Tag Archives: difference

Guest Post: Push Yourself, Because Nobody Else (Usually) Will

It’s easy to write when you have a good idea and a good head of steam. The words just flow. You fall into the easy sense of your own writing bath, and it’s warm and comfy.

One of the things I love doing to Wordsmith is to give her a prompt for the day. It’s a game we play; a challenge to her writing limits by putting in something that she wouldn’t have thought of herself.

What she doesn’t know is that I’m giving her these things based on being inspired by her writing. (Well, she knows now.) Or based on things I’ve seen during my travels. Or just being ornery.

The idea is that by doing this, I’m facilitating her writing chops by having her rise to meet any assignment I give her. She doesn’t have to do it right away, she doesn’t have to succeed; it’s like serving a tennis ball over the (Inter)net. “Here, see if you can hit this.”

Sometimes she lobs it back with casual grace. Other times she smashes it back and I can’t help but return it with a similar piece of my own. And other times she chases it down but can’t quite wrap her head around the concept. So I know where her writing strengths and weaknesses are.

At one point in my life, I had someone doing that for me. “Write a scene without using any metaphors.” ‘Write a short story and use 6 out of these 10 words.’ “Describe an object without using the sense of sight.” “Write a scene about X, but don’t use ANY of these words.”

The first choices we make as writers is what defines our writing flow. But if we keep choosing that choice — the same stock characters over and over, the same situations over and over, we run the risk of getting too comfy with our writing — writing the same thing over and over. I’m sure you’ve seen it in some of your favorite authors. It should never be like that.

The best authors craft up a world, a self-contained character with a life independent of any of his or her predecessors, every time. You should never have ‘previous novel’s protagonist copy with their name and hair changed.’ as the main character twice in a row.

Change it up. Dare to be different. Dare to push yourself to craft something unique from the story before. Every year I do the NaNoWriMo I deliberately switch genres from the previous year, just so I separate myself from the last elements of the last novel with a whole year, if not more.

Mash two genres together that don’t normally go together. “Ballet Drama” and “Western”? Or maybe three– “Mystery” and “Survival” and “Historical Piece”?

If your first instinct is ‘you can’t, then you aren’t pushing hard enough. Try to come up with an idea to make the plot work. I mean, heck. The Japanese anime writers do it all the time…. check out Hetalia: Axis Powers, for example, where someone mashed up World Politics with Anthropomorphism.

(Yeah, I know. I said, ‘What? How did they ever think of that?’ too.)

When you find the right motivation, and the right idea, the push will become a pull. And suddenly you’ll be expanding your writing universe in a wholly unexpected direction…

Good luck…

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Avoidance

During a fiction writing class, our professor gave us a sheet of words. It was titled, ‘Words all Writers Should Avoid Using.’

The other week, I was given another web page that was basically a full on rant about several different words that are used too often and should never be used. There were 5-10 words on the list.

My only problem with this is that each list is almost completely different. Some words are shared throughout– almost (hah), suddenly, nearly, really/very, like– considered weak and detrimental to the piece. Though I try to take each of these seriously and understand the reasoning for all of what I see, plenty of the words listed seem as a matter of opinion.

Of course, then you run into weak words versus strong words. There’s the old speech that Robin Williams gives in Dead Poets Society, proclaiming that the word ‘very’ is lazy, and encouraging them to use other words to describe it, because there are an abundant amount more than just the single word. To which, I will agree with this; there are words that are plain weak and water down the writing when used, but finding words that sound more beautiful in the stead of those is about more than just looking in the thesaurus. It’s about changing your language entirely.

The boulder was heavy in his palms.

Simple as it is, can be changed to…

The weight of the boulder was bearing down on him. 

In another example, I’ll take my sentence from earlier.

It’s almost completely different

To…

each is totally different, save for some choices…

Substituting words can only go so far, so it becomes a challenge to make the language and sound more diverse, intriguing, capturing.

Which reminds me of a challenge issued by Chuck Palahniuk, to depart with all “thought” verbs, not to show that a character is thinking. So no, “wonders,” “muses,” “considers,” etc. And to keep up with it for six months. Though I still find it a bit daft, I like the difficulty it presents. It forces you to think of other ways to go about showing what you want to say about what’s in the character’s head, or to forgo it.

We want our words, our content, to be as strong as possible. The more we challenge ourselves to be more fluid and diverse in what we have to say or how we say it, the sharper we find ourselves.

