Wanting to be a writer vs. being a writer

“Follow your dreams”, that’s the spirit of the times for young people leaving school and those who are re-thinking their careers. I was lucky to grow up in a home where the general consensus was not to follow a career path that pays well, but to follow a career that sits well with me. For me, almost any career in the arts would sit well, partly because I don’t have the aptitude to do a nine-to-five office job and partly because I don’t feel like I’ve achieved anything if I haven’t created something new. This doesn’t mean that I look down on everyone else for being able to do these jobs, just don’t expect me to understand the complexities of their day at the office.
I tend to think of office jobs in a fairly linear fashion. This is how they look in my mind: You go to the office. You work at completing your work for today. You go to lunch. You come back to the office. You finish your work. You go home. You relax and forget about the office until tomorrow morning. You get up and do it all over again.

Wanting to be a writer

For a writer I imagine a completely different task-management-plan: You get up when you’re ready to. You don’t go to the office, but rather grab your computer and get back into bed. You read a few blog-posts and articles before getting coffee and settling down to work.

Coffee1

You realize that you need to do some research before writing the next passage, so you head to Google. You get more coffee.
You haven’t read a book in like, three days, so you do that, since it’s anyway too warm/cold/noisy/quiet/emotionally draining etc. to write. You get some coffee.
You attempt to write something, but get distracted by something you wrote three months ago and didn’t finish yet. You attempt to finish it, just to find out why you had stopped in the first place: the story wasn’t going anywhere. Still, you spent time writing that, so you end up not deleting it, just in case the idea does turn out to be WML (Worth Millions Later). You get some coffee, for inspiration.
You still haven’t written anything all day, so you buckle down and put down a header:

Anthrax

You look at it and muse about what meanings or expectations people will gleam from it when they see it on the cover of your debut novel. You Google the word, just to make sure it’s as bad-ass as you hope. It is. Then you do an in-depth search about all the ways in which a person could commit murder using Anthrax. You see dollar-signs about your head. This book is going to sell millions!
You attempt a basic story outline:
Wally Silberman is an ordinary guy, working a nine-to-five office job. His life is uncomplicated until he accidentally overhears plans of an illegal weapons-exchange while having lunch at the local coffee shop. The next day he finds an envelope with anthrax on his desk at work.
OK. You think this is sufficient to build a story on.
You type “Chapter One – An ordinary man” and then go to get some more coffee.
When you come back to your computer you don’t like the idea, probably because there’s not much to hold on to or like there.
You write a new idea:
After his lab-assistant wife dies in a chemical accident caused by a lack of safety precautions, Hal Osprey has nothing left to lose. He is intent on getting revenge and he means to show the company just how flawed their safety is.
OK. This seems like something!
You type “Chapter One – Chemistry” and get up to get some more coffee. It’s the only way you’ll stay awake, because when you come up with anything remotely close to a full-fledged idea at two thirty in the morning, you had better keep going.

MoreCoffee

When you return you start considering the broader outline of this story: what company were Hal and his wife working for, what were they creating and what went wrong in the lab? Why did the wife die and not Hal? Wait a minute – isn’t that the exact plot in Spiderman 3?
You find your copy of Spiderman 3 and watch the whole thing through. Apparently not. Never mind.
What could have prevented Mrs. Osprey’s death? Was she perhaps pregnant with their first child? Is that why revenge is so important to him? Is Hal a good name for a scientist? Where does the story take place and why there rather than somewhere else? What kind of habits does Hal have? How does he mean to exact his revenge?
You look at all these questions and begin to realize there will be a learning curve, or at least space for a lot of research. For one thing, you don’t know anything about science, scientists or Anthrax. Also, you’ll obviously have to build a chapter by chapter outline for this one, since you can’t really foresee where it’s going and you don’t want to end up giving up on it like the one you ended up not deleting earlier in the day.
You decide, since it’s late and you’re probably too tired to figure out the mechanics of this idea, to go to bed and start again fresh tomorrow.
The next day you get up, fully intending to write at least one chapter, but during your morning coffee someone rings the doorbell. Strange, you think, you don’t have any friends, why would anyone be ringing the doorbell?
A police officer is twirling his hat, which should rather have stayed on his head to hide that hideous hair-day.
“Good morning, officer. What can I do for you this morning?” you ask in your most polite voice.
The police officer doesn’t seem interested in anything you have to say, simply introduces himself via a badge before telling you that you are to come downtown with him.
“Whatever for?” you ask, no longer polite.
“You Googled Anthrax. You are now considered a person of interest.”
“By whom?” you ask, very proud of your correct use of grammar.
He has said as much as he was willing to and is now giving you the grandmother-glare, secretly hoping you will understand that it means you should drop everything, close the door behind you and come downtown with him.
You do so, though not because you particularly want to.
After hours of interrogation and explaining that you are a writer despite not having been published, you are let go.
Warned by intuition not to pursue the subject, you set down to start writing something else. You silently mourn the loss of an idea which could potentially have sold millions.

