A Few Tips to Improve Your Speaking Ability

This post is inspired by a comment left on one of my previous posts, asking me for any specific advice on sharpening one’s social skills. While I’m no expert, here are a few things that I’ve discovered in my own progress toward better public speaking.

 

1: Write

 

If you can formulate a coherent sentence, then it means the language centers in your brain are all in working order. That might not immediately translate into adequate speech, but it’s a good place to start.

 

The reason why a lot of us trip up or say “um” and “uh” mid-conversation is because our brain needs time to slow down, meanwhile our mouth needs to fill in the conversation with something other than silence. Our cognitive language calculation isn’t fast enough, causing us to stumble.

 

Writing mimics this process without needing to engage your vocal speech centers. You can slow down and collect your thoughts in an organized way.  You can write something, examine it, and write it again. You can sharpen that dull edge of language to a point. You can adjust your vocabulary, learn to use different words, and get rid of your usual vocal crutches.

 

I’ve personally found that my speaking ability has increased a great deal from all the writing that I’ve done over the years. To get started, all you’ll need is a journal or something to categorize your thoughts. If you really want to stretch your language faculties then try writing short stories. Even better: try writing a dialogue between two people. They could be arguing philosophy or simply deciding what to have for dinner.

 

2: Read Out Loud

 

I have always read my stories out loud as form of editing. However, I’ve also done my share of reading blog posts, news articles, etc. I’ve noticed that doing so is where you transition the gains made in your internal language development to external speech. While writing the words on the page may come easily, you still might have issues with articulation, cadence, or volume. This transition should help with that.

 

Many people make mistakes reading out loud because their brain is moving too slow for their eyes, and their mouth to slow for their brain. Once you’ve read a sentence, your eyes are already on the next while your brain is in the middle of processing the current sentence, and funneling words in a particular order to your mouth as the end function. If these parts don’t work in concert then you’re going to stumble, not just in reading these words but also in speaking newly generated sentences in a typical conversation.

 

Learning to read out loud forces you to slow your brain and eyes to match the words that you speak. When I took a voice acting course, the one thing they drilled into us is that most people read too fast as a default, and simply slowing down each word by a quarter of a second allows your brain to read it effectively without any notice in slowing your speech. Doing this as a routine forces your mind, eyes, and mouth to come into sync.

 

Try it out. Try reading this article over again out loud (assuming you’re not on the bus or something).

 

Once you get the basics, you can try with more emotional variety. Learn how to change your tone, your rhythm, your emphasis. Doing so allows you to do the same when talking to others. Most of the time, the emotional content of words gives greater meaning than the words themselves.

 

3: Recite Passages of Difficult Texts

 

Once you’ve learned to effectively read by script, toss the crutch aside and instead learn to read by memory. The skills that you’ve learned in writing and reading will, by this time, be burned into your mental board, so the transition away from reading to speaking should carry over all you’ve done thus far.

 

While increasing the ranks of my fraternity, it was necessary for us to recite from memory, word for word, the passages of our obligations and rituals. This took the burden off my eyes and instead required more of my memory. This more than anything before has helped me be a better speaker.

 

So grab a play or passage of your favorite text, sit down, and learn it word for word. Speak it until you’ve remembered everything perfectly, then speak it in a tone like they were your own words. Become that character or philosopher.

 

4: Go Out With Friends

 

Speaking in solitude will only do so much. You’re going to have to get used to the back and forth of actual conversations.

 

Your friends, assuming they’re good ones, are going to be your first choice because they’ll likely forgive social gaffes, and your friends should be well within your comfort zone.

 

So go out more. Go to a brewery, or have a game night, or just do something social with those around you.

 

5: Talk to Strangers

 

Friends are training wheels. Strangers are the real deal. The next time you check out at the grocery store or give the server your order, how about you talk to them, or ask the how they’re doing. Not the canned way that most people do, but ask them questions. Try to start a conversation.

 

In my experience, a good 80% of verbal mistakes happen during the first sentence or two of a conversation, and that’s largely due to either fear or unfamiliarity.

 

Note: This isn’t meant to be a comprehensive post. It’s merely my own personal strategy that has given me positive results. Yours will vary, but it is worth a try.

 

*

These days, every man needs legal protection. Here is an affordable way to get it.

My novel.

Writing Tips #5

It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these, mostly because I’ve covered so much in my previous installments. If this is your first time here and you’re interested in the craft of writing, then please check them out.

 

cydoniansignal.com/category/writing-tips

 

Don’t try to be perfect

 

Look, perfection is for mathematics, and even then…

 

Life is finite. Your time is finite. Your energy is finite. Most of the time you’re going to write average stuff then polish it up to make it good, but the last thing you want to do is spend 50% of your time getting that last 1% to perfection. Truth be told, most people are going to completely forget that sentence you spent an hour on as soon as they turn the page. The exact quote will be forgotten and it’s unlikely that anyone else is going to immortalize it.

