Paul Welch

On Fantasy, Writing & the Journey to Publication

Monthly Archives: February 2012

Blog Mash-up

I’ve been a little swamped lately, but I’m still reading blogs and wanted to pass along a couple of wonderful articles for you to read. Please check them out:

From Kirsten Lamb:

What “Finding Nemo” Can Teach Us About Storytelling

Storytelling is in our blood, it binds us together as humans. On some intuitive level, everyone understands narrative structure, even little kids. All good stories have a clear beginning, middle and end. Ever try to skip parts of a story with a toddler? Even they can sense on a gut level that something is wrong if we miss a fundamental part of the story. Thus, often when I am teaching new writers how to understand narrative structure, I use children’s movies. Frequently the narrative structure is far clearer, as well as the Jungian archetypes that are present in all great fiction. Additionally, all fiction can be boiled down to cause, effect, cause, effect, cause, effect.

Check out the rest of the blog here.

From Janice Hardy:

Footloose and Not So Fancy Free: Four Ways to Update an Old (and Familiar) Story:

When the hubby and I watched the new Footloosemovie and we had mixed feelings about it. Part if it was easily because the original 1984 version was a big part of our teen years, but part of it was due to the almost too faithful remake. Nothing felt fresh, even though it was new movie. It took what was already out there and just re-made it. It’s a great example of why a book might not grab an agent’s or editor’s eye.

Check out the rest of the blog here.

From Rebecca Berto:

Three Fiction Writing Tips From Famous Authors:

I love these lists. Do you?

I Googled this topic and loved these results so much that I had to share them with you. The best thing is, you can never read enough advice. I mean, who thinks, “Right I know enough. I can’t get any better at writing”?

Check out the rest of the blog here.

Have you come across any fantastic articles that you’d like to share? If so, please post in the comments below – I’d love to see what’s inspiring you these days.

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Style Stalker: Author Gets Stalked

I was stalked on the streets of Calgary and asked about my style! It was a super fun shoot, and I am flattered to be included.

It’s a blog where they showcase the random stylings of local Calgarians as they move to and fro about the city. Everything I’m wearing is relatively new, with the coat, shoes, and belt found on huge sale discounts.

Check it out, friends! Head on over to Avenue Magazine’s Style Stalker Blog.

The Joy of a Good Story

Just a quick blog post tonight.

I have just come off a 5-week children’s theatre tour, taking a 50-minute show to Kindergarten-Grade 6 students throughout northern Alberta. I had a blast, even though it was exhausting (picture doing jumping jacks while giving a speech for an hour.) The show took tons of energy, but the pay-off was worth it: excited, happy, transcendent children.

Why did this happen?

Because we’re brilliant, of course. But seriously, the reason why it really did happen is that we were given an incredible script to work from. The story of this play was beautifully constructed, with the perfect amount of exposition leading up to a wonderful inciting incident. Add to that a great rising action, a rewarding climax, and a brief – yet poignant – resolution/denouement, and you’ve got the recipe for success. All we had to do was show up.

Well, not true. We had to show up and get out of the way of the story – and add to it in our own, unique way. In the writing world, this is viewed as ‘voice’ – something that can’t be forced, but happens naturally. The show was a two-hander, and I am fortunate enough that we both had enough faith and trust in each other to surrender wholly to the honesty and authenticity of our own unique voices.

I think the most rewarding thing about sharing a good story is the number of people who will be profoundly affected and changed as a result. This is why I act, and this is why I write. I want the stories I tell to make a difference, and, when I have the chance to do just that, it’s an incredible thing.

Learn about story structure. Figure out what it takes, and why. Understand it. Master it. It will never serve you wrong.

What are some of your all-time favorite stories? Have you ever seen a movie or a play that has had an incredible impact on you? What was it? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below.

And a good story? It never goes out of style.

Blog Mash-up

For today’s post, I wanted to share three articles from blogs that I think are pretty darned interesting. I’ve given you the headlines and a sample of the article, and I strongly hope you click through and give the rest of the article a read. I don’t think you’ll regret it!

I hope you enjoy them!

Paul

The Faceless Villain: What to do When Your Bad Guy Isn’t a Person

In a lot of stories (especially genre novels) the antagonist is a physical being that can be fought against. But what do you do when your antag is something to overcome, like depression, or a self-destructive streak? Technically, there’s nothing plotting against your protagonist for them to fight. It’s a personal situation or flaw holding them back. These stories are a little tougher to write. 

