by Destine Williams
Hey everybody! It’s Meditative Monday which means that it’s time for tea, coffee, thoughts, and me sounding more like a fortune cookie than usual.
Over the weekend, I had time to celebrate with friends and family, but also I’ve had time to reflect on becoming an author and now I think I can actually translate the feelings into some valuable things that I learned on writing.
1.) Soft Overcomes Hard
You’re probably wondering what the hell this means and where it comes from. The phrase comes from Lao Tzu and the Tao Te Ching—which I also like a bit very much, and it pretty much boils down to not try to force your way too hard.
It’s true that we are the gods of our story world and can make anything happen at the drop of a hat, but for the love of strawberry-eating hamsters, that does not mean that everything we want to happen should be shoved in…
If you force your story message, force your characters into scene, force the sky to fall, force Ryan Gosling to do the Crazy Chicken dance, then a reader will feel you wolfing your hot moist breath into their readerly ears in all ways gross and uncomfortable.
I’m not saying completely throw all semblance of order out of the window. Order is necessary. I’m also not saying that if you’re a hardcore one hundred percent plotter that you should stop. Always try to work with your natural flow, aka, your path of least resistance.
What I am saying is don’t get so caught up in writing your words, chapters, agendas, flowery descriptions, that you forget that you’re writing a story.
And speaking of stories, I must emphasize…
2.) Don’t Get So Caught Up In Writing Your Novel That You Forget That You’re Telling A Story
If this sounds somewhat ridiculous to you, consider the definitions of a novel and a story below…
a fictitious prose narrative of book length, typically representing character and action with some degree of realism.
an account of imaginary or real people and events told for entertainment.
By these definitions, the only real requirements for a novel is a) being a fictitious series of events, b) a certain length, and c) having some arbitrary level of realism.
A novel, for some bizarre reason, not obligated to be liked, enjoyed, bought, cared about, or good. But a story is told for entertainment, which means it better be good.
Now sure one may argue that with a novel being a narrative is a story by nit-picky deduction, but the thing about novels is that there is often a bigger concern with its length and prose than there is about the entertainment factor. It is a product.
I don’t have any issues with regarding a story as a product. I’m a firm believer that once you hit ‘publish’, ‘submit’, or sign your soul away on a traditional contract deal then your book baby is a product that needs to be sold. And the writer has to pull up their breeches and put their business hats on or nobody gets food.
And square-dancing gods almighty know that I love me some food.
The problem comes only when someone keeps seeing their novel as something to make money and not as a story that people are supposed to read. You’ve probably come across books like this already.
It lured you in with its cover. The excerpt seemed promising and the product description was stupidly epic.
But then you read it and disappointment was everywhere just like when you go into the fridge for that two liter bottle of soda and realize that it’s horribly, horribly flat (even though when you shake it, it still has plenty of bubbles.)
Silliness aside though, let the writing come first.
3.) Be Fully Present In Writing
Ever have those days when you’re just so in the zone while writing that you don’t even notice that you’ve been sitting in your pajamas until 5pm and your tea/coffee/frappucino is pretty much either too cold, melted, or downright undrinkable because the damn thing steeped way too long?
Welcome to the wonderful world of derpy things I do.
But I don’t sweat that too much because a good day of writing is well worth the cold tea and questionable ash forming on my elbows. It’s like being drunk without having to pay for alcohol, or being buzzed without smoking and the threat of lungs that look suspiciously like Kingsford charcoal.
You’re intoxicated with happiness, feelings, and sensations. When a character’s hand brushes over their lover’s, you feel the electric rush. When a character eats a salad you taste the tangy Zesty Italian dressing, the creamy avocado, and crumbled feta cheese. When a character releases an ungodly fart into a closed elevator, you are just as convinced as the MC that some people just want to see the world burn.
It is one of the best states to be in (well not the elevator part), and one that I’d like to study much more carefully alongside mindfulness meditation. The two go hand in hand like PB&J for me, and I figure that if I can figure out how to sink deeper into my own writing then I can figure out how to help a reader do the same.
