Writing Tips Wednesday: 5 Things Writing can teach us about Life

Every Wednesday I’ll be sharing some hints and tips about how to improve your writing. These are basic things I have learned over the years, from writers websites, published authors and constructive feedback from friends, family and online pals.

There is an argument that fiction writing cannot be taught because it comes from talent alone, it is in your nature to be creative. Whilst there is some truth in that, even the most creative person needs to learn how to use their ability and make the best of their craft.

This week: How writing can teach us about life!

This weeks topic is shows what writing can teach us about life, the universe and everything! Writing isn’t just about words, plots, characters and all that lovely wordage appearing on the screen as if by magic. Writing can reveal who you are and who you want to be, even if the story isn’t about you. Bits of the writer become imprinted into the fabric of the stories we weave, whether we realise it or not. And life can reflect what we write about and how our morals and principles in our fictional world can be put to good use in the real world.

#1 Seize the Moment!

Writing is all about grabbing the essence of the moment and hurling it into words. In November NaNoWriMo gave you 30 days to pen your novel. One long moment split into many smaller moments. You can sit there and worry about how you’re never going to fit 50,000 words into 30 days or you can take each moment at a time.

A friend of mine enrolled on a degree course a few years ago but struggled somewhat with the immense task ahead of her. I taught her a trick to cope with what felt like an impossible task.

Writing Project = A forest. 50,000 words is a lot of trees!

From the outside it looks daunting. So many ideas and paths to go down. But where to start? Which tree do I look at first? How will I know I’m looking at the right tree or taking the right path? What happens if I get lost?

Calm down! The trick is not to view the forest as a whole. Pick a tree and look at that tree alone. Ignore the rest. That tree is one chapter.

That’s much easier to think about isn’t it? No vast forest of words overwhelming you. But even this one tree chapter can still seem daunting. Which bit of the tree do I look at? Which branch do I start with?

Breath! We’re not finished yet! Next we ignore the tree. Pick a low branch and examine it.

Gosh! One branch you say? That’s like ignoring the chapter I want to write and thinking about one paragraph or scene. Hmm. But there are still a lot of choices open to me.

Okay. Then ignore the branch. Look at a single leaf.

This leaf represents a single word or a single sentence. The forest is gone. The tree is gone. The branch is gone. You can seize this one leaf and write about it. Your novel forest doesn’t seem to daunting now does it? There’s little chance of seizing an entire novel forest in one go so you break it down into bite sized chunks.

Novel Forest > Chapter Tree > Paragraph Branch > Sentence Leaf.

This doesn’t mean you forsake the structure of a novel. You’re stood in a forest of words but as you move from leaf to leaf, branch to branch, and tree to tree you’ll find the sentences, paragraphs, scenes and chapters are easier to work through.

Whenever someone is stuck with an overwhelming project like writing I tell them the Forest of Words story. The principle can be applied to any challenge in life.

# 2 Commitment.

As with NaNoWriMo 50,000 words in 30 days takes some commitment. If you want to reach your goal you have to make sure that goal is realistically achievable. Before you start it’s worth considering how much time you can devote to it. How many  hours a day do I have to write? I’m a bit busy in the week but the weekends look good. Super! This is the same as life.

In our 24/7 fast paced, easy come easy go, throw away society it’s easy to take on something and then give up mid way through it – hey I tried but I’m just too busy – I didn’t realise it would take this much effort – my other commitments got in the way…and so on. Then you should ask yourself which of your many commitments do you really want to keep going? Which one is more important to you?

Some value a commitment more than others, they strive to keep to their promise of seeing something through and reap the rewards. You might say it’s unfair to say someone doesn’t understand or value commitment because of unexpected factors. But it’s true. How many single parent families are there in the world where one of them simply walked away? How many life changing promises have been made only to broken when things get a bit tricky?

All too often the phrase “best intentions” is a Get out of Jail Free card. “I started with the best intentions but…” But what? You’re not dead are you? Unless you’re a zombie or lying in a coma somewhere or have had a serious life threatening health problem thrust upon you, there’s no excuse. Now I’m not saying that writing 50,000 words is anything like bringing a new life into the world and protecting it for many years. That would be silly.

But NaNoWriMo can teach us the value of commitment. On the other side of the coin learning about commitment is learning how much you can handle at the same time. We never stop learning so if a commitment made is then broken, you should examine why it went wrong and learn how you can manage your challenges in the future. There’s nothing wrong with breaking a commitment so long as you learn why.

