Concept: Quitting

One of my new favorite podcasts is one that has very little to do with writing, but a lot to do with life. It’s called Freakonomics, and their tagline is a podcast “About the hidden side of everything.” Kinda vague, I know, as their topics can be quite random. However, there is one specific topic that prompted me to write for you, dear readers, today – The Upside to Quitting. You can find that episode here. Go check it out now, if you like.

I’ll assume you’ve listened to it, or at least have the gist. The point I wanted to make was taking this philosophy and applying it to writing.

How often have you written, been trying to write something and it simply would not budge? How often have you thought “If I can just keep at it, I’ll figure it out?” I know I have.

Imagine you have yourself a story you’ve been working on and thinking about for years. Maybe there are holes, the inner story just isn’t very good, or you’ve created characters that you just simply love. We’ve all heard the Kill Your Darlings routine, and there’s the phrase “Quitters never win, and winners never quit.” What I’m suggesting is simply to think of your stories, your novels, your characters, even (gasp) your genre, and invert that thought.

How likely would you believe that setting aside a project in its entirety, for the sole purpose of starting anew, might be the best creative decision you could possibly make?

It may be that you’re not in need of anything like this. Or, perhaps you are, but you don’t know it yet. The point is to think and consider other options. After all, what would you be writing if you weren’t writing your current project?

Concept: Clever Writing

I recently read a post (http://tinyurl.com/pgt5gd8) by C.S. Lakin about cleverness in writing. Left me thinking, which I like to think is a positive response after spending fifteen minutes reading. This is more or less my response to that; I urge you to go and read it for yourself.

I personally don’t consider myself a clever writer and as far as I know, people who read me don’t think so either. The examples provided by Lakin illustrate his point very well, though; memorable lines hook us, keep us reading, and just might bring us back to the same book for a reread. I can attest to this, as many can I’m sure, as I’ve read a number of NewYorkTimes Bestsellers that left me wondering :”How did this sell at all?” Sometimes there are books that have a good idea, but are written poorly.

The only bit of text I can think of that was about something I really didn’t enjoy, but was unarguably written well (and cleverly at times) was Lolita. But I walked away from that one with a bad taste in my mouth as well.

Anyway.

I would ask of you, dear readers, whether or not you think clever writing l can excuse a bad story? Or the other way around, can a good story excuse poor writing quality?

As for me, I think both can. They just usually don’t.

Experience: Camping

There’s something to be said about spending the night beyond the confines of a ventilated, insulated dwelling. Spending time outdoors has become the subject of vacations and recreation in the developed world, with the most common and readily knkwn form, known as camping.

I always enjoy comparing the practices of modern humans to that of our ancestors anywhere between 10,000 and 100 years ago, since we/they aren’t really that different and physiologically haven’t changed all that much. The fact that we occasionally do for fun what our predecessors did when simply trying to not die, well, I’ve always found peculiar. Sex, hunting, and living outdoors have all seemed to take on new meanings to most folk.

Recently I was partaking a camping trip with some friends, who were for the most part unprepared for the experience. I had camped a lot in my youth, and practically lived in the woods until I was old enough to set up a dial-up internet connection. But these folk with whom I was camping were city people, one of whom had never in her life seen a deer. I knew I’d sort of taken for granted the experiences of “the woods” when I watched my companions attempt to lift a hatchet. They’d never cut a piece of wood in their life either, and not that I blame them, but it really left an impression.

It’s simple, I know. There are a lot of legitimate reasons for why a city-dweller would have no (need for) practical camping skills. But it reminded me how much in fantasy that too is taken for granted.

Take Frodo and the other hobbits who followed Strider/Aragorn out off into the sticks. They weren’t really all that happy, but they adjusted, and obviously the story isn’t about that. But these were folk who were quite at home in the Shire and as ‘earthy’ as the hobbits are, they lack the general toughness to just go out and sleep on some rocks.

The point is that I often read stories about people who otherwise spend their lives indoors up until the events of the story. Then when faced with going to eat/sleep/live outdoors for awhile (or in some cases and undetermined or uncertain amount of time), the characters just adapt without complaint or difficulty. I find this unconvincing.

Granted, a few paragraphs-worth of description regarding some character’s aversion toward sleeping with a log for a pillow might drag the plot a bit, but personally I prefer believable reactions are effective for character development, and by extension, contribute to story.

In other words, go try and sleep outside – camping lots, public park, front lawn, who cares – and see how prepared you are with keeping warm, fed, and comfortable. If you can translate that experience to your characters, profit.

Across Generations

So I was with my seventy-year-old mother the other day and I stopped to see what she was watching. Sitting comfortably upon her living-room couch, my mother has a penchant for watching various dramas on her laptop, and recently she acquired the complete seasons of Game of Thrones.

Now I’ve mentioned this series many times here, as plenty of other folks have, but I just felt like sharing the experience with you, dear readers. After all, we all understand that A Game of Thrones is great and popular, sure sure, and the reasons for which can be both obvious and obscure. Driving plots, fun characters, decent action and, of course, explicit sex.

Every time I sit down to watch a few minutes of GoT with my mother, someone gets railed and ridden abruptly. I’m no prude and it’s not like my mother is someone who flinches at the sight of the human body, but I can’t help but feel like an awkward teenager whenever that happens. Usually I end up watching for a moment, supremely hyper-aware that I’m essentially watching pornography next to my aging flower-child hippy mum, and then leave to go do something urgent that now demands my attention.

I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised that a seventy-year-old woman is enjoying the show. The author of the stories himself is approaching that age bracket too.

I wonder what I’ll be seeing when I’m a senior citizen?