14. Motivation Monday – Earnest Hemingway

I’m a little late to the ball on this one, but here it goes. If you want to improve your writing, and I mean really improve it, you need to listen to people who are better than you. People who have already figured this writing business out. The all-time greats. 

Even if you don’t like their writing, shut up and listen to them. Because they set goals, and then they accomplished them. That’s worth more than their actual novels. It’s about the tangible accomplishments that they’ve worked for. Experiences like that should make your advice valuable to anyone, regardless of who you are or what you do. 

Alright, enough rambling. Here’s how Motivation Monday is going to work. Every Monday, I’m going to post a quote from a successful author and tell you how it makes me feel. I could explain it with more words, but I think that sums it up well. Here we go. 

ImageMy god, Earnest. That’s powerful stuff. I remember first seeing this quote a couple years ago. Sometime in my freshmen year of college I think. I’ve seen it a few times since then, and it always makes me stop for a moment and think. 

There’s such a stigma attached with writing these days. When you’re growing up, it’s all about force-fed grammar lessons and page requirements. There are so many rules and expectations that the actual content, the emotion, the opinion, is lost in the four pages of 12 pt. double spaced Arial font with standard margins. 

Pour yourself into your writing. Maybe you’re writing a fiction piece about a seemingly unrelatable artist who grew up in Bruges in the 15th century? Find a way to relate. You both like black coffee because that’s how your moms used to make. You both broke your arm falling out of a tree when you were seven. You both have a birthmark beneath your left eye that’s shaped like Texas.

Whatever you write, make sure it’s you writing and not some bullshit requirement. It needs to be real and genuine, and everything else fades away when you find that mindset. 

Write on.

 

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13. Destroy stereotypes in the name of realism

George R.R. Martin has two middle names and one hell of a resume. He’s best known for his fantasy series Song of Ice and Fire, the fantasy novels that are now being played out in HBO’s series Game of Thrones. In his series of novels, he created a world that allows him to showcase all of his writing talents: imagination, complex plots, and character development. 

A reporter once asked Martin, “There’s one thing that’s interesting about your books. I noticed that you write women really well and really different. Where does that come from?”

Martin’s response was blunt and brilliant. “You know, I’ve always considered women to be people.” 

This is what I want to talk about in this post. Whenever you set out to create an identity for a new character, the first things that comes to mind are stereotypes. Gender, race, age, occupation. Whoever you’re writing, there’s a stereotype out there for them. 

It’s your job as a writer to sift through those stereotypes, those predestined tidbits of predictable information, and get deep inside your character’s head. Write about something that counts. 

Martin’s quote was a really succinct way of saying, “You need to put yourself in your character’s perspective. How do you think they perceive themselves? What goes through their mind? What are their crippling insecurities?” 

I love writing for this reason. You can create an entire persona that actually evolves over time. Yeah, they’re just words on a page, but they can tell a really powerful story if you make it a point to develop your characters in a natural and honest way. Abandoned all stereotypes. You don’t need them. If you’re writing about a woman, and she likes to cook, write about it. But explain why she likes to cook. “Jane’s mother died on her third birthday, and her dad was incompetent behind a stove. She was making omelettes for her younger brothers by the age of eight.”

12. Telling a story that matters with that sweet, sweet suspense

Writing for an audience is intimidating, isn’t it? Every word you write will be analyzed, judged, and possibly forgotten. And it’s so much different than television or radio. Sure, the writing is important regardless of the medium, but if you’re writing a book, you don’t have the option of having some gorgeous supermodel read it to your audience for them. You can inject a heavy dose of special effects into your action scenes. It’s all about your reader, their imagination, and their commitment to your words. 

So in order to make up for the lack of possibilities that other mediums exploit, writers must focus all of their creative energy on one thing: telling a story their readers will care about.

That’s right. You’re readers need to care about the words you’re shoving into their eyeballs. They need to be drawn in, used, insulted. Something needs to hold their interest, and it certainly won’t be Megan Fox’s cleavage or John Madden’s terrible, terrible voice. 

You’re on your own. It’s just you and your story, and together, you must give readers a reason to keep flipping through the pages. There are a lot of ways to do this, but at the heart of each is the universal fascination with suspense

So how do you use suspense? What makes suspense such a valuable writing tool?

People want to be toyed with. They don’t want the facets of a story handed to them on a blunt, straight-to-the-point platter. Readers want to be seduced. I read somewhere a while back that writing is like foreplay. There’s a buildup of suspense, a climax, and maybe some cuddling to wrap everything up. So use this in your writing. Caress your audience’s imagination, making them jump to the wrong conclusions, and when you’re finally ready to blow your story open, the built up suspense will make it worth their while. 

Hold back some important information and make the reader want to figure it all out. Sure, you’ll have to give them something to chew on, but save the main course until later. 

Write on, 432.

11. Your ideas are good, but are they great?

Something I’ve seen quite a bit on difference writing forums is the idea of falling out of love with your story ideas. Pat Mallon, a reddit user, posted this comment on the topic:

“A writing idea is a lot like a relationship – sexy and mysterious at first. Some of the appeal may fade as you shape it and make it stronger, but you have to stay committed in order to harvest its best qualities in the end.

To you, it may seem like a long arduous road. However, for a reader who picks up the book, it will (hopefully) fly by quickly and be filled with the excitement that you once had for the project.”

This is great advice, and something I repeat to myself often. Writing is a long, painful, challenging task. I’ll tell you right now that if you’re ever planning on writing a novel, you will not sustain a consistant amount of passion or enthusiasm for your story throughout the writing process. It’s just not realistic.

But that what makes writing so rewarding: the challenge. Overcoming mental blocks, plot holes, content. Your resilience can be used to your advantage in your writing, and it will make your completed novel or story all the more gratifying.

Stick with it, and write on.

10. Be creepy for better dialogue

That’s right. Find a bush to hide in. Eavesdrop on your neighbors. Do whatever it takes to listen to real conversation.

Dialogue isn’t an easy beast to tame. Everybody has their own speech quirks, and nobody really speaks perfectly. I think that’s the most important thing to take away from this: don’t write robot dialogue. Write in mistakes, weird mannerisms,mispoken phrases. Inject some reality into your dialogue.

“What do you think of these chairs, man?”           “What chairman?”

The best way to figure all of this out is to listen to people talk. Not yourself or even your friends. You’ve heard that all before. Listen to strangers talk. Watch how their conversation progresses. Is one person dominating the conversation? Can you use that in your story?

Dialogue isn’t a simple thing, but you can add some relatable aspects to your stories by making an effort at realistic character dialogue.

Good luck. Write on.