Yeah, you do sort of need one to be a writer contrary to what many who know me think of me. I’d like to say a little bit more about the mind for two reasons: one is that it is the primary tool you use when writing. Second, to write good characters, you need to understand the mind because it is the driving force behind your characters’ actions.
As a “machine” the brain is very inefficient. Physiological psychologists estimate that we use less than ten percent of our brain’s capabilities. (Rent the Albert Brooks movie Defending Your Life and see how he uses this in his story.) In many ways, that is what makes writing fiction so hard and draining: you are trying to expand the portion of your mind that you normally use and tap into your subconscious. A little bit of understanding of that other 90 or so percent is useful. It is commonly called the subconscious or the unconscious and plays a very large role in determining our character (key buzz word). Whether you agree with people such as Freud and Jung, it is useful to know a little bit about their theories. A fully rounded character has a complete brain and while they may only consciously be using ten percent, that other ninety percent affects their actions.
As a writer you will start having dreams about your story and your characters. That is your mind working even when you consciously aren’t. You will also run into “writer’s block” which I believe, when real, is your subconscious telling you to hold until you realize in your conscious mind something important with regard to the story. This is where the “write what you feel” school of creative writing comes in. I believe what they are focusing on is this very thing: the power of the subconscious (90% vs. 10%). It is more than feeling though; it is a large part of your brain and the better you can get in touch with it and use it, the better your writing will be.
There are many experiences a writer should have in order to understand both their own mind and the minds of other people. You have to remember that you are not the template for the rest of humanity. Hard as it may be for some to believe, there are differences between people.
I’ve sometimes said the best thing about a writers’ group is not necessarily the critiquing or networking, but rather watching the different ‘characters’ in the group and trying to figure out what is motivating them to act the way they do.
If you don’t understand yourself both mentally and emotionally, you might have a hard time understanding others. Therapy can be a very useful tool for a writer to dig into their own mind to figure out where they are coming from. Yes, if you’re a writer, you need help as I recommend in Write It Forward.
After listening to many authors speak of their creative processes I realize they are talking on two levels. There’s what they are saying and there is what they are meaning. The saying part often varies, but they almost always mean the same thing. For example, there is the issue of outlining. I know writers who swear by outlining and others who say they don’t outline at all, they just write. However, I’ve also found those who don’t outline tend to do a lot of rewriting, thus the first draft of their manuscript might be considered a very detailed outline. Those writers who do a lot of outlining tend to not want to do much rewriting. But in the final analysis, although the two methods seem very different, they are actually the same in creative essence.
Also remember that there are two sides to the brain. The right side is your creative part while the left is more analytical and logical– this is where the editor part of you resides. Sometimes you have to silence that editor while creating or else nothing will get done.
Are you left brain dominant or right brain dominant, or just plain nuts?
I’m still continuing posts for Nanowrimo, focused on craft, since it’s not over yet, is it?
Remember something about the art of writing: It is the only art form that is not sensual. I’m not saying you can write sensual material, but rather the way the art impacts your senses. You can see the colors and strokes that make a painting, feel a sculpture, and hear music. The manner in which each individual piece in those fields impacts on the senses is different. But every writer uses the same letters on a piece of paper. You have twenty-six letters that combine to form words, which are the building blocks of your sentences and paragraphs. Everyone has the same words, and when I write that word and you write it, that word goes into the senses of the reader in the same way. It’s how we weave them together that impact the conscious and subconscious mind of the reader that makes all the difference in the world.
A book comes alive in the reader’s mind. You use the sole medium of the printed word to get the story from your mind to the reader’s. It is the wonder of writing to create something out of nothing. Every book started with just an idea in someone’s head. Isn’t that a fantastic concept?
Writers learn by writing. And before that, by being voracious readers.
