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More on Originality

Sorry the posts haven’t been coming as quick and fast as they were in the past. I’ve had a super busy past week and my life has been consumed with other things.  So here is a quick quote on originality to chew on:

Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it.” – C. S. Lewis

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Failure Breeds Success

I am sure that some are born to write as trees are born to bear leaves: for these, writing is a necessary mode of their own development. If the impulse to write survives the hope of success, then one is among these. If not, then the impulse was at best only pardonable vanity, and it will certainly disappear when the hope is withdrawn.” – C. S. Lewis

All writers hope for success. Duh. But can you persevere through failure after failure before finally becoming successful? As Thomas Edison put it, “I failed my way to success.” The greatest works in the history of mankind, in literature, science, or anything else, have almost always been proceeded by failure after failure. I read somewhere that C. S. Lewis was rejected 800 times before being published. Today, he is considered among the greatest writers of the 20th century. Those hundreds of rejections seem daft in light of the reputation he carries today.

I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life and that is why I succeed.” – Michael Jordan

A successful man is one who can lay a firm foundation with the bricks others have thrown at him.” – David Brinkley

Success is falling nine times and getting up ten.” – Jon Bon Jovi

As I continue to edit my novel, I believe the disappointment of not trying will be greater than the disappointment of failure. Anytime you take on something challenging, whether you “succeed” or not, if you give it your best shot, you’ll grow stronger. Keep failing. Some kind of success will come if you don’t give up.

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Writer’s Block: Part 2

This is my second in a series of posts in which I hope to lay down some thoughts and tips on overcoming writers block. You can view part one by clicking here. Don’t think that because I’m writing on how you can overcome writers block that it doesn’t affect me. It is a battle that not only authors have to fight, but students and anyone else who writes on a regular basis. I struggle with it at least a few times a week in my writing.

You know those days when the words just flow so freely from your keyboard that you can hardly type fast enough?  It’s the dream scenario for those who love to write. It’s like catching every green light in town on your way to the store. You just keep going. Nothing can stop you. I’ve churned out 20 pages before on such days.

Then, there are those days when you sit down at your desk, knowing you need to write, even knowing what you need to write, but you can’t find the words. It’s like there is a mental block. You begin to wonder if you have digressed back to the third grade. This isn’t how it is suppose to be. You are a writer! You’ve done this before. The words should come freely. Nonetheless, you just don’t know what to put down on paper. Everything you start writing seems stupid and senseless. You delete that first sentence you took ten minutes to cook up and start all over. Writers block.

Tip #3: Write something else. If you can’t find the words you need on one writing project, work on another. Once you have your creative juices flowing it will be easier to go back and get something going on that first project. I’ve tried this many times and it seems to work.

Tip #4: Realize nothing is going to be perfect! This is huge. I’m such a perfectionist, especially when it comes to writing. Every word has to be perfect. Some days I become consumed with this mentality and spend almost an hour on just a few paragraphs. A few hours on the opening paragraphs of a story is one thing. What I’m talking about is excessive. Sometimes we think too hard about things. If you can remind yourself your project will not be perfect (especially the first draft) you may find yourself able to continue. Don’t sit and wait for words from above… write.

When it comes to “perfection”, remember: “The greatest achievement is to outperform yourself.” – Denis Waitley

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How to Become a Better Writer

What you want is practice, practice, practice. It doesn’t matter what we write (at least this is my view) at our age, so long as we write continually as well as we can. I feel that every time I write a page either of prose or of verse, with real effort, even if it’s thrown into the fire the next minute, I am so much further on.”  – C. S. Lewis

That’s right. Becoming a better writer is really that simple… and that hard. You have to write, and write , and write. As C. S. Lewis said, you learn something nearly everytime you write, even if you throw it away in the end. In the novel I am editing, I completely trashed three chapters and rewrote them. Four chapters evolved out of the revision process. It was difficult to do, but I definitely improved the story by doing so.

