Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Things I've Learned About Writing

As some of you probably know, the year 2010 for me was a writing challenge where I wrote one 5,000 to 7,500 word short story every week, and posted it on my other blog (http://1storyaweek.blogspot.com). And the best part was that I managed to do it.

When I first started, I honestly didn’t think I would make it through 52 weeks. But now that I’m on the other side of it, I wonder what I will do now that I don’t have deadlines staring me in the face every week. Funny how that works.

After writing my last story, I took a week off, and then I started working on my new novel (which I blogged about previously here). Now, however, I would like to take some time and reflect over my last year and all the things I’ve learned from that year long writing project.

So, here are the things I’ve learned after a year of writing weekly short stories.

1. I CAN write every day.
This may seem like a no brainer to some, but for me it was a revelation. I was one of those people that would always say “I can’t find time to write!” Well, when faced with a deadline every week to crank out 5,000 words, I found the time. And I discovered it wasn’t that difficult, either. A little less time watching TV, a little less time playing video games, and I found an hour a day, pretty easily. And I never gave up TV or video games, though I did find that the longer I wrote my stories, the less I wanted to play. Writing was just more important to me.

2. Just write it already!
Another big lesson, and one I have taken to heart, is that I can’t just sit around saying “I need to write that thing,” or, “One day, I’m going to write that epic!” I just need to write it. I need to sit my ass down in front of the keyboard and write. Because “One Day” is now, and the need is great. And the best part about just writing it was that it was written! I could show it off to people, or even go back and re-read it. Which brings me to number three…

3. I like my stories.
I’ve gone back and re-read some of the stories I’ve written last year, and you know what? I enjoy reading them almost as much as I did writing them. True, I saw where some of them could be fixed or edited, but for the most part, these stories I wrote were just fun to read. And that’s good to know, that I’m writing stuff I myself would want to read. If I enjoy reading it, that means others will, too.

4. Some of this stuff really sucks.
And I mean badly. But, that’s okay. Because even the stuff I wrote that sucked taught me something. It taught me what not to do. It taught me how to fix that in the next story. It taught me what I didn’t like (“man, this character is really inconsistent,”) and what I need to fix (“Man, I say “man” a lot.”). And, in fact, part of the reason I did this was to write down some sucky stories. Because if I don’t suck, how can I improve? And that’s what I want to do, improve as a writer. And after looking over these stories, I can say that I have. And not only have I improved, I’ve grown in confidence. All because I wrote some stories that sucked.

5. Some of this stuff really rocks.
The flip side of this is that a few of these stories were really awesome. And I’m not just tooting my own horn here, the feedback I’ve received from random strangers to my site proves it. Some of these stories were great. And this allowed me to recognize that I should do more than just write these stories down, more even than posting them up on yet another blog on the web. I should be submitting them to magazines. Something I plan on making a goal this year, which will be the topic of another blog post (maybe next week).

6. Most were in between.
Probably more important than the last two is this one. Most of my stories were good, but not awesome. They didn’t suck, but they didn’t blow me away either. And this is good, too, because I can now see that I just need to tweak them a little here and there to bring them closer to that “awesome” mark. Editing, that’s the key. And a skill I need to seriously need to work on.

7. How to tell a story
I think one of the things I discovered during this year of insanity was that I was missing a lot of information on HOW to tell a story. Oh, don’t get me wrong, the stuff I’ve written before was good, and I still plan on querying my novel this year, but still. I learned a lot about how to tell a story by forcing myself to do so in only 5,000 words. That’s a short space, and I needed to figure out how to get it all in. It taught me what was important to the story and what wasn’t. I learned how to skip descriptions of clothing or plants when it wasn’t needed, and how to move the plot along without dragging it along. I learned pacing and how to keep the pacing during my story. I even learned how to start the story. Like a lot of new writers, I want to start my story before the story actually begins, because I think there needs to be set up and info dumped on the reader. I’ve learned that the reader can get that info as the story goes along. And that’s important, because it taught me how to focus on the story and the characters and not the setting.

8. Mostly, I learned that I like to write
More than that. I LOVE to write. It’s like breathing to me, and I know it now more than ever. Yes, I love my wife and my family, and I like my job and wish to keep working there. But I also love writing. It’s important to me, and the people in my life need to know that. It’s not a hobby, especially not because I’m not getting paid for it yet. It’s a part of who I am. I am a writer. I am an author. I write short stories and novels. And I plan on continuing to do so, even if not a single one I write ever get’s published. Because I am a writer and this is what I do.

So, for those that followed along with me for the year, thanks! And for those that are just finding me, go and check out my stories. Read them and tell me what you think. Good and bad, I want to know. Because the other thing I learned about writing is that while it’s a lonely craft to perform, it’s not lonely once the work is done. And I can only get better when my audience tells me what I’ve done that they like and that they don’t like.

Well, that’s it for now. I’ll be back, hopefully next week, with another post about my goals for 2011. See you then!

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