Thursday, January 1, 2015

Syllabus

             I decided I was pretty much recovered from last night's festivities and it was time to get back to work.  So I pulled open my current draft, glanced at the time (and date, just to make sure I hadn’t really overslept), and realized it was Thursday.  The day I’m supposed to post new things.  And I know I just posted the end of the year wrap-up yesterday, and I’d said I probably wasn’t going to post anything today.
            But then, in the immortal words of Doctor Emmet Brown, I figured... what the hell.
            (see, clever and relevant pop culture reference...)
            Anyway, I’d like to continue my tradition of starting the year by explaining the ideas behind this page and what I’m trying to accomplish here.
            A better way to look at it, though, is what are you hoping to accomplish?
            This is the time when we all make a lot of promises to ourselves.  Resolutions, if you will.  We’re going to eat better, drink less, exercise more, quit smoking, visit Europe, and maybe finally get some work done on that manuscript.  Get it finished!
            Now, we all know the truth behind a lot of these resolutions.  Most people don’t follow through on them.  In fact, gyms make a ton of money off people who sign up for a one year membership in January and then stop showing up in... February.
            And we don’t think less of most of these folks when they don’t follow through.  If Wakko says he wants to lose ten pounds this year and then finds out he’s getting a promotion and he’s going to be a dad, well, his priorities are going to shift a bit.  We all get that and understand it.  Likewise, going to Europe is something Dot always wanted to do, but there’s nothing terribly urgent about it. If it doesn’t happen this year, maybe next year.
            The real question, in my mind, is why does someone want to do these things?
            Let’s say Yakko also wants to visit Europe, but he’s doing it as part of a career move.  Being able to talk knowledgeably about Edinburgh, Paris, and Berlin can make or break his promotion chances, and he wants that promotion. This may just be a vacation for Dot, but for Yakko it’s going to affect the next twenty years of his life. They’re going to approach it in very different ways.
            They should, anyway.
            I’ve already seen a ton of folks making writing resolutions.  To finish a screenplay or a book.  Maybe two books.  There were even a few daring people who wanted to get three books finished this year.
            But why?  Do I just want to write a screenplay because I’ve always wanted to try it?  Or am I hoping this could lead to a career in the film industry?  Am I writing this novel just for myself, or am I maybe looking to...well, make some money off of it?  And if so, am I looking at this as a nice hobby that will pay for some LEGO models, or is this something I’m hoping will be a full career?  Like a paying-all-the-bills career?
            I started this page many years back because I couldn’t find any good, practical writing advice anywhere online.  It was all either after-the-fact stuff about what to do with a completed manuscript or kind of vague, not-all-that-useful stuff like “read a book of poetry for inspiration, or try watercolor paints.”
            A good chunk of the advice I could find that actually pertained to the act of writing was kind of... questionable.  Always follow this structure.  Always write at least 1000 words a  day.  Don’t worry about spelling or editing.  Never use common words.  Never use said.  Name every character.  It all just seemed to be either something people were pulling out of the air or repeating after it had gone through a twenty-iterations version of the telephone game.
            And, as I mentioned, a lot of my own experience found this to be questionable.
            So that’s what I’m trying to do here—to fill a gap for people who’d like to improve their writing and move it toward something they could actually sell to a much larger audience and maybe not just... well, a hundred people they know on Facebook.
            That being said, there’ll be some harsh facts now and then. Also some very firm rules.  Some folks will argue with these (some folks always do) because some of those harsh facts and ugly truths are going to go against a lot of the “special snowflake” ideas they’ve based their writing around.  Others will be upset because some of the things I say might indicate they’re not quite as far along their career path as they thought.  Or maybe they’re not on it at all. 
            I apologize in advance if this ends up being you.  It’s nothing personal—it’s just the facts as I see them after about thirty-five years of trying to do this professionally. If it makes you feel better, there are very, very few screw-ups someone can make that I didn’t beat you to ages ago.
            I’ll also offer up some much gentler tips and advice (some of which you may have heard before as facts or rules...).  Some of these suggestions will work for you.  Some won’t.  Part of my job as a professional writer is to figure out what does and doesn’t work for me and to sort my tool chest accordingly.  If you want to be a professional, that’s part of your job, too.
            And, again, if writing’s just something you like to dabble with on weeknights because you enjoy it... cool.  Maybe you’ll find some stuff here that makes it more fun for you.  Or maybe you’ll just show up to laugh at those of us in the publishing rat race.  That’s cool, too.
            So...that’s the basic idea behind this page.
            Next time, on a semi-related note, I’d like to talk to you about your choice of friends.
            Until then, go write.

2 comments:

  1. Hi Peter, big fan from England here, what's with Dot, Wakko and Yakko?

    Weirdest names ever used in an attempt not to offend anyone!

    That all being said, keep up the good work with the blog and the books . . . Ex-Isles in October right?

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  2. Yakko, Wakko, and Dot were the three main characters of Animaniacs, possibly the greatest anmated show Warner Bros has ever created. So using their names is a bit of comic relief and helps me not offend anyone. :)

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