The Writer’s Mind–What Kind of Writer Are You?
NOVEL SPOTLIGHT: Slaughterhouse Five (Aaron’s Pick)
This is one of my favorite novels of all time. I’m not sure exactly how many times I’ve read it, but it’s up there. I use it in the AP class I teach each year. There’s a lot of really good things to say about Vonnegut, so I’ll try to keep this brief. The first thing that most impresses me is that he can write with genuine humor (usually through a surprising metaphor) about such a dark subject. The novel is insightful and inspiring, though it’s terrifying in places. He also uses authorial intrusions, which are usually a no-no, but he gets away with it. He does it so naturally, that it comes across as almost intimate, turning the novel into a story shared between friends. His use of the authorial intrusions really ingratiate him to his readers. Above all, his use of satire and absurd aliens to make a point is unparalleled. It’s a fun book, but it’s a book you can’t forget, one that makes you think a little more each time you read it.
Firsts in Fiction
The Writer’s Mind–What kind of writer are you?
There are many tools a writer can use to produce fiction: word processors, computers, etc. The most important thing is your mind.
- The writer’s first job is to know himself or herself.
Benjamin Franklin said, “Observe all men; thyself most.” (Poor Richard’s Almanac, August 1740)
- There is no one way to learn. There is no one way to write.
- The writer’s first job is to know himself or herself.
- Truth is, most of us avoid trying to know ourselves.
- Often, we don’t like who we are and it pains us to identify our weaknesses. Puffing our chests at our strengths is easy compared to admitting we lack in some area of discipline or skill.
- Learn how your brain is wired.
- AARON: Self-reflection is very important. If you’re new to the writing game, you may not have much of a track record to analyze, but those of you who have been at it for a bit, take some time to look back at what you’ve done well and where you struggle. Knowing this will help you write more deliberately.
- The second job of the writer is to stop obsessing over what other writers do and how they do it. Kill and bury the comparison game.
- Use the techniques of other writers as guides, not laws. Find what works for you and disregard the rest.
- This requires professional honesty. What works best for us may not be the easiest. Many people fail because they spend a lot of time looking for the easy way, instead of the productive way.
- AARON: It’s natural to compare yourself to other writers. All artists do the same thing. But it can be poisonous. It’s just as dangerous to think you’re a better writer than someone else as it is to think that you’re far inferior to another. The key is to work to develop your confidence and to improve over your previous performances. Challenge yourself–be a better writer than you were yesterday. That’s it.
- Ask, “What are my strengths?” It’s very important to know what you do well and what you enjoy.
- A “strength” is something that comes naturally to you. Note that I didn’t say “easy,” but natural.
- Strength is a muscle and must be exercised to improve and grow stronger.
- Some authors excel in short form writing; others in book length. Who is the superior writer? The one who plays to his or her strengths.
- Almost anyone can become a bodybuilder, but to be a professional, competitive body building requires some help from genetics.
- What are your strengths? Write them down. When people like your beta-readers praise specific things in your work, pay close attention to that. It’s your job to turn the good into the great.
- AARON: Don’t be afraid to take a little pride in these areas. That’s fine. But don’t let it over-inflate your ego. Like Pop’s says, you still need to work on your strengths to keep them strong and healthy. But if you’ve got a perfect set of teeth, be sure to flash a winning smile here and there. Work it, girl! 🙂
- Ask, “What are my weaknesses?” Yes, you have them. This could be an Al’s Axiom: “Great writers are not great because they are perfect, but because they face and overcome their weaknesses.”
- Overly self-critical?
- Ask, “How do I overcome my weaknesses?”
- What do you need to learn?
- What inner voices do you need to shut up?
- AARON: Also try to figure out how you can learn what you need to. Study from the masters. Read a craft book. Watch our cast regularly. Sign up for a class at a community college. There are lots of ways to learn how to improve your weaknesses.
- When do you work the best?
- Morning person?
- Late night person?
- Do you have to work around a life or family situation? Sometimes life dictates when we can write.
- What revitalizes you?
- Not the same for everyone. Movies do it for me. Naps help—seriously.
- Dreaming of what might be. Use your imagination on yourself.
- What are your sensitivities?
- We all have sensitivities and hot-button issues. What are yours? Once identified, they can be managed.
- For many, many years, I refused to read any of my published books. I would see things I could have done better or mistakes I made, and that always discouraged me.
- What are your fears? What frightens you?
- Making a mistake?
- AARON: Make a plan to deal with these, because almost all of them are guaranteed in this business.
- Writing is an act of self-discovery. In fact, every project is an act of self-discovery.
- Be alert to how you’re changing.
- Feed the good habits; starve the others.
- Once you commit to a project, don’t give up. Perseverance is the key.
- Most people who set out to write, never do.
- Most of those who do start, never finish.
- Of those who do finish, a great many will not send their work in. I’ve heard from many agents and editors who tell me that of all the people they say, “Send me the full proposal,” only 25% do.
- Listen to the right voices.
- [Discouraging words from Mom.]
- Surround yourself with positive voices. Feed your brain and heart with words and advice that help you forward. [Why I avoid writers groups but love writers conferences.]