I wanted to show some of the sites that I mentioned. Though there are many more of them, here are a few examples:

From freelancewriting.com

This one from litreactor.com 

And this from tameri.com

Weak words, those that are vague and provide little to nothing about what you mean or are referring to, should, by all means, be cast out at any and every opportunity. When faced with “things,” “something,” and “stuff,” try to be precise. Being specific is the difference between strong language and a flaky one. It is also, as one of those sites suggested, a way to show confidence in your writing.

-The Novice Wordsmith

Compression Calf Guards and Performance

I know the title is a little odd, but stick with me on this one.

I’ve been considering this post since I got my compression calf guards early this month. The reason being for that is mostly because I try constantly to make links between running and writing. They’re so similar to me, one because they’re both such great passions of mine and two because they seem so obvious (probably because I work through them both so often).

Out on a run (unsurprising) today, I thought about it again. I ditched the guards because it was short and I had very little desire for big effort. Today it was running to run and help boost how I’d been feeling all day, and putting on the guards is like shoving my legs in tight clothing that I desperately want to wear.

After three years, I’m finally making bigger improvements in my endurance, and that’s in thanks to the guards, because they help block out the pain and make it much easier for me to push without worrying about splints or aches. I’m able to focus on speed and distance instead of my condition and forget everything but my feet on the pavement and my swift movement down the road or up the hill.

Every thing is different. Every skill and talent, every hobby you pick up or class you look into, it’s all got fundamental difference, but in essence, some of it can come to be very similar. What’s similar is the broader parts, like getting ‘gear’ to help you improve.

Which does work. Some things will help your performance in a lot of ways, but another thing I realized in the past few weeks of thinking about this topic was that, really, there is no “compression sleeve” equivalent to writing.

A lot of the time, the only things that help you improve in writing are location, what you surround yourself with visually and audibly, and the kind of inspiration you seek out. It’s about the journals you fill and the programs you use and the music you do or don’t listen to. The other writers you read, the books you immerse yourself in, the worlds you dive into day after day, hour after hour, because you cannot get enough and you don’t want to.

It’s organization or lack thereof. It’s in your head and your hands and less about bells and whistles than it is about expanding on the basics.

All of them will always have one very central thing in common, though, and that is the love, dedication and effort you put in to that work, to get better, to see yourself achieve what you know you’re capable of, to reach your dreams and to be more and more each time.

Some hobbies can take more money to help you get better, others only need you to see things differently. There are no limits, only what you put in front of yourself.

Mental blocks are the worst, and some of the hardest things I’ve ever had to overcome. There’s still one street I run down that I can do easily one way fully, but coming back up it is the worst task in the world because of how I visualized it when I was still a beginner.

Today had been a big eye-opener in this case because, without the sleeves, I nearly ran the entire length of my route without stopping, which I haven’t ever done before, though I’ve been getting closer lately.

We remember where we’ve had a tough time before and it sticks with us. The best way to break through is to go a different route completely. Freshen, liven, and see what you can achieve when your head doesn’t think that you’re doing the same thing. Do something new, and throw in something positive about it, and see how far it takes you.

This goes for everything. If you’re having a hard time with a chapter or story or trying to get something out specifically, you will remember how hard it was before. Changing tone or perspective can make a world of difference.

I’m still trying to tackle that street every chance I get, to make it through as far and as fast as possible, because maybe then, I can overwrite the negativity I wrote in so early.

What I see a lot of when it comes to mentality and running and writing is that it’s all in what you say to yourself. Can you see that you can do it, or are you telling yourself that it’s impossible? Do you know that you have it in yourself, or are you making sure you don’t? It’s easy to short yourself, but look for the more optimistic side of things, even if you don’t believe it at first.

For so long, I wasn’t sure that I could even do much of anything with my writing. After getting a hard conversation out of Friend about my writing and the habits I had with it, I was resigned either to shrug off the idea of writing as a career choice or taking it head on and trying everything I could to make it.

A year later, I sat back with Friend at my side in a resort and was on my way to a journey to 100k words in a month, after writing almost daily for four months, and making so many stories I was immensely proud of at that point.

Getting a little more off topic, I had another friend who told me she thought that achieving her dreams was a stupid ideology and that it’s impossible. Maybe it’s my own personal experience that leads me to believe that you can with hard work and dedication. Maybe I’m naive and haven’t had enough negativity thrown into the mix to keep me down and out. I was convinced at one point, too, that I’d never find a job, and felt completely trapped, but that changed, too.

Perspective is everything, sometimes. Whether you need help from gear or programs, or just a fresh scenery, you won’t always be stuck.

– The Novice Wordsmith