Tag Archives: writing ideas

You Can’t Teach Motivation

It’s nearly impossible to be a writer today and not have attended a writer’s conference of some sort, even if it is simply as a speaker/presenter. I would definitely say it’s impossible to be a writer and at least not be aware of them. Writer’s conferences serve a lot of purposes and are particularly good, I think, for writers just starting out. For experienced writers it’s a great time to hang around like-minded creatives and yes, be reminded of all the writing-type strategies. And as a teacher of creative writing, I’m a fan of them and will encourage all writers (of all skill levels) to make an effort to attend at least one per year…even if you are going just to hang out.

But that got me thinking about all the things covered at conferences and in creative writing programs. We can teach (and learn) things like plot, pacing, characterization, dialogue, etc. etc. And if we know about them, we can be reminded of good strategies to use those tools effectively.

But there is one thing teachers/speakers can’t teach, and that’s motivation. I don’t mean fictional character motivation—we can teach that (even if hardheaded students aren’t willing to learn!), but what I mean is writer motivation. Yes, I believe teachers can inspire and encourage and think we should work to do that (but I also think if you love what you do, that’ll come through in the teaching)…but there’s nothing I can really do (not just me, all teachers) that will make a writer give us time on Facebook, or television and write…and then write some more…and then do more writing after that. And then when they’re done writing, finish up with a little more writing.

I don’t know who said it, or I’d give the credit, but I recently read it takes 10,000 hours for someone to reach the stage of successful whatever it is they do. SO, a musician must spend 10,000 practicing in order to reach the level of professional…and so on. So many writers think they’ll slap it down on the page and then they’re done. Oh, maybe an “editing” revision to look for typos and misspelled words—but some don’t even do that!

And with the Olympics just finished (it IS finished now, right?), we’re reminded of all the hard work and HOURS that these athletes (even the ones who lost) put in just to make it there. It takes motivation to force yourself to spend that kind of time practicing. It’s the “WANT TO” of achieving success.

That’s not something that can be taught…it has to come from within.

So whatever it is you do…how bad do you want it? Do you want it bad enough to spend 10,000 hours to get there?

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Mess’em Up!

One of the things I’ve noticed over time in teaching character at Full Sail University, at Writers Conferences and at other assorted writer functions where I read and give feedback or otherwise comments on a writer’s work, is that writers are often afraid to mess with or mess up their protagonists. And while I haven’t made any sort of exhaustive study, I think this stems from writers falling in love with the characters we create.

That’s not to suggest we shouldn’t like them. I think one of those aspects of good characters that is often overlooked is that we want audiences to like our heroes or protagonists. But when you, as the author, fall too deeply in love with your own creation, you don’t want to do anything to “mess” with them.

And yet, my rallying cry to writers has always been “mess’em up!”

Readers aren’t interested in perfect or near perfect characters. They don’t want to read about characters who have perfect lives. Oh sure, there’s often some fairy tale sort of aspect involved, but even those characters—the good/interesting ones, that is—are messed up in some way.

So…it’s our job as writers to mess’em up.

This can come in assorted ways. You can mess them up emotionally—that’s always interesting. We like to watch characters like Monk, or Dustin Hoffman’s character in Rain Man. And even though he isn’t the “hero,” Hannibal Lecter is one messed’up dude and we can’t help but be interested in the story surrounding him.

You can mess them up physically; physical handicaps or deformities—while it may not exactly be politically correct to say so—are things that draw our curiosity and interest. We want to see how a character like this overcomes his challenges…and then be thankful for our own blessings.

Regardless of what you decide to do with your protagonist, you’ve got to give them some challenges to overcome. And not just as your story. The plot of your story should present a challenge, of course, but if your character has an additional personal something they must overcome WHILE overcoming the obstacle your story has presented, we’ll be far more interested to see what they do.

Now…go mess up your characters!

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Yet More Writer Misteaks

When I first started compiling and keeping a list of common writer mistakes, I really didn’t think it would/could go on for so long. But it seems like when I post something, one of you post a brilliant comment and I find even more stuff. So, I guess I’ll do these posts until I run out of goof-ups.

So, another thing that irks me is “yea” used in place of “yeah.” Rarely do I see it the other way around, but I’m sure it happens. “Yeah” is slang for yes. It’s the equivalent of Yep, yessir, yes ma’am, or, if you’re Japanese, hai! “Yea,” does NOT mean yes. It has a couple of meanings, but we probably would want to use it most to show excitement. As in “yea, I made the football team.” Translated to redneckian (of all geographic locations), it would read, “hot dang, I get ta bust some heads!” Some of the older ones among us probably think of it in Biblical terms: “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death…” Well, you know the rest (and if you don’t, shame on you!). It still doesn’t mean “yes.”

Anyone older than, oh, 30, knows that Facebook and smartphones will be the death of our language. It drives me bonkers when I see Brittany’s friends post “awe” on her pictures. The first time I ever saw it, I asked her what her friend was so in awe about. She explained to me that it was supposed to be a “that’s cute” reaction, meaning “aw.” I said, “oh.”

I set her straight pretty quick. But now when I see it, and I still see it a lot, I tease her and read it aloud as if it was pronounced “ah-we.” I understand the reaction, because Southern girls are always saying “awwwwwwwww” when they see “cute” things. I get it. It is still NOT spelled “awe.”

As I grade student papers and even do freelance editing, I’m continually amazed at how many writers ignore the little green and red squiggly lines so kindly provided by MS Word. Granted, we should not take the word of MS Word as the be-all, end-all of grammar or spelling. However, when you see them there, they’re probably there for a reason: something’s a little off. Don’t ignore them. Seriously, don’t “ignore” them. Yes, it is true. I know that some writers—when they don’t know—will simply press “ignore” in MS Word so that the lines will go away, but the problem does not. It’s like they’re trying to hide it. When you don’t know the spelling of a word, look it up. MS Word will generally offer you choices.

Don’t guess. We can tell.

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