Being a writer

writer-caffeine

You go to your office. You decide what you are going to write and start writing it. You work through lunch because you want to at least finish a draft of Chapter One. You finish your work well before dinner, which gives you time to do chores, fetch the kids from school, cook dinner, help with homework, make a costume for the Halloween dance and catch up with blogs and Facebook. After dinner you put the kids to bed, call your mom for her birthday and finish reading the book you started last night, all the while jotting down things you liked about the manuscript and good ideas you have. Your mind is constantly processing ideas which will help you overcome some hurdles during your workday tomorrow. You go to bed having come up with the solution to some particularly annoying problems and having written them down. The last thought you have before falling asleep is that you’re confident your book will be done by the end of term, in time for the family vacation. You hope at least one person will like it. If you’re lucky, your book will get picked up.

Rewriting your prose for literary types (and rendering it incomprehensible)

The Book of Hard Words by David Bramwell

The Book of Hard Words by David Bramwell

I am affectionate toward books about words, which is how I came to read The book of hard words by David Bramwell. What comes next is what it inspired me to do.

This is the original flash fiction piece, written with it specifically in mind that I want to rewrite using only “hard words” from The book of hard words.

His neighbour’s unruly behaviour made him feel particularly bloodthirsty. The memories of his death and reincarnation returned once more.
Perhaps just one bite, he thought.
Biting her could be beneficial to him. He was one of a kind, a revolutionary of his time, because he was the only one of his kind who didn’t have the predisposition to kill his own offspring.
The more he thought about her slender digits, the more lustful he became.
She obviously feared speaking.
He carried her into his underground chamber. He hadn’t been there since the early part of the century, shortly after his rebirth, and the place was covered in spider webs and dust.
It had once been his winter retreat, but he had long since given up the practice. After his transformation it became unnecessary.
Tying her to a chair, he intended to pour her blood into a cup. That was, after all, the humane way of feeding.
He bent over her, ready to cut her delicate skin.
‘Wait,’ she insisted. ‘I can tell you many things about yourself. I am a palm reader.’
‘Is this a trick?’ he asked. ‘Or are you really a visionary?’
‘I’m not cool enough in the face of danger to be lying.’
He stuck out an overly cold hand towards her.
‘Hmm…,’ she murmured. ‘You have an unnatural vibe about you. Very mysterious.’ ‘Do you feel anxious during the full moon?’
He sighed audibly. ‘I’m not a werewolf, if that’s what you’re suggesting.’

How to use hard words in daily life.

How to use hard words in daily life.

This is the rewrite using hard words from the book.