# 3 Don’t let the Doubt Demon rule your life.

All Wrimo’s will undoubtedly be visited by the Doubt Demon during their writing, I suspect more so for those who aren’t seasoned writers. NaNoWriMo was all about hammering out the words to reach your goal. You had 30 days to get your novel down and that doesn’t leave much time to worry about the little things. And this means you grab your Doubt Demon by its scrawny little throat and lock it away in a tightly sealed box.

It’s tricky because the Doubt Demon can still call out to you in your darkest moments. Not many can live without doubt but we should all learn to manage those doubts before they begin to disrupt our lives. The Doubt Demon doesn’t want us to seize the moment other than to occupy it with doubts, fears, misgivings, and to allow the ever troublesome Did I Do That Right? Monster to question your every move.

If we listened to our Doubt Demon we’d never get anything done. NASA certainly would have stuck to looking at the moon instead of flying there. Walt Disney would have stuck to doodling in his doodle book. Tim Berners-Lee would have played Sonic instead of inventing the World Wide Web.

Doubt Demons come in various flavours, from the Writing Doubt Demon and Acting Doubt Demon to the Should I Take An Umbrella Doubt Demon and the absurd Seize The Moment Doubt Demon. They’re everywhere, invisible and sneaky. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t listen to them just a little. They can protect us from harm so it’s worth letting them have their say before locking them away.

#4 Be Bold!

You’ve reached a point in your story where one of your characters needs to make a decision. Do they turn left or right? Do they rush in a rescue the princess or slip away into the shadows? Should they confront the bad guy now or live to fight another day?

As a writer you have the power to make that choice. Even where you character seems to have a life of its own, it is still your choice because you’re the one who controls the words. Whatever you decide, be bold. Send your character into the unknown by forcing them to confronting their own Doubt Demon.

Yes, characters can have them too!

And if you can do it in your story, then have the ability to translate this into your real life. Sounds like a breeze when reading it on a screen but in actual fact it isn’t that hard to do. You might be a timid, quiet spoken, always in the background type of person, but that shouldn’t stop you from making bold decisions.

Put yourself in your characters shoes for a moment.

They’ve just killed the dragon and rescued the princess from the burning tower. In real life your dragon and princess could be any number of things, for instance:

  • Dragon – Boss at work. Confront them about working conditions and win over your Princess – Better Pay/Surroundings for you and your co-workers.
  • Dragon – Rude Checkout Girl/Boy. Confront them about their poor attitude and win your Princess – An apology & more enjoyable supermarket visit.
  • Dragon – Fear of Flying. Confront this by seeing a therapist and win your Princess – Fly to see a loved one.

You get the idea?

Once you’ve made the decision to do something, don’t let the Doubt Demon say another word, step up and be bold!

# 5 Share Your Passion!

I found a poster that sums up this section really well! So I’ll leave you with that, dear blog reader, may it inspire you to share your passion with others!

That’s all folks! I’m off to eat yummy food! Tweet ya later!

Write for you. Write with passion. Love it. Live it.

###

What have you learned from NaNoWriMo or writing in general?

If you have any writing tips and advice and feel like sharing, pop me an email or rant in the box below!

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About Dave Farmer

Wordsmith & Lifetime member of Imaginationland! Writing is my passion. I'm working on my novel, The Range - a story of survival, friendship & courage. Every time I sit down to write I look forward to reaching The Zone, that place where words flow from mind to hand and everything slips into place.

Posted on December 8, 2011, in NaNoWriMo, Writing Advice and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. I love your analogy from the forest (I thought it was broccoli to begin with), to the treee, down to the branch and finally a single leaf.

    If you don’t get this because I don’t know where all my comments are ending up due to a wordpress gremlin…I am thinking of you and reading your posts.

    Kind regards,
    PiP

    • Just read your Spam post PiP, and sadly yes, your comment was in my spam folder, but I’ve marked your comments as Not Spam. I don’t quite understand why this happens, I know WP sticks stuff in the spam folder when there are 2 or more links in but yours didn’t have any.

      I do know that when you email WP it can take a few days for them to reply, and even then it may take a back and forth discussion to get things fixed. Hope it does tho!

  2. This is an awesome post Dave. You’ve done it again. I love your blend of humour, down to earth advice with lots of great tidbits to chew on. Bravo.

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