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Desperately Learning to Write

Posted by Tom Benedict on 24/01/2011


I realize I don’t have any regular readers, but I’ll apologize anyway for not writing here more frequently. This is going to sound lame and contradictory, but I’ve been busy elsewhere learning to write.

Learning to machine, I spent a lot of time looking over other guy’s shoulders and even more time trying, failing, and trying again.  I followed a similar process when learning to do photography.  I look back at early machining projects and photography I did and just shudder.  But I did get better as time went on.  I’ve been peering over several shoulders recently while learning to write, and I can only hope that I’ll be able to look back years later and shudder at the writing I’ve been doing today, knowing the work I’m doing then is better.

Here’s where learning to write is seriously fun:  To peer over someone else’s shoulder in this game, it means you get to read stuff you like.  Stuff you want to learn from.  Not to copy, or even to copy the style of, but just to see what made you smile, what made you cry, what made you want to keep reading.  I can’t go into the books I’ve been reading because there are simply too many of them to list.  But I’ve started reading two blogs in the last couple of months that made a serious impact on me.  I had to share:

The first is Allie Brosh’s Hyperbole and a Half.  I’ve already mentioned her blog, but now I’m putting it in context:  I’m learning from her writing, and I have a long way to go.  (Sorry, I’ll never be able to draw like Allie.  I’m a photographer for a reason.)

The second is Wil Wheaton’s WWdN: In Exile.  Yes, this is the same Wil Wheaton who played Wesley Crusher on Star Trek: The Next Generation.  He’s also the same Wil Wheaton who writes some freaking outstanding prose that had me laughing so hard I shook my bed enough to bug the cats, and crying so hard the cats finally left.  All within one hour while reading his book, “Just a Geek”.

I ran Hyperbole and a Half by my father, who’s also learning to write.  As he put it, “A vomiting dog?  Good heavens, do people write about that?”  Yep!  But as he also put it, “Am I losing my sense of direction?  This really was funny.”  Yep!  Both of them are.  And both can be so painful it makes me cry.  Hot damn!  Writing teachers!

We talked about it on the phone over the weekend, and during that conversation I came to some realizations and had some more pointed out to me by my father:

I use too many words.  (This was one of my father’s observations, and it’s right on the money.)  I will learn to edit and cut extraneous verbage.

I use passive voice WAY too much.  I’ve seen this advice over and over.  I am listening now.  (See?  It’s a start.)

In the past I tried to write science fiction and fantasy short stories with minimal success.  I can see in hindsight I spent too much time world-building and too little time writing.  Don’t get me wrong.  World-building is important!  But if the plot is weak and the characters are flat, it still falls short.  I will write from my own experience and get on with the process of learning to write instead of just learning to world-build.

I’m a weenie when it comes to baring my soul and being completely honest with my reader.  Let’s face it.  Writing leaves you wide open to every pot shot someone wants to take at you. It’s scary.  People really will judge you by what you write, and not all of them will be nice.  But some will be.  I will write more honestly from now on.

So I hope no one minds if I start tossing short stories up here from time to time.  I’ll keep looking over the shoulders of folks like Allie Brosh and Wil Wheaton, but it’s time to start trying, failing, and trying again.

– Tom

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