You learn things as you write. Reading enough blogs or attending more classes won’t guarantee better writing. If you want to turn that pen into a sword, you have to wield it constantly. Think of all the writers you respect who have their style and voice down. It took them years to get to that point. I’m still searching for my style and voice. As with anything else in life, if you want to excel, you have to work hard. Just as pro sports players spend thousands of hours in the gym to become the best they can be, you have to spend hours upon hours at your desk.

Keep writing. You will become better with every page.

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Literature Adds to Reality

So today will be a short post, but a post nonetheless. I found this quote from one of my favorite writers, Clive Staples Lewis, to be profound (as always).

Literature adds to reality, it does not simply describe it. It enriches the necessary competencies that daily life requires and provides; and in this respect, it irrigates the deserts that our lives have already become.” – C.S. Lewis

This so true. The creation and exploration of other worlds only helps to enhance this once. Stories are like dreams. How dull sleep would be without them! Yes, there would be no more nightmares without dreams, but there would also be no wondrously impossible dreams. Stories are like waking dreams. In them, we can go places we could have never gone before.

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Descriptive Writing

“We are all apprentices in a craft that no one ever becomes a master.” – Ernest Hemingway

Descriptive writing. That and character dialogue make up most of a novel. I personally abhor books that drag on and on and on with descriptions. Others might enjoy the lengths authors such as J.R.R. Tolkien go to set a scene, but I tend to strive for a quick action, movie like approach to writing. Sometimes I find myself feeling smug in the fact that if my book has any problem, its briefness, not excessive descriptions. However, have I taken my intent to be more brief too far?

You need a perfect blend of descriptiveness to make a scene (and novel) work. In some areas you will need to cut or revise descriptions. In others, you will need to add. Below are some ideas for revising, cutting, or adding descriptions.

Idea #1: Let your characters “describe” during their dialogue. Let them discuss what it is you are trying to get your reader to envision.

Idea #2: Most of the time, less is more. Try to keep this in mind. It’s hard to not have enough description. Oftentimes, your (intelligent) reader will fill in any gaps you leave with their imagination. This is typically a good thing. Give a framework, but allow your readers individual and unique imagination to create the rest of the scene.

Idea #3: Sprinkle descriptions. You might want to cut that huge paragraph (or paragraphs) you have setting the scene and spread the description through the scene as your character interacts with it.

Idea 4#: Ensure your descriptions add to the story and move it forward. Don’t add description for it’s own sake. Sometime it’s tempting to describe things that are relatively irrelevant to the story. Don’t do that. Even if you have a great description of a character but that character doesn’t really play a role in the story, leave it out. Only describe what you must.

I love great descriptions. They really add to a story. But remember, when it comes to descriptions, quality is better than quantity.

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Originality: is it Possible?

After thousands of years, hundreds of generations, and millions of books, is it possible to be original at all? This is something I have been thinking about lately. I want my book to be entirely unique; a one-of-a-kind story like no other. But in the end, don’t we draw all our “new” ideas from old ones? Past experiences, previously learned information, and age old archetypes influence us all. Below is an interesting quote on originality and authenticity. My verdict and thoughts on it will follow.

“Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination. Devour old films, new films, music, books, paintings, photographs, poems, dreams, random conversations, architecture, bridges, street signs, trees , clouds, bodies of water, light and shadows. Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic.

Authenticity is invaluable; originality is non-existent.

And don’t bother concealing your thievery – celebrate if it you feel like it. In any case remember what Jean-Luc Godard said: “It’s not where you take things from – it’s where you take them to.”

Jim Jarmusch

I agree, to a degree, with Jarmusch here. As I said above, so much has been written that it is nearly possible to come up with something so new it has never been considered by the human race. But as Jean-Luc Godard said: “It’s not where you take things from – it’s where you take them to.” In all honestly, not many of the individual parts and ideas of your stories will be original. However, I believe a story in its entirety can be authentic and something new. Yes, you may have a king, or an Empire, or a terrible betrayal. Those have all been written about in various forms a thousand times over. But your king, or your Empire, or your terrible betrayal can be like none other. Stories will always have similarities to others, but you can take your story where no other has gone before.

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