 

Don’t try to make everything perfect. Instead, try to focus on the big picture by making your writing flow easily. Reading is a dream that takes the reader to thoughts and places. As long as that dream remains intact then it doesn’t matter if the words are perfect or typed in wingdings. Let go of the minor things and focus on the whole.

 

Concise is better than wordy

 

Look, I’m just going to spell it out for all the interested amateur writers out there: the average writer isn’t competing with other writers for customers. Every writer out there is competing against every TV producer, movie director, record mogul and video game developer for your reader’s time. Time is a finite resource and that time can be funneled into so many other sinks of entertainment. You have to make sure you entice your reader to spend their time with you and your story, and not waste it.

 

This means you delete unneeded scenes, remove unneeded characters, reduce wordy descriptions, use tighter prose, make every word work, and save backstory for the Wikipedia page unless it’s absolutely necessary and/or entertaining.

 

If you don’t feel like writing, edit

 

Damn if I don’t feel this almost every day. Writing and editing take two different parts of your brain. Sometimes the creative part of your brain just doesn’t feel like generating new sentences, or you couldn’t be bothered with dialogue, or maybe you can’t picture a scene. Lord knows I’ve wasted plenty of time trying to force out a few pages only to come back, days later, and see the lack of motivation between the lines, necessitating a rewrite.

 

And you know what? That’s cool. Writer’s block happens. But just because you have writer’s block doesn’t mean you can’t do something. Editing is the answer for when you can’t write new stuff. Even after a long day of work, you can sit down and edit for a few minutes.

 

To put this in perspective, it takes me about 6-8 hours to edit one of my novels once. Just 30 minutes will take a respectable chunk out of it. Spend at least an hour editing or simply reading through your writing and you’ll have a novel done in about a week.

 

Empathy is the key to good writing

 

I have a pet hypothesis that people who are more narcissistic and sociopathic are generally worse writers, for two reasons:

1: Writers need to be able to understand the emotions, thoughts, and motivations of others in order to create believable characters.

2: Writers need to understand the perspective of the reader as they’re reading to create an effective dream.

 

If a writer keeps repeating information then it shows me that the writer doesn’t trust the reader’s ability to follow along. The reverse happens when the writer leaves out important information that the reader desperately needs because the writer just assumed it’s known. Both are instances of the writer being unable to get into the mind of the reader, and both of these happen more often with younger, more ego-centric and narcissistic writers.

 

Keep in mind that you’re not writing for yourself. These sweet battle scenes I have in my head look spectacular to me, but if I’m going to put them in someone else’s mind then I need to hold their mental state as a primary consideration.

 

I’ve found that writing is far more about feeling than knowing. While grammar may be hard and strict, the imagination of the reader and writer is a fluid, emotional thing. People who cannot grasp that emotional aspect would be better off putting their time in elsewhere.

*

These days, every man needs legal protection. Here is an affordable way to get it.

My novel.

My Twitter.

Whisky, Weed, and Writing

Most great writers have been keen for various alcoholic substances which, they say, enhances their wordsmithing. Many of those writers even went a little too far and burned out their brain doing so, but in their ashes remains a piece of solid advice: write drunk, edit sober.

 

While I can’t say that I’ve done things like DMT or black tar heroin before sitting down to write, nor do I even intend to, I do have my own personal experiences and experiments using alcohol and marijuana. However, the effectiveness of this advice ultimately comes down to how your own mental board is wired. We are all special snowflakes with different neurology. A nice scotch or whisky might get the creative juices flowing for one man while a little toke will do the same for another. The key is to know your mental requirements, limitations, and tolerances.

 

Alcohol

 

Alcohol is best for minds that are naturally overclocked. If you’re the kind of person that has a thousand thoughts always bumping around in your head and you just need to relax a bit, slow things down while you write to collect those thoughts, then alcohol is likely going to be your best bet. The dosage depends on your mental RPM’s and how far they need to come down. A little can go a long way while too much, in my experience, makes for clumsy hands and a lazy mind.

 

Getting hammered likely isn’t going to lead to spectacular results, unless you’re doing some postmodern stream of consciousness art piece without punctuation *Cough Jack Kerouac Cough*.

 

Speaking of, Kerouac died of internal hemorrhaging from alcohol abuse. So play with fire carefully there, Prometheus.

 

Marijuana

 

Marijuana is going to have the opposite effect; it is going to turbocharge your thoughts and send them out in random directions. For the creative type who is intent on experimenting with weed, a sativa strain is going to be your method of choice because it is going to be more of a mental stimulant than an indica, which is more of a somatic depressant.

 

If you’re the kind of person who is a slower, more calculating thinker who often runs into trouble conjuring that one word or can’t seem to phrase a sentence right, or can’t maintain a solid pace of ideas then a little bit of weed might help. Again, that’s a little bit of weed, because too much will send you right to the couch without motivation or focus to write, or, most likely, you will think you’re being clever as hell when your writing is actually stupid and juvenile – and that’s an accurate, personal claim.

