Typing Class and Grammar Rules

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Back in high school, I took a typing class: F-F-F<space>J-J-J<space>G-G-G<space>H-H-H<space>, over and over again, hammering out the letters. The classroom sounded like a factory, thirty students rhythmically practicing the alphabet on electric typewriters. I loved it.

At the time, I didn’t understand how important and useful of a skill proper typing was going to be later in my life; at fourteen years old, I didn’t yet know that I would dedicate my twenties and thirties to writing novels. Today, I am grateful for having learned how to type properly; it allows me to get words down on paper at the same speed the ideas manifest in my mind.

Sometimes lessons are learned way before you need to apply them. Because of this, I try to keep my mind open to new things, new experiences, new ideas, and take advantage of opportunities to learn, even if I’m unsure when I will apply the new skill/set of knowledge, if at all.

Also back in high school, I took an English class where there was a unit on grammar: nouns, verbs, clauses, prepositions, homonyms, etc. At the time, I hated all those rules, and I had made only just enough effort to pass the unit.

In high school, I didn’t appreciate how important and useful the understanding of grammar rules was going to be later in my life; at fourteen years old, I didn’t yet know that I would become a writer. Today, I wish I had taken the grammar unit more seriously; having not properly learned all the rules, I must now spend additional writing time editing.

Sometimes, I find myself in situations where I don’t have the necessary skill or set of knowledge, whether because I didn’t chose to learn it when I had been presented with the opportunity, or I had never had the chance to learn it before. No matter the reason, it’s never too late to learn a skill or acquire a set of knowledge now.

If there is something you want to learn, seek out a source to learn it. Check out your local library, audit a class, google the Internet, search for an expert, and don’t be afraid to ask questions. Be bold!

Learning a new skill or acquiring new sets of knowledge is likely quite accessible to you if you’re proactive about it. It’s never too late to learn something you’re passionate about learning.

For me, I am currently reading a book on grammar.

 

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Run, Walk, Jog, Rest, Skip, Sprint as Fast as You Can!

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There is a direct correlation between the speed of which I work and the quality of my production.  Therefore, I think a lot about the pace of which I work on my manuscript.

At times if I’m too slow, I get bogged down; too fast, and my work gets sloppy–both resulting in poor production.

Working at the right pace is a difficult concept to master because the “right” pace is inconsistent throughout the writing process.

It’s slow down, speed up, slow down, speed up, coast, break, rev the engine!  Sometimes, the pace must be slow and deliberate, while at other times, the pace must be urgent and free.  It all depends on where you are in your writing process.

For example, when I am writing a first draft, the pace should be fast, with the sole goal of getting the idea down on paper.  First drafts are sloppy and terrible, but they’re supposed to be.  No one ever sees my first draft of anything, so the quality of the writing doesn’t matter so much–it’s the quality of the idea that’s the goal of the first draft.  On the contrary, when I am editing the final draft, the pace should be slow with a sharp eye for detail, making every effort to hone each sentence.  Before publishing, I have to believe that I made my best effort to remove inconsistencies, typos, and grammatical errors.  This requires a painstakingly snail’s pace.

Learn when to run and when to walk, when to jog and when to rest, when to skip and when to sprint as fast as you can!  The quality of your production is your indicator. (Don’t worry if you didn’t get it right, you can always go back and try again–in fact, that is exactly what you will have to do).

The goal is to work, at all times, at the highest production quality.  The more you write and work your way through your writing process, the better you will understand the perfect pace at each step.

Artistic Articulation

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In my opinion, one of the primary skills that separate high-level artists from non-artists or developing artists (generally speaking) is the ability to articulate emotional responses from a work of art. I refer to this as Artistic Articulation.

Artistic Articulation is a skill that requires deep thought and practice.

When one consumes a work of art—a book, a painting, a theatre production, a dance performance etc.—some common remarks I hear when posed with the question “What did you think of the work?” are: “I liked it,” “I didn’t like it,” “I didn’t get it,” “That was awesome.”  But these answers are incomplete; they don’t express why.  Why didn’t you like it?  Why did you like it?  What didn’t you get and why do you think the work didn’t deliver?  Why was it awesome—what about it made it so?  These are really hard questions to answer.  But these types of questions are exactly the questions an artist needs to ask of their own work, as their answer is the foundation of their art.

Generally speaking, the objective of an artist is that a work of art represents the intention of the piece—that the audience consumes the work of art as the artist intended them to.  Intention is often difficult to translate into artistic mediums (it’s often difficult to translate in everyday life!).  Most art is not about blatantly telling an audience how to feel, but about cleverly creating the intended feelings in an audience through the audiences experience with the work of art.

Because articulation—especially of tough questions involving emotional response—takes practice, study hard. Consume art, all kinds of it, and examine it; answer why it made you have the emotional response you did. The answers to questions like “Why did this piece move me the way that it did?” will help you hone your own work, to get it to a place where your future audience will more likely experience it the way you intended them to.

To create art with intention (which I think is the purpose of creating), and be successful at it, you must be able to define the intended emotional response in your audience. This is Artistic Articulation.

Lessons from a Night at the Library

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Last night I attended an event at the library where the author Emma Donoghue was interviewed.  She just recently released a new book, The Wonder.  Admittedly, I read the back cover blurb and it didn’t sound like a book that would particularly interest me.  However, I enjoyed a previous book by Emma Donoghue and so I was quite interested in meeting her and hearing her speak in her own voice (rather than only through the voices of her fictional characters).

