Everyone practises their craft differently. Everyone has a different opinion on what’s best when teaching others. Writing is no different. With me, I’d generally find a prompt, using what I wrote to bring a full story to fruition. I’m not sure that’s a great idea for practice stuff anymore.
As if to confirm my fears, my boyfriend had some unexpected advice to offer:
Be specific. Take what you already know and refine it. Keep it short.
Okay, I admit I got a little confused and thought he was talking about genre – but he was being a lot more basic than that. He was talking about going to the very foundations of prosaic writing. Dialogue. Description. Setting. Imagery. Characterisation. He was actually amazed that my lecturers didn’t cover any of this at university, or that all those writing advice sites didn’t mention this. Maybe they thought it so basic that any writer considering publication had already mastered those bits, or that we’re already doing it because it’s that obvious.
It got me thinking about the different methods of teaching I’ve encountered while writing. Koiby’s taking a very literal approach to the ‘write what you know’ method. He’s very logical, so this comes as no surprise. His methods of creation make it vital. 3D modelling, coding, game design – even animation (which I still haven’t got around to pursuing. Le sigh.). All require constant practise of the basic principles to master.
The thing is, all of the methods I used to practise writing when I was younger departed from all that. Writing what you knew was boring and easy.
Explore the unknown! Challenge yourself! Write what interests you!
I took this method too literally and ignored the familiar for the seductive foreign. Looking back, this was arrogant – a terrible idea that probably led to some bad habits. I was actively trying to avoid writing characters that resembled people I knew – perhaps in part due to a fear of misrepresentation.
Maybe it led me to somewhat dismiss the people I care about, I don’t know. This is a pretty deep rabbit hole we’re looking at. Hell, it took me years to start writing about my local area!
Flavoured with the familiar
For a while, I was with a particular group on DeviantArt that did something like this. Every month, a prompt designed to challenge the writer was posted, with a bunch of prerequisites and scenarios to turn into a fully fledged story. However, they still retained an element of the familiar, even asking some personal reflection. Murakami uses common elements of his life to flavour his novels, like jazz or travel, so the process obviously works. It’s just a habit I need to acquire.
The difference between short stories and novels is something often compared to the workout regime versus the gauntlet – the Ninja Warrior. I guess it makes sense that I confused short stories for being the best way to practise writing. Koiby’s method more resembles warm-up stretches, I suppose, though it’s not a perfect metaphor. Maybe musical scales works better?
At university, they were probably expecting us to be doing this in our spare time. (Heh. Heh heh.) The writing exercises they’d have us do in seminars usually involved them stating a scenario which we’d write about – and then another, which we’d then include in what we were writing down. This kept on for another 10 minutes or so. It was a never a method that I found particularly helpful – probably because I tend to think a little slow and can only write so fast as a result. However, it still used the principle of using personal familiarity, purely because of the split second association with the scenario we were given. With that in mind, the exercise wasn’t completely useless to me – which is good!
Ideas are cheap
A phrase Koiby loves to say. It’s a good mantra. The important part is what happens next, and I’ve already worked out something for that. One site I looked at suggested that we write a certain amount every day, depending on what we’re intending to do with it. The more you want to write, the more should write every day. I’m aiming for a couple thousand every day, including what I write here. My plan is to take one prompt and focus on dialogue or settings, characterisation, actions. It’ll be a couple pages at most. They’ll go on DeviantArt if they turn out alright – that way I can also work on editing, another important part.
I’m hoping to eventually work my way into writing magical realism, which thanks to Murakami is my favourite genre now. Natuarlly that means I’ll need to read a lot more of it, which I am only too happy to do. With Koiby’s also suggested I break apart and analyse the stuff I read a lot more, which is, again, pretty obvious. I’m familiar enough with it. I just stopped because I don’t want to do that recreationally!
This isn’t recreational, though. I want to make this my career. I’ll just need to keep my thinkpan on when I’m reading, and highlight stuff that sticks out. I always do this reading poetry – it stands to reason I do the same with prose if I want to stand with the pros.
(Yes, that was a pun. I’ll take your punches now)