 

Marijuana is better when you’re in the mood to just sit and brainstorm. If you’re looking for ideas, weed more than alcohol is going to give you those ideas. Now, 90% of those are shitty ideas, but a good 10% are true inspiration, and a 10% output on weed produces a greater quantity of useful ideas than an 80% output sober. Just make sure you write them down so you don’t forget, otherwise you WILL forget.

 

Sober

 

That being said, I personally get the entirety of my writing done while sober, including this post, because I don’t have an issue with my brain running too fast or slow. For me, I write about as fast as I think, without need for additional help.

 

To anyone else who can write sober, my advice to you is: don’t fix what isn’t broken. If your sober mind can work wonders in the craft then don’t take on the additional challenge of other substances; they are simply not going to help the process. Stick to what works for you and don’t feel obligated to change functional brain chemistry just because some schmuck on the internet told you so.

 

This is particularly important in the editing stage because the required thinking is methodical, analytical, and critical, like working out a math problem, thus it requires a different set of brainpowers than the creative state you require when putting ink to your first draft.

 

When you add alcohol or weed into the editing process you’re going to miss a lot of things, and the things you correct will likely come with more mistakes than the original. While you can treat the first draft as exploratory fun, the editing stage is the real work.

 

Conclusion

 

Alcohol and marijuana aren’t magical cure-alls for your creative slump. If your writing habits are already terrible then adding substances into the mix isn’t going to help you, at all. Your first goal should be in setting up good habits first, practicing, reading, and if you need some extra help then a chemical assist is worth trying. Remember to keep dosage in mind, as getting too drunk or high on anything is going to torpedo your creative process, not aid it.

 

If you have no such deficiency then don’t bother treading those waters. Feel free to experiment a little, but always return to what works for you.

*

These days, every man needs legal protection. Here is an affordable way to get it.

My novel.

My Twitter.

Blue Collar Science Fiction

I prefer science fiction that isn’t so clean and sterile, gleaming with chrome; science fiction that is closer to the grit and dirt of the real world, dealing with miners or mech drivers on a frontier planet. For all our imagined worlds, it’s important not to forget that our roots began with pioneers, miners, sailors, farmers, and other working men, even when we’re looking down from space.

 

However, you’re not as likely to find such these days from modern writers. Most science fiction writers have never needed to do their own plumbing or put up drywall. They are literary people with cushy desk jobs which don’t get their hands dirty. When they create their fiction, they project their world of relative ease and comfort onto the future, where technology bordering on the magical does all the heavy work.

 

For those writers, the world of the blue collar man just doesn’t enter their minds. They don’t conceptualize that a starship would need plumbers to make sure the sewage runs correctly (or that the Enterprise’s drains would need backflow control valves just in case the gravity goes out). There  doesn’t need to be a point in every story detailing the plight of the ship’s janitor, but simply being aware of their existence helps develop a story’s depth.

 

Heinlein, for example, had a breadth of experiences that he integrated into his writing. In Have Space Suit, Will Travel, the main character is a kid in high school who wins a space suit from a soap company’s tagline contest. The first part of the book entails just fixing the half-working suit with tools lying around his family’s barn. Starman Jones begins with a young man fleeing his mother’s farm and even running with a homeless man for a while. He gains passage on a starship with the job of picking up animal manure (the ship not only transports people, but livestock). The main character in The Moon is A Harsh Mistress is an engineer tasked with maintaining the colony’s super computer. His job off the clock? Lunar farmer. Granted, Heinlein also incorporated ubermenchen who never picked up a tool in their lives, but he also held onto his roots in other stories.

 

Whereas today, blue collar work has been pushed out of the common consciousness because the status symbol of our age is the university degree. Children with stars in their eyes are shuffled off the college while civilization’s critical maintenance is left to the dregs of our society. That mindset, carried over into our fiction, explains why we don’t see the USS Enterprise’s maintenance chief, and it’s why we don’t see any construction workers in the act of building the second Death Star. However there are some exceptions to the rule, and not only exceptions but examples of “blue-collar” science fiction (subjectively) surpassing the noble and idealistic sci-fi.

 

To this day, Firefly is still considered a cult classic. It didn’t have a glorious ship or a noble crew like the Star Trek’s USS Enterprise. They were a ragtag group of adventurers on a spaceship equivalent to a 1995 Honda Civic. So what made it charming? We could identify with the crew just trying to get by on their own. They weren’t an aspirational image, but a reflection of (relatively) normal people, thus the gap between us and them was narrow.

 

And take Alien, another cult classic about an undignified yet charming mining crew who finds themselves in way over their heads. Why do we still like it? Because the story consists of relatively ordinary people placed in an extraordinary circumstances. Compare that to its spiritual sequel/prequel, Prometheus, a film in which a group of scientists are sent on a mission to find the origin of life. The former is still a top ten in any sci-fi nerd’s movie shelf while the latter is utterly forgotten, despite being part of the Alien franchise with an expansive budget.

