Writing as a Path to Honesty

Inspired by a recent post by Jeff Goins, I thought I’d share my reasons for why I write:

One thing of my personal goals is to see the world as clearly as I possibly can. It’s not possible to view the world objectively, of course. I have too much baggage — prejudices, biases, beliefs, and cultural conditioning — to claim that I can do that.

Still, it’s always possible to see the world more clearly. Seeing the world clearly requires challenging our prejudices, biases, beliefs, and cultural conditioning. It requires the ability to say, “I am wrong.” More importantly, it requires changing our beliefs and behavior when proven wrong.

How does writing tie into this?

Good writing challenges us. It makes us rethink how we view ourselves and the world. In good writing — whether fiction, nonfiction, poetry, or some other form — we are forced to look at things through a point of view that is different from our own, sometimes radically so, and when we finish reading it, we can’t just go back to looking at the world the same way we did before. Even if we disagree with it, it nonetheless changes how we view the world, if only in subtle ways.

Reading good writing is a powerful experience, but I believe it is more important to write something powerful. When I write, it is primarily for myself, even if I plan to show it to other people. I usually don’t know what I may learn from any given project. My writing is the teacher and I am the student, in other words. Even a simple short story can teach me something new or profound.

When I write, I try not to let my baggage influence the story’s direction. During the editing phase, I will think deeply about the story’s plot and pacing and will make changes as necessary, but during the writing phase, I try to keep my influence on the story and characters to a bare minimum.

Thus, by taking a mostly hands-off approach to writing, I end up with what I believe is a more honest story. It will not always confirm my own beliefs and prejudices. But it will help me see the world more clearly.

This is why I write. This is why I will always write.

-Tim

Immersive Writing

When I write, it is important that I immerse myself in the characters and world I am writing about. I cannot be a mere observer on the sidelines, mechanically recording the actions and thoughts and feelings of my characters or what their world looks like. I have to force myself to feel what they feel, think what they think, believe what they believe, see what they see, until I can start thinking of them as real people and not just figments of my imagination.

I consider this an essential part of organic writing (you can read about my organic writing process here). Because I don’t have a tidy outline to refer to when I am unsure what to write next, I need to know my characters and world almost as well as I know myself. I need to know what a character would or wouldn’t do under certain circumstances. I need to know what problems might occur in this world.

I rarely start out immersed in my worlds, however. It usually requires time for me to become fully immersed in the stories I write about. I know I have achieved immersion when I feel the same things they do and when I am thinking about my world and characters even when I am not writing about them.

As a result, sometimes the fictional world feels more real to me than the real world. I’m no Daydream Believer. I can tell the difference between fiction and real life. Yet in order to write stories that are genuine, I’ve found I need to blur the differences in my mind, make the dividing line between fiction and real life less clear than it normally is.

In other words, telling myself “It’s just a story, none of these characters are real, none of this really happened” is the most unproductive thing I can tell myself while writing. At the very least, I need to feel that my stories are “real” because if I don’t my readers won’t care about the characters, their world, or the things happening to them.

After all, isn’t that one of our goals as writers? If we are not convinced of the truth of our stories, then our readers won’t be, either, and they won’t want to read. Or if they do read, it’s unlikely they’ll finish or want to pick it up again or recommend it to other people.

Therefore, in order for my readers to believe the truth of my stories, I myself need to feel that my stories are “real.” At least I need to feel that way until the story is finished, anyhow.

How do you go about immersing yourself in your work? Do you find it easy or is it difficult? Do you do anything special to immerse yourself in your work or do you just let it happen naturally while you create?

-Tim

NaNoWriMo: Winner!

As of this morning, I hit the 50,000 word mark on my NaNoWriMo novel, The Mad Voyage of Prince Malock. I find this worth noting because it is the first time I have ever hit 50k before the month is even halfway over.

For the last four NaNos, I’ve almost always hit 50k just before, on, or right after Thanksgiving. Nothing wrong with that, of course. Whether you hit 50k on the first day or last, as long as you do it, you already have a chunk of a novel (or, in some cases, an entire novel) finished.

And that’s what NaNoWriMo is really all about anyway: Writing a novel, even if it isn’t very good. 50k is just a way to get you started. Hopefully, if you reach 50k and your novel isn’t done yet, you will try to finish it.

I’m just shocked at how fast I wrote that many words. I suspect it’s because my schedule this year has been a bit different from past years. I’ve been writing two hours a day every day and I am a very fast typist, so two hours is usually enough to get a good chunk of words down. I may blog more about other factors that contributed to this, perhaps in December when this is all over.

My novel still isn’t quite done yet, so I am going to keep writing it until I finish it. I have a feeling the entire novel will be around 100k by the time I finish, but don’t expect to see it published for some time; after all, this is only the first draft and first drafts are rarely, if ever, suited for publication.

What about the rest of y’all? Where are you in your NaNo novel? If you’ve participated in NaNo before, what is the fastest time you’ve ever hit the 50k mark?

-Tim

Neil Gaiman on Reading and Libraries

Neil Gaiman delivered an excellent lecture the Reading Agency at the Babican in London recently.

It’s a very good lecture, well worth the read. My favorite part was the line “Fiction is the lie that tells the truth, after all.”

I confess that I have not actually read any of Neil Gaiman’s stories yet. But if they’re even half as good as this lecture, then I may just have to stop by my local library and pick one up. Any suggestions?

-Tim