Writing for writers?

I’m going to tie a couple of recent blog posts together today. I’m reading a great non-fiction book called ‘Blink’ by Malcolm Gladwell. It explores the quick decision making process we all employ every day, and more importantly when we decide to act on them or ignore them.

Among many interesting case studies and research anecdotes, it talks of two people who are professional tasters. Not only are they able to easily distinguish the difference between Coke and Pepsi with the same ease as if comparing wine and water, but they are able to pick up on the nuances between batches of the exact same product!

This got me thinking about my previous post about phenomenon books. Generally writers don’t like phenomenon books (and it’s not just jealousy). But these phenomenons are not pushed along by writers, they are driven by readers. In much the same way as a bag of Smiths salt and vinegar chips will always taste the same to me, but have glaring seasonal variations for the professional taster, readers do not always know the rules of writing, so when those rules are broken they don’t let it impact on their enjoyment of the book.

I read the Da Vinci Code before I joined my Melbourne writers group, and therefore before I learned many of the skills of good writing that I now know, and I loved the Da Vinci Code as much as anyone else.

Two years ago I picked it up again with the intention of reverse engineering it to try and work out what made it so popular. This time I really struggled with it. Point of view slips left me confused in some places and as you know Bob’s* were sprinkled all the way through it –how had I missed all this before?

Just like a taster can probably no longer eat mass-market brie and enjoy it, I (and many of you who comment here) have got to the point where we can no longer enjoy writing which breaks the rules unintentionally.

In some ways I am grateful for all the rules I still don’t know or haven’t mastered because I think that maybe that lack of knowledge allows me to read and enjoy a lot of popular books that many of my writer friends dismiss or dislike.

This does kind of beg the question… Who are we writing for then? Readers, or writers? I guess the answer always comes back to that same truth in writing fiction, a rule one could almost say; always write for yourself, if nothing else your rule breaking is set at the perfect level for your enjoyment.

*As you know Bob refers to the act of a character telling another character something that both of them know, purely for the purpose of letting the reader know. “As you know, Bob, we have never successfully herded the cats into a pen, but this time might be different.” Bob already knows that.

Million dollar ideas

In one of the many self-help/motivation/entrepreneur books I read a while back it said that everybody has at least one million dollar idea a year, but most of us ignore them. By this it meant each of us comes up with an idea for something that if built and marketed could easily net their creator a million dollars of profit.

While I’m sure there is no real science behind that claim, I can’t help but think it is true. You just have to look at those just do it kinds of people who have started four multi-million dollar businesses by the time they are 21 to know it is obviously true for some.

I got an idea for an app the other day which I am sure would make millions, it is just working out how to develop it that stopped me following it up (for now). I constantly have ideas for new novels, which I diligently write down in my stories to follow up one day notebook (really, I should say collection; there are five notepads full of ideas now). Could one of those be a previous year’s million dollar idea?

I wonder if in today’s immediate gratification world if we aren’t just a little too lazy to set ourselves free sometimes. Sure, I’ve finished a couple of novels (which will now never see the light of day) but when all is said and done, I really could have at least ten unpublished novels by now if I had applied myself over this past decade.

Do you have a million dollar idea, writing or otherwise, that you never followed up? Imagine if you did follow it through to the end. Imagine how much better the world might be if we all did?!?

Fifty shades of red

We regularly see phenomenon books rise from the pack, books which suddenly everyone wants to read; The Harry Potter series, The Da Vinci Code, the Twilight series, and now it is 50 Shades of Grey. While often these phenomenon books tend to be genre, what sets this recent tome apart from the rest is the saucy nature of its genre; er0tica.

When I first saw it advertised in Target and K-mart I assumed it was another YA paranormal romance, and due to its obvious popularity put it on my list of books to read. Then I saw some reviews and at last I read some excerpts… This was not a YA paranormal romance!

Suddenly I noticed my boss was reading it, my work colleagues, even mousy looking people were reading it on the bus! ON THE BUS! And no-one batted an eyelid. I wonder if I pulled out the old 70s Joy of $ex book that my parents thought they had hidden on the top shelf, if people would find it as unremarkable? Believe me, I don’t mind that people are reading it, I just find it peculiar that they would do so on the bus. I see them reading it and I blush on their behalf.  

It is great to see liberation of the masses at work, I just hope it doesn’t extend to the guy I sit next to on the bus who watches bad US comedies on his iPhone. Maybe he’ll get it into his head that anything goes now. Then again, if he changes his viewing habits maybe the seat next to him will no longer be free by the time the bus gets to my stop 😉

Freedom requires discipline

This weekend I got to hang out with a writer friend and talk about writing at great length. One thing that writers are always really good at is talking about writing –even if they are not so good at actually doing the writing.

She gave me the quote I’m using for the title of this blog and I wanted to share it because it really resonated with me. At first glance it seems like a contradiction; how can discipline lead to freedom? Discipline seems like the self-imposed removal of freedom, but there’s the key, SELF-imposed. You are free to exercise your own discipline, or not as the case may be. 

If you want the freedom to write, to get that publishing deal and put out the novels that are in your head, then you need to find the discipline to write them. Easy really.

So tonight, I’m going to exercise some self-discipline and get some writing done!

Writing the bit you see

I was reading a piece of advice from a writer which I have heard a million times before (and ignored every time). This time it occurred to me that maybe there was a reason why I kept hearing this advice? Maybe there was something to it and I should give it a go?

That advice was simply to write the scene in your novel that you see when you think of the novel, the bit you want to write. All of us have a scene we know will always make the final cut, even before the first word has been put to the page, that is the scene you should write when you are stuck on a novel.

As a chronological order writer it almost feels to me like cheating to skip ahead and write the scene that you cannot wait to get to. I feel like I need to earn the right to write it by first slogging through all the bits that get me there. The problem is often because of the slog, I never actually get there.

Maybe if you were to write this scene it would give you the motivation to bring all of the novel to life so you can give the scene a home? Perhaps having that scene tangibly written would let you read over it and reflect when you find yourself getting lost in the minutiae of the novel? Who knows what might happen, but it has got to be better than a half written story sitting in your bottom drawer.

I know that nearly half my blog readers are also writers, so I would love to hear from you about your experience with this. Have you done it? Do you always do it? Does it help? I’m also going to break my rules and give it a go as well on a scene from a novel which has not gone beyond chapter 5 in the past four years. The scene I’m thinking of is the pivotal, changing moment in the book, and I would love to see it come to life outside of my brain.

Let’s see what impact it has and I’ll let you know how I go.

Happy writing!