 

The latest example is Interstellar. The film is an odyssey of an engineer turned farmer, turned astronaut. He isn’t a noble scientist, but a tanned-skin good ole boy with a noble purpose rather than noble image. Contrast that to other films with similar themes, like Sunshine, which contain a gallant rainbow coalition of science geeks that are ultimately forgettable. The reason: the characters in Sunshine are the scientific aristocracy, thus it’s harder for us to identify with them on a personal level. Instead of possessing the human element, they are characterized with quirky traits or stereotypes that we don’t care about. The situations they’re put through aren’t engaging because we never feel the weight of their plight, for what are the stakes when the people dying are perceived as unreal?

 

And that’s the benefit to incorporating blue-collar into sci-fi: characters that are easier to identify with because they’re closer to our level, and thus their troubles are something we readily become invested in. The arch of a common man being placed in extraordinary circumstances creates a sense of scale, of escalation, and of juxtaposition when you compare the first chapters with the last. This is the essence of the Hero’s Journey – to start off as ordinary, reaching your pinnacle through great crisis and trial. What would Star Was be if Luke Skywalker, or *cough* some kind of Luke equivalent, had begun his quest already established as a Jedi? Oh, wait…

 

*

These days, every man needs legal protection. Here is an affordable way to get it.

My novel.

My Twitter.

Writing Tips Pt. 4

Previous sessions:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Strong Female Characters

 

You’re going to get frustrated

 

…and that’s okay. When you’re first acquiring your own style, you’re going to struggle to find the right words. A sentence isn’t going to play out the way you want to. What’s worse is when you don’t know what a better sentence would be. All you know is what you’re writing is wrong. It is up to you to find your strategy around it, whether that’s leaving it for another day or writing different variations of the same sentence until you get it right. Eventually, your early frustrations will dissipate as you get more experienced. Don’t let the first draft of your first novel turn you off. Just like playing an instrument, you need to struggle with it for a while until you grab that expertise. Then, the headaches will start to pass.

 

Writing isn’t a hobby; it’s a habit.

 

If you want to get in great shape then you have to make a habit of going to the gym; it just can’t be a hobby. That means setting aside specific time and doing it whether you’re feeling it or not. Skipping one day means you’ll be more likely to skip another. Just as this wisdom applies to your workout, it also applies to your writing.

 

Few people can just sit down, out of the blue, and put gold down on the page. It takes hard work and training to accomplish that. Setting up habits is, in my view, the best way to do that. Once you get the routine and the accompanying mindset down, writing will become much easier.

 

Writing is Acting (Maybe)

 

To quote Miyamoto Musashi: “You should investigate this thoroughly.” Take this tip with an especially large heaping of salt, for I’m not even completely sold on my reasoning. But, here it goes.

 

When you create a character and put them on stage, with personality, emotions, dialogue and movements, you are doing it through the lens of your own self. Every character has a part of you inside, and it is you who is acting on that stage of your mind. I’ve found that it helps to assume the role of your character as you write. Get mad as they confront their nemesis. The narrator will get mad too. Then, the prose itself will radiate that emotion.

 

Verbs are your fuel

 

Take that last sentence:

 

Then, the prose itself will radiate that emotion.

 

Radiate. I could have used any number of other verbs, some boring, like “show”, and some not, like “bleed”.

 

 Then, the prose itself will show that emotion.

 

Then, the prose itself will bleed that emotion.

 

What’s the difference between the two? One’s simple, almost too simple, the other more complex and titillating.

 

Verbs are your fuel. Use good ones and your writing will smash, obliterate, erupt and decimate to another level. At the same time, lowing the octane of your verbs will relax the prose, which is necessary from time to time. It’s not either or; both are tools to be used as necessary. It’s up to you to understand which to use and when.

 

Watch out cluttered words:

 

Very

Only

Just

Then

Could

Was

 

Always do a Ctrl F for these words and make sure they’re not being overused. Just as verbs are your fuel, these words can clog the prose of your story. Use them sparingly and they may enhance your story by giving the reader a more natural narrator, but doing it too much will produce unnecessary clutter.

 

Most of Your Work Comes in Editing

 

Sometimes it’s just freakin’ hard to put the right words down. Maybe you’re writing in first person and just can’t get the character’s language right, or maybe you can’t get the perspective down from a third person narrator. Sometimes, your brain just broken.

 

Good thing about writing is that most of the changes happen in the editing stage. Any section can be built upon, or even torn down and recreated. You’ll write the first draft and get ideas on how to enhance a scene weeks later. Go back and edit.

 

_____________

P.S. I have a twitter thing now. Follow me if you’d like. I’ll be posting articles and music I find.

Strong Female Characters

Boy oh boy, is this topic not written about extensively. Yes, every person has their own take on Strong Female Characters, especially when it comes from political correctness and feminism. Personally, I’ve mused on this topic for a while and have finally come to a conclusion on how to write them. Take the following as mere suggestions when it comes to applying strength to female characters in your own writing. Here goes.