His neighbour’s obstreperousness made him feel particularly sanguisugent. The memories of his metempsychosis returned once more.
Perhaps just one bite, he thought.
Biting her could be beneficial to him. He was sui generis, a sansculotte of his time, because he was the only one of his race who wasn’t prolicidal.
The more he thought about her leptodactylous beauty, the more concupiscent he became.
She was obviously lalophobic.
He carried her into his hypogeum. He hadn’t been there since the early part of the century, shortly after his rebirth, and the place was covered in spider webs and dust.
It had once been his hibernacle, but he had long since given up the practice. After his transformation it became unnecessary.
Tying her to a chair, he intended to extravasate her blood into a cup. That was, after all, the humane way of feeding.
He bent over her, ready to cut her delicate skin.
‘Wait,’ she insisted. ‘I can tell you many things about yourself. I practice dermatoglyphics.’
‘Is this a trick?’ he asked. ‘Or are you really theophanic?’
‘I’m not sangfroid enough to be lying.’
He stuck out an acrohypothermic hand towards her.
‘Hmm…,’ she murmured. ‘You have a preternatural aura about you. Very mysterious.’ ‘Do you feel anxious during the plenilune?’
He sighed audibly. ‘I’m not a lycanthrope, if that’s what you’re suggesting.’

Five reasons why writers should subscribe to theoatmeal.com’s RSS feed

matthewinman

So, I always thought I was one of a kind in that I get grammar wrong all the time, but it turns out it is more common than I thought. I didn’t notice though, or rather, I didn’t start noticing until I started taking it a bit more seriously. Spelling too.

I used to think I was good at spelling and grammar, until people started reading my doodles and pointed out my not so flawless language skills. I guess I thought it would be okay to use the excuse that English isn’t my first language, but it became pretty obvious it wouldn’t hold water when second-language English speakers started pointing out my grammatical shortcomings. So I started noticing stuff. Like writing dependent with three e’s instead of two. Or that yogurt doesn’t have an h. Bizzare is not a place where you can buy stuff. You would be surprised to hear how many words like that still get me all the time.

The thing is, I’m not the only one. People who speak English as a first language get things wrong all the time. It creeps up in newspaper articles, movies and even books. God forbid anyone actually tries to fix the whole me vs. I thing. Why would it be “Me and John” and then “John and… I”? It’s always I! Arrgghhh!

Somehow, for people who have an amazing grammatical sense, these things come naturally. They know that am follows I. They know that an apostrophe s doesn’t denote things belonging to “it”. They know how to spell supercalifragilisticexpialidocious. (According to the spellchecker I don’t.) They know how to write correctly, which automatically gives them a leg up as readers and writers. They’re the types that people like I hate, because they (pedantically) point out my mistakes. They’re the ones who laugh at the rest of us for not knowing when to say do or does, is or are and its or it’s. However, they are also the ones who, through their mocking of us, will create the very materials that can teach us how to “talk English more deliciously” and one of them has already done so for our convenience.

Which brings me to my point. Five reasons why writers should subscribe to theoatmeal.com’s RSS feed:

1. Matthew Inman, the creator of theoatmeal.com, made posters of grammatically correct use of the English language and included pictures for the academically challenged or ADHD person. (I myself find it hard to concentrate on simply reading things, which is why I do all my research via Google Images.)

2. There are other rather interesting pictures too, which shows diversity and therefore makes me assume Matthew Inman is very smart.

3. Did I mention that he created grammar and spelling posters? Too early for the classic repeat, I suppose. Okay, I bet I can come up with something else. Oh! Matthew Inman has a girlfriend, which means he’s not terrible looking. Let’s sum up: He’s smart, grammatically advanced and is ok looking. Three pretty good reasons so far!

4. There’s an abundant amount of pink on theoatmeal.com, which makes it *female-appropriate. Or gay-appropriate. Or “homey” for pigs, flamingos and newborn rats. Darnit, I can’t see how this is relevant.

Moving on.

5.You can enjoy Matthew Inman’s wit in the convenience of your own home, in the form of books! You’ll even get a free bumper sticker with.

 

Seriously, though. I love the website. Matthew Inman’s humor is right up my alley and he’s a phenomenal artist. If after all this you’re still not interested in checking out the site, it’s your loss. Click here to see what I’m on about.

Also, if you plan on writing anything in English, do have a look at the section marked “Grammar”.

PS: The real five reasons why you should subscribe to this guy’s blog are locked up in this insane, yet incredible comic. Read it all, until the end. It’s worth it.

*All females, gay people, pigs, flamingos and newborn rats do not necessarily like the color pink.

Picture borrowed from theoatmeal.com