Learning a New Skill

Whenever I set out to learn a new skill, I generally prefer to have someone show me how its done first while explaining how they do it. Then I try to copy them as best as I can, which inevitably means I make mistakes but that’s okay because the only way to learn is by making mistakes (even though making mistakes is rarely fun, especially embarrassing ones).

Interestingly enough, this isn’t how I learned to write fiction. I didn’t have someone show me how to do it. I just sat down one day and started writing really awful fanfiction (that I cannot find anywhere at the moment). Of course, since then I’ve read countless books, articles, blogs, and videos on the art, craft, and business of fiction writing, but I’ve never had a teacher or mentor of any sort, even though I find the idea of a writing mentor really cool. I’m self-taught, I suppose you could say.

I’m not exactly sure why I like hands-on learning best. I guess it’s because I find explanations and instructions, even well-written ones, difficult to follow. I’ve always appreciated having someone show me how to do it and then letting me try to copy how they did it, even if it means messing up. It’s probably because explanations and instructions, whether verbal or written, are more open to interpretation than watching or doing something yourself, and misinterpreting instructions can cause a lot of grief for everyone involved (especially on projects that require following the instructions to the letter).

This preference for hands-on learning extends to teaching as well. Whenever I have to teach someone something, I usually show them how to do it while explaining what I am doing. I then let them try it themselves; after all, how else am I going to know if they learned something if I never let them try it?

What is your learning style?

Why Aging Doesn’t Scare Me

In response to this prompt:

Aging doesn’t terrify me, the way it does some people. Admittedly, the idea of my body getting weaker, my memory becoming poorer, and losing my health doesn’t make me look forward to it, but I understand that aging is something that happens to everyone and is unavoidable, so it’s best to accept it.

Besides, aging has some advantages over youth. As a 19-year-old, I have a better understanding of the world than I did when I was nine and I will no doubt understand it even better at the age of 29. I will still make mistakes, but I will be able to handle them better because I’ll have the experience to know how to deal with them.

Additionally, as a writer, I am constantly striving to improve, so the older I get, the more time I have to practice and the more stories I get to write. I honestly cannot wait to see what kind of stories I will be writing when I get into my sixties or seventies (assuming, of course, I don’t get into an accident that takes away my ability to write).

Overall, I am looking forward to getting older. I’m enjoying my youth, of course, but I’m constantly thinking long-term and, if all of my plans materialize, I think my older years will be even better than my younger years. One can only hope.

-Tim

Swimming

Swimming is my second favorite activity in the world (next to writing, of course). There’s nothing better than a long dip in the cold water on a hot, Texas summer day. Even before stepping into the pool, looking at the clear water reflecting the bright rays of the sun is one of the most striking images in my memory. In some ways, that initial step before you get into the pool is almost as good as actually swimming.

In spite of my love of swimming, I do not own a large pool in which to swim. I have this little metal above ground pool, but it’s only good for sitting in, not actually swimming. Sure, sitting in cold water on a hot day is good, but — like taking a cold shower — it’s really not the same as a large in-ground pool.

So whenever I do have access to such a pool, I often spend what may be considered a ludicrous amount of time in it. For example, a couple of years ago I went to a summer camp, which had a nice in-ground pool available for the campers to swim in. During the free time we got every day, I would spend most of it in the pool, simply enjoying the water.

I’m not one for pool games, though, and don’t even get me started on crowded pools. If you want to play games in the pool, that’s fine by me, but don’t expect me to join in. It’s not that I hate pool games. It’s just that I find that pool games often distract me from the actual experience of swimming itself, rather than enhance it.

Nor have I ever considered becoming a professional swimmer. This is primarily because I’m not Michael Phelps, but it’s also because, like I said above, swimming is only my second favorite activity. I like to write more than I like to swim, but I admit that swimming is very, very close and is definitely something I’d do daily if I had a large enough pool.

Another good feeling I associate with swimming is tiredness. I mean the good kind of tiredness, the kind you feel after a long day of doing good, hard physical labor. It’s one of the best feelings in the world, much different from the tiredness I get from writing, and one I wish I could experience more often, to be honest.

Maybe someday, if I make a lot of money through my writing, I’ll buy a pool. At any rate, it’s certainly something to think about.

Do you like to swim? Share your thoughts in the comments!

-Tim

R. I. P. Tuna

Last night, we had a bitterly cold night. Now it wasn’t cold enough to snow, but it was below freezing and we had to make sure to drip the faucets so we’d have some water in the morning.

Our cats stayed outside. They always do. They’re outdoor cats. They were tough. All four of them were used to sleeping outside, even in the freezing cold. We’d only ever lost one cat to the cold before, and he had been an old cat on the verge of death anyway. I know I went to bed, at least, fully expecting to wake up in the morning and see all four of our cats waiting for their cat food, as they usually are.

But as I did my usual morning writing, a family member came in and told me that one of our cats — Tuna, as we always called him — was dead.

I could hardly believe my ears. Tuna? Dead?

You have to understand. While Tuna was one of the sweetest cats we’ve ever had, he was tough. He was the only other male cat on our property, which is incredible when you consider that all of the other male cats were chased off by our other male cat, Mufasa. Not to mention that Tuna was young and strong. We didn’t know how old he was (he was a stray cat who basically adopted us because we fed him), but we knew at least that he was no old cat.

I went out and looked for myself. I knew he was dead as soon as I saw his body. He was unnaturally still. I covered the body with a blanket and my older brother buried him a few hours later.

This isn’t the first time we’ve lost a cat, but it’s the most recent and for me, the hardest hitting. Tuna was a unique cat, almost like a dog in terms of friendliness. Losing a pet is always hard, but losing Tuna was even harder.

I hope this isn’t a portent of things to come because if it is, this year is gonna suck.

-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