 

Too often, writers take a female character and make her boisterous, intimidating, and bitchy in an attempt to display her strength, however one doesn’t need to be outwardly aggressive or dominant to possess strength. Much of the time, a Superman does hide behind the meek and mild Clark Kent exterior. However, far too often aggression and strength are equivocated, especially in fiction, and especially for female characters.

 

Personally, I think this has more to do with wish fulfillment on the part of female writers. They want their characters to be everything they are not while saying and doing things they wish they could. And if it’s not female writers creating stereotypical Strong Female Characters then it’s supplicating male writers doing it as a form of unconscious (or sometimes deliberate) pedestalization of women.

 

Fortunately, these characters don’t work because the writer’s portrayal is so out of touch with reality that the willful suspension of disbelief is stretched to its breaking point. Making women aggressive doesn’t show their strength, but, more importantly, none of us know of any women in our day-to-day lives, not a single one, who are as aggressive as the typical Strong Female Character. They just don’t exist in the real world.

 

“Now dragons also don’t exist in the real word,” I can hear the critics say, “and we have them in fiction. Fiction can have whatever you want, blah, blah, whatever.” Yes, of course, dragons don’t exist in the real world, which is why we can make them be anything we want them to be. However, women exist in the real world, which means we already understand their workings (basically) through our interactions with them. Taking a thing that exists in real life and warping it so out of proportion for the purpose of wish fulfillment or a blatant political message will kick the audience right out of the story. The last thing you want as a writer is to have your audience see the puppet strings and say to themselves in the middle of the story: “oh, the writer just put that in there for [a blatant, non-plot related and entirely ideologically motivated reason].” It’s like product placement in a movie. It breaks the illusion of the fictional world and kicks you right back into reality.

 

But worst of all, the approach of equivocating women, strength, and aggression completely ignores the innate differences between the sexes, which should be well understood in the manosphere.

 

The most important difference when writing power into both sexes is that men are conflict tolerant and women are conflict avoidant, even when both have sufficient strength to handle a problem. It’s not uncommon to see a man be rash with his strength and intimidate a foe into fighting, whereas seeing it from a woman punts us right out of the story. It isn’t her strength that clashes hard against our sensibilities, but how she comes across with that strength. Seeing a woman act like a man is as disruptive to the novel’s dream world as a talking dog done without jest.

 

The pioneer mother with the baby on one hip and a rifle on the other wouldn’t go looking for trouble, but she’d be damn prepared when trouble came to find her. Women generally seek peace and security, thus outright violence is always a last resort to conflict resolution. A female character would be no different, even with sufficient strength to handle the problem. Her strength merely manifests by her drawing a line in the sand and ordering the antagonist not to cross. If they do, she reacts. She doesn’t spring forward and fight before the line is drawn. Yeah, a man would do it, but a woman would not. Thus, when I notice women in fiction doing things that men do, I see it as either horrible writing or wish-fulfillment propaganda, or both.

 

An actual strong female character would sit back and wait for the right moment to use her power. She wouldn’t go looking for trouble. She likely wouldn’t amplify the situation. She would not go out of her way to prove she’s a badass (Ms. Katness Everdeen, looking at you). If anything, she would use her visage of weakness as a potent disguise against her enemies, which would drop at the proper moment when her true power is released, but not before. Never before it’s ready.

 

Be smart when writing female characters, strong or weak. Use the knowledge of our innate differences that you’ve picked up from reading the blogs around here and thoroughly use it when crafting characters of each sex. That way, you’ll have realistic character that, I don’t know, we can actually identify with and understand.

Even MORE Writing Tips

Part 1

Part 2

 

Oh, I’m not finished yet.

 

Your First Novel is Going to be, Well, Not Good.

 

So you’ve graduated from writing short stories and now you’re ready to start a bigger project. Thing is, your first novel is not going to be your magnum opus; your first novel is going to be your practice girl. You’ve got sentence structure and grammar down, that’s cool, but it takes experience to entwine together a competent plot and structure. Most likely, your first novel is going to have some critical flaws in that department, even if it’s meticulously edited. There are plot holes, inconsistencies and pacing issues that are going to come to light as you write, and that’s okay, for your first novel.

 

When you’re all finished, take a look at your novel with a wider, big picture scope. Take what you learned in writing it and start another.

 

It’s Okay to Scrap Works While Learning.

 

The first novel I ever wrote was scrapped after the first draft because it was complete garbage. My second novel is in the perpetual editing stages of its second draft. My third was another throw-away, never to be seen again. My fourth was what you can see at the menu bar at the top. Fifth and six novels were abandoned at 80% completion of the first draft. However, my seventh novel is complete through the second draft and will be self-published within the year. My point: it’s okay to write garbage and throw it away as long as you’re learning. It takes hundreds of hours of practice to get something right, and sometimes that entails writing a 100,000 word story that will never be read or published. It is not a waste of time if you’re getting better while doing it.