Read the rest of the article HERE on The Other Side of the Story.

How To Write – And Deliver – Killer Speeches
For two years or whatever, I blogged three times a week about publicity, speechwriting, public relations and scandals for The New York Times’about.com.  If you are an author, actor, director, politician, professional athlete, rock star, user of social media or otherwise in the public eye, THESE POSTS ARE USEFUL TO YOU. If you live in an ice cave, you can safely ignore all this stuff and go back to tanning that elk hide.
Six Ways to Beat The Blogging Blahs
We all go through times when we wake up in the morning, take one look at the clock, and pull the covers back over our heads wishing we could spend the day cocooned away from the world.We have those days (or weeks!) when it’s hard enough to force ourselves out of bed, much less make ourselves sit down in front of our laptops and try to come up with something witty and interesting to say on our blogs.
Did you come across any awesome blogs or articles this week that you’d love to share? Or perhaps you posted one on your own blog that you’re particularly proud of? Please share them in the comments below – I’d love to see what you’re reading.

Which Genre Is It, Anyway?

Fantasy vs. Science Fiction All books need to be classified, for it tells book sellers – and readers – where a book belongs. If you go into a book store, a quick glance at the aisles tells you that it is imperative for a book to fall into a certain genre. Often, fantasy and science-fiction are grouped together in one big section, which can make it a challenge in searching out a specific sub-genre of literature. But when we submit our work to agents, it’s important to have the right genre classification.

Why? Because the agent needs to know how they are going to sell the book. If we say that our book is a “young adult, middle grade, high fantasy, space opera, steampunk set in Victorian-era Mars,” an agent will likely give it a pass – because they will be unable to sell the book to a publishing house (and chances are, such a book would be a bizarre mess.)

It can be confusing knowing where to place your book. As such, it is important to fully understand the genre. To help with that, I’ve done a little work for you and defined some of the sub-genres of both fantasy and science fiction, with a little note on classification. I hope it helps!

Fantasy:

Epic Fantasy: Arguably the father of all fantasy, epic fantasy is a genre where the protagonists must save the world, typically from some malevolent, evil antagonist. They typically fight the final battle between good and evil, conquer evil nations, overthrow evil overlords, or even face off with the gods themselves. Often times, epic fantasy and high fantasy are considered interchangeable, but there is a subtle difference. J. R. R. Tolkien and Robert Jordan fall under the heading of epic fantasy.

High Fantasy: Closely related to epic fantasy, the high fantasy genre typically has just as much world building as its epic counterpart, but the difference is in the scope of the story. High fantasy typically involves stories that are more personal in nature, perhaps more limited to the needs and desires of a single protagonist, rather than a group. He or she is focused on a single antagonist, rather than on a global/end-of-world event. Typically, by the end of the story, our protagonist has attained his or her goals, but the rest of the world is generally unaffected and continues on as though nothing had happened. Often, Ursula K. Le Guin’s Earthsea novels are considered to be high fantasy.

Urban Fantasy: Sometimes referred to as contemporary fantasy, urban fantasy is typically set in the real world, such as Earth, and is often in the present day. Magic still plays a pivotal role, and, as such, is not to be confused with science fiction. Guy Gavriel Kay has some urban fantasy in his oeuvre.

Sword and Sorcery: Sword and sorcery fantasy involves stories that are typically smaller in size with less emphasis on world building and more time spent on action. Think of dungeon-crawls, where the protagonists must fight off the hordes of evil on a quest for his or her goal. Xena: Warrior Princess would be a good example of a sword and sorcery type fantasy.

Dark Fantasy: Dark fantasy isn’t necessarily ‘scary’ or ‘horrific’ fantasy, but rather it is typically a story where the protagonist fails to win. They may involve antiheroes rather than heroes, and the stories are often set in worlds where evil has triumphed over good. Sometimes they are set in dystopian or post-apocalyptic worlds. H. P. Lovecraft is well known as a dark fantasy author.

Historical Fantasy: Often set in the historical real world, urban fantasy includes magical elements set in historical eras. Susanna Clarke is an example of a historical fantasy author.

Erotic Fantasy: Also known as fantasy romance, erotic fantasy tends to have a lot of sex and/or romance as central drive for the plot. The Sleeping Beauty” novels by A. N. Roquelaure – a pseudonym of Anne Rice – are examples of erotic fantasy.

