarthy. The reason why I listened to the audiobook in the first place, was because I couldn’t stand the writing style employed in the print book, which doesn’t contain quotation marks, and with certain contractions, doesn’t include the apostrophe. I should note that this is intentional by McCarthy, and is part of his unique style which he employs in his other books as well. Many of which have been made into movies. Unfortunately for me, I find I dislike reading his works. However, I thoroughly enjoyed listening to The Road, as it is a great story. I will add though, that some liberties were taken with the wording in the audiobook version, as certain parts were changed so that it read easier.

In my own writing style, I tend to use a lot of commas. It’s my way of setting the pace and cadence of my writing. I know I don’t always follow the proper rules on the use of the comma, but I’m aware and acknowledged it. It’s my style, and, as much as I’m disheartened by the thought, I’m sure that there is someone out there who won’t like my style, just like I don’t like McCarthy’s.

It’s often been said when it comes to writing, that first you need to learn the rules, so that you can properly break them. Many authors have said this in some fashion or another, and even the Dalai Lama has a similar quotation attributed to him. I’ll admit, in high school, English wasn’t my favorite class. I just couldn’t seem to care what the difference was between a participial phrase and a prepositional phrase. My teachers always praised my writing, so I figured, what did it really matter if I didn’t know all the terms and their differentiation. But when I started taking my writing seriously, I realized that I needed to bone up on my English. I still don’t think you need to learn all the rules, as there are quite a lot of them, but I will admit learning the basics is essential, and any extra beyond that helps. This is where I think reading a lot comes in handy. The more you read, or even listen to audiobooks, the more you absorb how language is properly used. You subconsciously absorb what sounds and looks right on the page.

One of the main things I’ve come away with from being a part of this writing group, is seeing how others interpret my style while reading my works aloud. As a member of Stonehenge, when we submit our works for critique to the group, the author chooses one of our fellow writers, sometimes several, to read aloud what we’ve written. We do this in order to see, or rather, hear, how others interpret our written word. I find this to be extremely helpful.

So, even though my advice isn’t brand spanking new or even a good twist on an old theme, here it is. If you want to be a serious writer; write, read, and listen to audiobooks. And, learn how to properly use the English language so that you can improperly use it effectively.

Stephen King recommends the classic, The Elements of Style by Strunk and White. I would add to that, A Pocket Style Manual by Diana Hacker. I will also add, that one of the many beauties of the internet, is that almost anything can be found online. If I feel something I’ve written just isn’t quite right, it generally only takes a minute or two of searching to find myself saying, “Doh, that’s what I meant to write.” There are a good number of grammar based sites out there on the web, but one that I find the most helpful is by Mignon Fogarty, AKA, Grammar Girl @ http://grammar.quickanddirtytips.com/

What makes Grammar Girl so great, at least in my opinion, is that it’s also a podcast, which means I get to work at two things at once.

So there you are. Now you have my not so sage advice  to being a writer.

P.S. Since this is a blog based on a writers group, I would feel amiss not to add another little bit of advice. Check out a writers group, at least a few times, and even few different ones. They aren’t all the same, and you may have a hard time finding one that fits you, but they can be beneficial. I will say though that they aren’t for every writer. As a matter of fact, some of my favorite authors are against such groups, believing that the cons outweigh the prose. Yes, that’s an intentional pun. But if you don’t ever give them a shot, how will you ever know? Unless you live rurally, I’m sure there’s one local, and if not, there’s plenty online. And if you’re in the Sacramento area, pop your head in some time.

This post is part of my ongoing series inspired by my revisiting Stephen King’s On Writing. To check out the rest, visit my personal blog @ rienreigns.wordpress.com