 

You might hate giving up something that took hundreds of hours of work, but it’s even more of a waste to try and revive the corpse. Keep it for reference, but move on.

 

Cannibalize Ideas From Dead Stories.

 

Maybe you have an idea for a sweet mech fight, but don’t have a story planned out or you have no idea what story universe it takes place in. That’s okay. Keep the fight stored on your computer or in your brain because perhaps it can be placed in your next story once you get the idea for that. Sometimes two seemingly independent story concepts can be combined into one, once you finally get the idea that brings them together. This is also where your previously scrapped stories can come back stronger.

 

You will get better with age.

 

No, I don’t mean you’ll get better with experience (which is true), but you will get better with age. The problem with beginning writers is that they lack maturity, nuance in their world view, and are missing real-life experiences which they can draw from. Their influences are, well, juvenile. It’s understandable, because in your teens or in college you get ahold of anime, video games, superhero movies, which then influence your fiction. Problem is, most those things are made for younger or middle of the road audiences. They lack subtext or complex themes.

 

Those things you will pick up as life unfolds. So, if you’re a younger writer, your focus shouldn’t be on sending that superhero novel out the door as soon as possible, but learning to write and sending the next novel out the door.

 

Writing Forums are a Waste of Time.

 

Writing forums are a huge time sink and you won’t learn much from them at all. There is little explicit instruction, and very little mentoring from experienced writers. 90% of the population are newbies, and it’s hard to learn anything from them. The last 10% are knowledgeable writing hobbyists or actually published writers, but they are so busy that they won’t take the time out for individual mentoring. That’s just not practical. Add to that some of the egos these people have, then add on their politically correct sensibilities, and then add to that their modernist writing style and you have a negligible font of information.

 

The best writing forum can only really give you a critique every once in a while. At their worst, writing forums are bastions of ego and political correctness. Mainstream writers of today didn’t get popular because they mastered the craft; they’re popular because publishing houses want to publish inoffensive novels with blatant PC messages tacked on and those particular writers fit the ideological mold. That’s all. The “masters” you see on those forums with book covers on their signature are not master craftsmen, but poster boys. They have nothing to offer you.

 

You’re much better off simply stumbling around the internet for writing tips at first (like, oh, here). Then, write your own stories to know if you have the aptitude or not. Finally, find a critique group to really learn. However…

 

Avoid Your Average Critique Group.

 

No matter what kind of critique group it is, whether it’s a college class, a local writer’s group, or an online forum, your experience with any of them is going to be hit or miss.

 

The best critique group is going to be one that is harsh, but fair. If you sit down and everyone’s way too happy to be there, you need to leave, because they are going to pull their punches to avoid hurting your feelings. Trying to avoid a little heartbreak isn’t going to help your story at all. You need to know what’s wrong so you can fix it, even if it makes you look like a moron. Obviously, it doesn’t help if they blatantly insult you, hence why I said a group needs to be “fair.”

 

The best critique group I ever had was in the advanced fiction writing course in college. There, you get fifteen critiques a week, all from cutthroat and usually snobbish English majors. It is the one place where the college liberal’s status competition works to your advantage. They will tear apart your story and make the red ink run. Just don’t expect them to hold your hand. For the moment though, that’s all you’ll need.

 

A note for online critique groups: their effectiveness depends on the caliber of the community. If it’s newbies then you’ll be missing out on critical information. If they’re made of experienced writers then you might get some benefit, but, again, the masters might not really be masters.

 

In a perfect world, critiques are the best way to learn because they are a combination of experimentation, feedback, and instruction, however they are dependent on the human element to make it work. Always be skeptical of the group you’re about to enter.

 

With that in mind…

 

You Need a Thick Skin

 

Your story is your baby, but at some point you’re going to have to sacrifice it in the process of editing. It stings when your work comes back bleeding with marks and notations. It sucks, but get over it. Learn to put distance between you and your story. It doesn’t help your cause to get too attached. This is most difficult for young guys, and even more difficult for writers who invest so much emotional stock into their work. Kids will get offended when their others comment on their story, but older people understand the reality that everything has flaws. Again, maturity will help you here.

 

The first thing my instructor told us on the first day of the advanced writing class was: “Your writing is shit.” And she was right.

More Writing Tips

My posts on other topics are still forthcoming. In the meantime, here’s a few more writing tips.

 

Read Before Writing

 

You warm up before practice, so read before you write. Seeing the words, speaking those words through your thoughts, puts you in the right mind to generate new words and sentences. When reading a piece of fiction, you might notice an awkward sentence and know how the author should have phrased it differently. This is essentially your sweet spot, because you are both being critical and thinking of new ideas at the same time.

 

Edit as You Go

 

After you write a section, go to bed for the night. When you return to your writing once again, read what you wrote at your last session. This does four things: first, it accomplishes the Read Before Writing requirement; second, it picks up typos that you made the last time you wrote; third, it eases the burden of editing when you finish the piece entirely and start a dedicated editing process, because you’ve essentially edited it through already; and fourth, it provides relevant context of the story when you start again. For example, rereading the last section, which may have included a fight scene, brings you back into the flow of things and allows you to keep the previous scenes in mind as you make new ones. This is especially important when adjusting tone and pacing.