During the interview, she spoke honestly and passionately—about her book, her life, and her writing.  I quickly began to admire her as a person, not just the author of a past book that I had enjoyed.  Despite my lackluster interest in The Wonder based on the back cover blurb, after the event I wanted to read Emma Donoghue’s new book, because I really liked her.

Emma Donoghue ultimately sold me her new book not by its cool front cover or its back cover blurb, or even from my pleasant experience reading a previous book of hers, but by her passion and personality as a person. 

My experience last night made me recognize that books are sold to readers in more ways than the book itself.  As a writer, this realization was slightly disconcerting, as I want my writing to speak for itself.  But I reminded myself that selling a book to a reader has everything to do with Marketing and nothing to do with the craft of writing (at least not beyond the jacket blurb).  Only after a book is sold to a reader, and the reader invests their precious time to reading it, does the quality of the writing (the book as a whole) get truly judged.  And it is this judgement that will ultimately define an author.

While sales are significantly influenced by the strength of Marketing, good writing is what earns an author the respect and admiration they work so hard for.  An author doesn’t want to be primarily appreciated for their Marketing campaigns; they want to be appreciated for their writing.

That being said, as scintillating as your work is, if nobody knows about it, how will you be appreciated for it?  (Standing in the middle of the library, looking up at the multiple floors of shelves and shelves of books, one is reminded how many options readers have).  Marketing plays a key role in an author’s success.  But first and foremost, write something brilliant!

I admire Emma Donoghue for being a brilliant writer, a competent marketer, and a cool person.  She’s got it all.  I look forward to reading her new book.

Starting the Journey

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Throughout the journey of writing a novel, I have to overcome many challenges, but none more difficult than starting the journey.

Each time I set out on the daunting adventure of writing a novel (or any art project), my mind fills with doubt – a doubt so powerful that I teeter on the edge of debilitating fear, risking the abandonment of the whole journey. It takes a tremendous amount of strength (and a lot of encouragement from supporters) to shelf the destructive feelings and start writing. For me, the hardest moment in the journey of writing a novel is to overcome the initial doubt. While doubt in other forms is prevalent throughout the adventure of writing a novel, once I start the journey, my determination takes over.

While probably not true, though I work hard to believe it, my determination is indestructible. If I start something, I will finish it. It’s in my DNA (thank you, Parents). Throughout the process of writing a novel, I cling to this “fact.” It helps me get through the many challenges I will have to overcome on the journey.

Because once I start something quitting isn’t an option, I have to make smart choices of the projects I take on. To do a project well, it requires a lot of time, creativity, patience, thought, and energy. Any of these skills spread thin risks poor output. And quality is paramount.

It’s time to put my full attention back into my manuscript. As difficult as it is to do, the many other art projects brewing in my mind will have to be patient. I have a novel to write.

A Foreign Medium, A Familiar Process

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While these days writing is primarily my creative choice of medium, I do sometimes veer in other creative directions to produce projects using other mediums.  I usually take on these other projects in addition to my writing projects (I can’t seem to stop writing).  I can’t always have a second project on the go (there is only so much time in a day; only so much creative energy that I can tap into), but I do find that working on an additional art project often inspires and develops my writing.

Recently, I just completed my first documentary film (more accurately, a rockumentary), about two influential bands in the 90’s from my hometown, reuniting twenty years later to share the stage for one night, performing in new bands.  Because it was my first venture into video and film editing, I really had no idea what I was doing.  So, I approached the project the same way as I approach a novel:  “To begin, begin” (my favourite quote, by William Wordsworth).

As I began, I realized that regardless of my choice of medium, my personal artistic process applied.  So while I was a rookie filmmaker, I wasn’t a rookie artist, having honed my artistic process over the past decade.

A film, in my many ways, is like a novel—it’s telling a story.  While the details of the documentary’s story weren’t my creation, the telling of it was.  The “rules” of good storytelling are the same regardless of medium.  While I had to learn how to use a video camera and edit film using an editing software program I had never used before, the process of getting the story down (capturing it on film) and tediously editing frame after frame, draft after draft, was the same process as writing a novel (getting the story down on paper, then editing sentence after sentence, draft after draft).

Like all firsts, I fumbled my way through each step in the process of creating the film documentary, having to learn many new skills along the way.  But I clung to the security of my artistic process, and it was that familiarity that gave me the confidence to succeed when faced with the challenges of working with a foreign medium.

And I did.  I made a documentary.

Each time I make it through my artistic process, I get better at it.  Therefore my writing will benefit from my experience creating the documentary.  I will take my learnings back with me as I re-focus on my manuscript.

If you’re interested, here is a link to the documentary:
https://youtu.be/AOxBmN9EB1Y

 

Partnership

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My writing life and my non-writing life is a healthy partnership; each grows stronger by the support of the other.

But partnerships are work. They require constant nurturing.

If one isn’t going well, the other feels the affects. When one is going well, the other feeds off the energy. Sometimes the partners are in conflict, fighting each other for time and attention; sometimes, they’re in perfect harmony, complimenting each other. The two sides are often in negotiation. At times, one dominates the other; there are sacrifices that have to be made. It’s give and take, give and take.

Healthy partnerships are about respect and balance and the ability to work together for the growth and success of both sides. Maintaining a healthy partnership can be extremely difficult, but fantastically rewarding.

My writing life and my non-writing life are equally important to me. Neither would be as strong without the other. While I dedicate this blog to my writing life, there could be an equally robust and passionate blog about my non-writing life.

To achieve great success, I must nurture both sides.

And so tonight, my laptop will remain turned off. It’s the other side’s turn to have my attention.  My writing life will be stronger for it.