In essence, writing is no different from any other profession. It’s a simple rule, but one that every one wants to ignore: the more you write, the better you will become. Practically every author I’ve ever talked to, or listened to, or read about in an interview, says the same thing. I saw Stephen King on C-Span and he said the most important thing to do to become an author is to write a lot. That is one of the reasons so many people are participating in this month’s Nanowrimo. One writing professor said you needed to write a million words before expecting to get published. I’m currently around word five million and still learning so much.
Let’s look at the positive side: The odds are strongly against getting published. But simply by taking the time and the effort to learn from these words and participating in Nanowrimo, you are increasing your odds. By continuing to write beyond your first manuscript, you vastly increase your odds. Many writers gush over the amount of money John Grisham made for The Firm but they forget that A Time To Kill was published previously to lackluster sales and failed. What is important to note about that was that Grisham realized he hadn’t done something right and worked hard to change. Note that Grisham did not sit still and bemoan what his agent/editor/publisher etc. didn’t do to help the novel. He didn’t complain that the reading public didn’t understand his brilliance. He worked on the one person he knew he could change: himself (a tenet of Write It Forward).
From talking with other published writers, I have found it is common that somewhere between manuscript numbers three and six, comes the breakthrough to publication. How many people are willing to do that much work? Not many, which is why not many succeed and how you can vastly increases your chances of beating the odds. Publishers do not want to make a one-time investment in a writer. When a publisher puts out a book, they are backing that writer’s name and normally want to have more than one book in the pipeline. Multiple book contracts are very common; with their inherent advantages and disadvantages. As soon as you type THE END on your first manuscript (and I mean THE END after numerous rewrites), the absolute first thing you must do is begin writing your second. With self-publishing, I recommend having at least three books before putting much time and effort into marketing.
Publishing has changed drastically and there are new opportunities for writers to get their novels into the hands of their readers. Traditional publishing isn’t the only viable option for the 21st century author. Self-publishing is quickly becoming the new medium for mid-list authors, and new authors. Amanda Hocking self-published her way into a two-million dollar contract with St. Martins Press. Myself, Connie Brockway, Barry Eisler, LJ Sellers and JA Konrath have all either written ourselves out of NY contracts or turned down a NY contract and ventured out on our own and have been successful.
As someone who wants to be in the entertainment business, you have to study those who have succeeded and failed in that business. Read interviews with people in the arts and entertainment industries and you will find a common theme: a lot of years of sweat equity put in before the big “break” came. I’ve read of and heard actors and comedians talk about spending decades working in the trenches before they became famous. Musicians who sang back-up for years before becoming lead. Painters who toiled in squalor (and often died) before their work was recognized.
Study the lives of writers. Read interviews with authors and see what they say. Go to conferences and talk to them. Listen to them talk about several things: how they became authors, how they live, how they feel about writing, how they write. Many worked very strange jobs before getting published. Almost all struggled and spent many years of suffering before they succeeded. I say suffering in terms of financial or career terms, not in terms of the writing itself. Most writers enjoy writing.
People seem to think that writers are different and, while in some highly publicized cases they are, most published writers have spent many years slugging away before even their first novel was published.
Simple perseverance counts for a lot. I think many people with talent lack the drive and fall out of the picture and people with maybe not as much talent but more drive take their place. It’s the difference between having a growth mindset and a fixed mindset. People with talent often believe they know all they ever need to know, so therefore their mind is fixed. Those who believe there is always something more to learn, have a growth mindset.
Let’s get back to where I talked about people in other professions doing a work practicum. Besides writing novels and reading, the other advice I would give would be to attend conferences and workshops. It is a worthwhile investment of your time and money to go to workshops and conferences. Not just to learn, but also to network. Because of that, the first Write It Forward ‘short’ my publishing company released is How To Get The Most Out Of Your Time And Money At A Writer’s Conference.
A college student once interviewed me and she asked me what she could do to become a better writer. I replied with my usual “Write a lot,” then thought for a second, looking at this nineteen year old woman. Then I said: “Live a lot. Experience life, because that is what you are eventually going to be writing about.”
What things do you suggest writers do in order to help themselves become better writers?