 

Don’t Over Edit

 

There is such a thing as too much editing. When I wrote my first novel, I literally read it eight times to get it right. Problem was, every time I made a change, I opened myself up to making typos in the line I just corrected. So, I had to go through it again, only to make even more errors. It doesn’t just end at typos either. Even if you don’t make any mistakes, changing one sentence also changes how that sentence flows and relates to others. Going back to change one thing, to make it absolutely perfect, will cause a domino effect that turns an exercise in modifying sentence structure into a complete chapter rewrite. Learn to edit effectively, do it two or three times, then set the work down and let someone else edit. Your sanity and time is worth a lot more than the worst case scenario: an awkward sentence.

 

Remember, most of these issues can be avoided by using track changes!

 

Structure is as Important as Plot

 

Plot is what happens in a story. Structure is how that story is told by which characters get the spotlight and how their timelines are placed in the story. For example, if you have a single, central character, you could just start at the beginning and tell the story from start to finish in an entirely linear fashion. Or, you might start at the middle, or even end of the story, to give the reader a hint of what’s to come, and then spend the rest of the book in a sequence of flashbacks that tell the story up to that point.

 

However, if you have multiple characters, you need to judge which characters will get the spotlight and when. You can base this sequence primarily off relevant story events or you can do this with a definite rhythm.

 

The former: Character A section, character B section, character C section, then D, A, E, F, A, D, B, A, C, B, A (seemingly random).

 

The latter: Character A, then character B, then A, C, A, D, A, B, A, etc (Character A gets most of the attention in an organized way).

 

All of this also depends on whether your story is in first or third person. And do you have asides like journal entries or interludes with one-time snapshot characters?  You need to organize them in a cohesive way too.

 

While it takes an analytical mind to catch typos and other editing mistakes, it takes an intuitive, holistic approach to structure the story effectively.

 

Poor story structure leads to important (and well-loved) characters getting lost behind secondary characters. It can lead to a lot of wasted time doing absolutely nothing or following characters that don’t matter. It can make slow sections run too long and put multiple action sections too close and without pause, totally screwing up the pacing. Your job, as a writer, is to balance all these factors.

 

Writing isn’t as easy as it sounds, huh?

 

That’s why…

 

Don’t Go Full-speed Into Half-backed Ideas

 

Or, in other words, take time with your planning stage. You might have a story set in your mind, but no idea as to its execution – no clue as to whether it’s in first or third person, whether it’s linear or not, and what structure it will have. Don’t just start writing. You need to have some central ideas first: tone, theme, and like the aforementioned structure. Spend some extended time in the shower just thinking about the overall picture you want to convey and consider the means to do that. If it takes months to come to that eureka moment, then do it. That moment will set everything into motion.

 

However, this can bring a problem. There’s always the possibility the story can get stuck in the planning stages until it withers and dies without any execution, let alone proper execution. Yes, it’s a risk, but consider that spending countless hours on what amounts to a mediocre story is far worse than the chance of letting one die on the vine.

 

Try to capture that moment of inspiration. If you don’t get it, then maybe the story was not meant to be.

Tips for Writing

Yesterday I talked about of a dark renaissance, which has now prompted me to share some of the things I’ve picked up during my few years of writing fiction, specifically things that I haven’t noticed other writers touch on. Like when dealing with any other advice, take my tips as a grain of salt and remember: there’s always an exception to the rule.

 

Don’t forget about your narrator

 

Doesn’t matter if you’re writing fiction or nonfiction, a novel or a blog, your narrator is key to making everything work. The narrator is the voice of your writing and how that voice is manipulated will determine how the audience appreciates it.

 

A blog post regarding, say, feminism can go many different ways depending on the voice of the narrator (i.e. you). Imagine writing a post that speaks just to guys, or your friends, or anonymous schmucks on reddit. Conversely, imagine writing that same post but with the knowledge that your mother is going to read it. Hopefully, you’d keep the same content, but alter the words. Maybe you’d avoid using the word “feminazi” and go with the term “radical feminist”. You’d put away the verbal brass knuckles and opt for a softer touch. Altering your narrator alters the voice, the tone, and even the concepts. Learn to manipulate it in different ways. While it’s good to have one particular execution down, make sure that you can diversify your writing.

 

This is more important in fiction, where the narrator actually tells the story. Most people think that writing in first person is easier because you’re stuck in the mind of that one character. You can telegraph their thoughts with ease and the whole world is viewed through that one lens. However, I disagree that it’s easy. Writing a story entirely in the mind of a character means you have to portray the character’s perspective and thoughts consistently. Can you describe the scene of a funeral in the mind of a thirteen year old boy, with thirteen year old boy thoughts and thirteen year old understanding? How about doing it in the mind of an android instead? While it seems easy at first glance to execute first person narration, it’s actually pretty hard beneath the surface. The nuances of perspective can, and will, trip you up.

