It’s been a while since I wrote a post on writing, though nominally, that’s why I created ChewyChunks a few years ago. I wanted to end the cycle of distractions and talk about the thing I find so hard to do.
Writing is like swimming. It sounds cold and wet when you’re looking ahead at all the laps you said you would do, but then it’s warm and soothing once you get in motion.
Austin Kleon blog’s has so many great reminders for writers that I’m reprinting some of them here:
Austin Kleon writes:
When it comes to ways to teach writing and teaching folks how to be writers, you could do a lot worse than to buy these books:
- Lynda Barry, What It is
- Hugh Macleod, Ignore Everybody
- Bruce Holland Rogers, Word Work
- Brian Kitely, The 3 A.M Epiphany
Good art emerges whenever the artist likes what she or he has created. Bad art comes from betraying your own sense of the ideal or vision for the piece, by letting your concerns about what others think stand in the way of exploration. (Teachers of creative writing often forget this.)
But if you need to know whether your stuff is any good, invite a bunch of readers and see what happens. I did this by starting a blog.
Whether you’re writing a book, a poem, or trying to grow a grassroots network of people around the world to support your organization – you achieve more of what you set out to do when you devote time to it.
Devote is the perfect word. Time is your god, and you must be devoted to the god of time if you want her to bestow blessings upon you as your muse.
Another way of thinking about it: Devoting yourself to one thing means shutting out other things.
The difference between school and life is that success in life comes from figuring out what your homework is, and doing it. Before you can assign yourself homework, you need to have a passion for something, and then study others who do what you care about the best.
Austin Kleon suggests:
Your job is to collect ideas. The best way to collect ideas is to read. Read, read, read, read, read. Read the newspaper. Read the weather. Read the signs on the road. Read the faces of strangers. The more you read, the more you can choose to be influenced by.
Steal things and save them for later. Carry around a sketchpad. Write in your books. Tear things out of magazines and collage them in your scrapbook.
Austin Kleon is giving you permission to be a total impostor. If you grew up in Kansas and want to write about underwater sea battles off the coast of East Timor, do it! No one can stop you.
A big lesson in becoming an adult is realizing that the none of the experts out there know what they’re talking about half the time. Sure, they’ve thought about whatever they are passionate out about for years – like you should be doing – and that makes them better at talking about it. But they get it right only some of the time, as I’ve quantified here and here. They’re just like you.
Nobody wakes up one morning an expert. No one graduates from university an expert. The world is still largely mysterious and misunderstood. Thus the advantage goes to novices, who do their homework and listen to everything around them. There are more of us than there are of them, and the more other people steal your good ideas, the more people start to think of you as an expert too.
Sometimes they’ll even pay you to write, but don’t obsess about pay. Obsess about the ideas that fuel your writing. Fill your day with exotic and complex life experiences, and great writing ideas will follow.
Take me for example. I’ve written three manuscripts on subjects I don’t really know anything about:
The Wackenhoot Night Watchman
Young Adult mystery suspense about an Amish boy in a big city, who along with his teenage friends, guard the sewers and fight evil. (Formerly called the Undead Amish Chronicles)
The Devil’s Right Hand
Mystery suspense novel about two men on a manhunt for a fugitive warlord in Sierra Leone.
Young Adult novel about a 17 year old boy who runs away to a beach town and becomes a male stripper, and along the way saves all the girls in town from a terrible fate.
Do I know anything about being Amish? Or being an undead zombie? I’ve never been to Sierra Leone and I’ve never talked with a child soldier. And oh yeah, I don’t know anything about being a male stripper – but oh what fun it is to imagine. I write about all these things because some common threads underlie them – ideas that I know a lot about. I know what’s it feels like to move someplace new and not be accepted, or what it feels like to walk into a town where nobody trusts strangers. I can write a whole book on the awkwardness of having a crush on a girl who doesn’t notice you or notices all the wrong things about you – the things you wished people didn’t notice ever. I know a lot about good and evil, and the choices we make, and how they affect others around us for better or worse. That’s what these books are really about. And I can write about that and do my homework to describe places I’ve never visited.
Ironically, the one non-fiction book I wrote turned out to be the least interesting to me as the author, even though I knew what I was talking about all through it: Surfing in the Sahel: Computer Culture in rural West Africa. The reason I didn’t enjoy that book is that you can’t control what real people say and do in non-fiction books, and there simply wasn’t enough conflict and strife in my real life to build an emotional climax around. I prefer the imaginary worlds of my young-adult mystery and suspense novels.
This post was inspired by Austin:
Austin Kleon is a writer and artist living in Austin, Texas. He’s the author of Newspaper Blackout.