4.) Room For Improvement Isn’t A Threat But A Very Good Friend If You Know How To Deal With It
The very notion of feedback can leave us shaking in our boots. Some people are so vicious that they will rip your story to shreds and leave you in a puddle of tears. I’ve never been torn down to that point, and I probably won’t because I’ve learned to distinguish between criticism that you should act on and criticism that you should not.
And here is the difference boiled down into one question:
Did you do it on purpose?
You do not ever have to change something that you threw in on purpose, or anything that you understand 100% percent the pros and cons of.
In my book for example, I write in the present tense throughout the whole thing, even for flashbacks. Sometimes those flashbacks come right behind scenes in the story’s present with no clear indication that they are set in the past.
I understand 100% that it if the average newcomer reads it, they are going to be hella confused.
And that’s okay. You are supposed to be.
That knee-jerk “wait-a-minute” moment is intended. Sure it will turn some people off. That is why it is used carefully in section intros, not willy-nilly. The past and present see-saw is also a series standard, which means that if a reader keeps reading the series, then you smart peeps will instantly be able to recognize that “Oh okay, this is the past scene and this is the present scene” without being told. But in addition to that, it is as much literary choice as it is a stylistic one.
It’s only when you throw something in the story and with absolutely no clue what you’re doing or have no clue that it ruins the story mood or experience of a reader. Or if something is missing that shouldn’t be.
Stuff like this you should change because it means you overlooked something that you shouldn’t have.
On that note, other stuff that you aren’t obligated worry about:
- People not liking a certain character or having certain conceptions of them. Unless you tried very hard to write a character as one thing and you completely missed the target.
- Personal opinions on what should and shouldn’t happen. Unless what currently happens isn’t supported by the book’s own evidence.
- Personal opinions on who should wind up together and who shouldn’t. Unless your shippings are poorly supported by the book’s own evidence.
- Who should die and who shouldn’t. Unless deaths or non-deaths are not sufficiently supported by your book.
- Being too harsh on some characters. Unless this harshness is just out of the blue or happening for a completely nonsensical reason.
- Or characters not having enough spotlight. Unless there is a well-founded reason grounded within your story’s logic on why a character should be there.
- Opinions on POVs and tense. Unless it is unanimously clear that you either a) wrote the POV very poorly, b) or that you like/suspect that one POV has more benefits over another.
- Anything that you give clear warning for. Because at this point you’d have to ask “Bruh, did you even read?”
- People projecting personal beliefs, insecurities, issues onto what you’ve written. Your book is not the place for someone else’s political views, therapy issues, personal philosophy essays, or their grandma’s newly formed corns and bunions. No one’s book is.
- Things that people misinterpret or make up about your book. Another case of “Bruh, did you even read?” I’ve had people misinterpret a simple shortcake as a metaphor for sex when there was no mention of sex, lust, romance, or body-on-body contact anywhere. It was just a description of a strawberry shortcake.
The world is a strange place.
Now, if you try to appeal to all of these requests, you will more than likely rip your story apart because this shit is not actual feedback.
Does that mean that you should never listen? No. Sometimes people will say something that you did not consider and can make good use of. The trick is knowing the difference.
But also don’t forget that constructive feedback is there to help. Thinking that a story needs none is the kiss of death. Most of the time when we let a story out into a beta reader’s hands for the first time, it is a very sick thing: coughing flat characters, sneezing unintended plot holes, hawkin’ up purple prose, sore typo throat, trope fever…
The poor thing needs some meds and TLC. Don’t let it run around sick and neglected.
But that’s enough out of me. This post went on far longer than I thought it would, so I’m going to chop it in two before it sprouts wings.
Destine Williams is the author of Vicissitude: Yang Side (Lost Earth), musician of its official soundtrack, and the founder of The Zen Zone where she gives tips and tricks to help out fellow writers. If you are interested in more posts like this, check out more here.
Some very useful tips, thank you for sharing them.
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Thanks for the link. I appreciate it.