 

And it doesn’t become any easier in third person. Now you have to juggle different points of view through a voice that is outside the story looking in. The shallowest form of this narrator simply describes what is going on as if they’re narrating a movie to a blind person. This technique always fails because it is boring. What’s missing is the understanding that the narrator is just as part of the story as any character. The narrator, even in third person, can add in a quip or a joke or a particular perspective. Learning to give characterization to a narrator that isn’t even part of the story allows that narrator to become a storyteller, rather than just a voiceover, and storytellers keep people reading. The most extreme example of this (that I could find) is from Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five:

 

“Billy looked inside the latrine. The wailing was coming from in there. The place was crammed with Americans who had taken their pants down. The welcome feast had made them as sick as volcanoes. The buckets were full or had been kicked over. An American near Billy wailed that he had excreted everything but his brains. Moments later he said, “There they go, there they go.” He meant his brains. That was I. That was me. That was the author of this book.”

 

That is a famous line for a reason.

 

Understand the mechanics of prose

 

Prose is like music. It has a rhythm. It has a melody. It can beat like a drum from word to word, sentence to sentence, or it can flow up and down, swimming around itself to create lofty sentences which take the reader on a journey between each stop. Or not.

 

For example, take a sentence which describes a man picking up a gun and his hands are shaking.

 

1: Hands shaking, he picked up the gun.

 

2: With shaking hands, he picked up the gun.

 

3: He picked up the gun with shaking hands.

 

4: His hands were shaking as he picked up the gun.

 

5: As he picked up the gun, his hands shook.

 

6: He picked up the gun, and his hands shook.

 

7: He picked up the gun. His hands were shaking.

 

Each sentence says the exact same thing, but it conveys different emotional tones, and some are more effective than others (7 is my favorite, even though it’s technically two sentences, but 2 and 4 work well by my personal assessment). Think of each sentence structure as a key made for a certain lock (lock = tone). Some keys work in different locks. Finding the perfect fit requires experience. But keep in mind that no sentence exists in a vacuum. The previous and following sentences will also determine how effective any particular sentence is. Add in a few different elements, actions, events, narration, point of view; master the percussion as well as the ebb and flow of the tones; juggle them all together, and you’ll have your piece.

 

Writing is not so different than composing music. To be a composer, you have to learn to manipulate the nuances of each note and tempo, bringing them together to complete the song. Writing relies on this just as much. Learn to manipulate words to entice the audience and you’ll succeed as a writer.

 

Find your voice

 

After so many years of studying and practice, a composer of music eventually comes to their own unique style of composition. Similarly, you as a writer should find your particular style of writing. Maybe you go for quick, jerking sentences. Maybe you hold back and give a light touch to your prose. Either way, the key is to find your particular style. While it’s okay to get inspiration from other writers, don’t try to copy their style exactly. No composer in their right mind would try to out Beethoven the Beethoven, but they do take the original works and expand on them with a personal twist. Have a favorite writer? Good. Take their style and let it be the soil to grow your own, but don’t try to be the next one in succession.

 

Have high standards for your writing

 

This is a big one that few writing tips ever seem to touch on. In the course of writing, you’re going to put down a lot of sentences on paper (or in Microsoft Word). That means you’re going to get tired of tweaking each one, and you’re going to feel the inclination to be lazy. Don’t.

 

Some writers think they can get away with some shitty sentences (or even shitty chapters) because the other bits are good. Some writers even think that merely functional is adequate. These guys make for mediocre writers because somewhere along the line they lost a personal standard to hold their writing to. If you want to be a good writer, you have to develop a pretty high bar and force yourself to meet it, not just for every chapter but for every sentence. If something doesn’t work or doesn’t work all that well, don’t just ignore it and move on because it’s hard; actually make it work.

 

Go outside, because anything can be your inspiration

 

A seemingly insignificant experience can end up causing the inspiration for an entire story. Maybe it’s a particular scene in a movie or TV show. Maybe it’s a song which takes your mind through an epic scene. Maybe it’s a moment in time that conveys a greater experience. Whether it’s driving a forklift for the first time or seeing a bar fight, each experience adds to your creative collection. There are times where these experiences make no impact, and other times the most seemingly insignificant thing can trigger the creative spark. It is up to you to seek out these things, whatever they are.

 

Of all writing tips, this one is probably best suited for those in the manosphere. We are part of the underground for a reason. At the same time, we are constantly striving to be better men in body and mind, and leaving our comfort zones. The beneficial byproduct of those endeavors is the worldly experience needed to foster an arsenal of creative ideas. If you’re a man who strives to expand his horizons, then keep doing what you’re doing. If you’re a new keyboard jockey: get out and do something.

 

In any case, no matter if it’s writing, painting, drawing, composing or any other artistic pursuit that I fail to mention, at least get out and attempt it. The manosphere needs a few more bards.