Science Fiction:

Hard Science Fiction: With a heavy dose of science, hard science fiction is perhaps one of the more challenging genres to write in. The author must have a solid understanding of scientific fact so that their futuristic science is wholly plausible. Asimov is considered the grandfather of hard science fiction.

Space Opera: This tends to be a fun genre, with less focus on scientific fact with perhaps more liberal, fantastical elements. There can be hard science and military science fiction in this genre, but it leans heavily on the fiction side. George Lucas is a good example of a space opera author.

Steampunk: Steampunk is typically a very specific type of historical fiction, where more modern technology is set within classical historical eras. For instance, you’ll often have mechanized gizmos and gadgets in a Victorian-era world. The new Sherlock Holmes movies lean towards steampunk, as well as novelists such as Cherie Priest.

Classification:

We typically don’t need to classify when a novel is suited for an adult audience. It is assumed that all literature can be read and appreciated by adult readers. Adult fantasy and science fiction tends to allow for more sex, romance and graphic violence, with a more sophisticated point of view.

Young Adult: The primary distinction here is that the protagonist tends to be close to the age of the reader (typically 13-17). If you visit the young adult section of the book store, you’ll see that it has exploded in popularity. It is interesting to note that young girls tend to be the target demographic for these stories, although the popularity of these stories is growing among young teen boys. Suzanne Collins, of Hunger Games fame, is a good example of a young-adult (YA) author.

Middle Grade: These are books intended toward kids ages eight to twelve (also known as ‘tweens’). They are starting to make decisions on the types of stories they’re interested in reading, and typically the protagonists are of a similar age to the reader. There is typically very little – if any – sexual content, although there is definitely action and conflict. Janice Hardy is a good example of a middle-grade (MG) author.

Have I missed any major sub-genres? And was this helpful in making sense of the differing genres? If so, please include your thoughts in the comments below. Note that literary agents and publishing houses may disagree, and that these are only guidelines.

Geeking Out: From Gamer to Writer

I have mentioned before that I’m a bit of a geek.

Growing up, I spent countless hours playing, administrating, and running MUDs (Multi-User Dungeons). These were the text-based roleplaying games where I would whittle away my hours, interacting with people around the world by playing at being a Druid, a secret magic user, a nefarious rogue, a troubled artist, a religious Warband leader, and a powerful manipulator of the elements who had a huge distrust of authority. I spent countless hours developing skills that have proven exceptionally useful in my writing. I’d like to share some of that experience and those skills with you here today, and put forth my argument that certain types of gaming can be a writer’s greatest gift.

Character Planning. When we begin a roleplaying game, we have to think about the history of our character. Or rather, we do if we hope to create a solid character that will have longevity in the world. This involves figuring out who our parents might be, what are our religious beliefs, which gods or goddess we might like and dislike, what is our skill set, what events in our youth might have shaped our attitude and outlook in life, and what our aspirations are – our super-objectives that drive us through the world.

Druid

How would you describe her in words?

How do we feel about other nationalities/races/religions? What style of clothing do we choose to wear? What is our economic status, and how will we interact or move through the world?

Asking these questions help create the dynamic, interesting characters people will want to interact with and include in their roleplaying world.

And the same questions apply to planning our protagonists and antagonists and indeed our secondary and tertiary characters. The more fleshed-out a character appears to be, the more seamlessly they fit into the world. It creates a subtle impact, and readers pick up on it. The characters will have attitudes, personality, prejudices, and allegiances. This will affect how they move through and interact with the world. It creates for a more immersive storytelling experience.

Writing and Reading Descriptions. When I administered and ran MUDs, my duties included building the descriptions of rooms, objects, and monsters. As a player, my duties included describing my character for others to see and read the world around me. I had to examine how others described themselves, what the rooms and areas we played in looked like, and whether there might useful clues we might devise from the world around us.

On some MUDs, the descriptions are pretty limited. They are stunted, do nothing to further our understanding of the world, and are often times laughable. The same can be said about a good deal of gamers out there. But when you come across the players who have good descriptions and the MUDs where a true atmosphere has been evoked in the way everything has been described… Well, it is thrilling.

Now, I don’t mean to brag, but I can write some killer descriptions. Pages of them, if need be. Unfortunately, this usually causes problems, and I end up spending time paring the descriptions down in order to ensure that they drive the atmosphere forward, rather than bog the reader down and create obstacles to the enjoyment of the story.

Personally, I like to rely on descriptions that involve a sensory experience. Our senses of sight, sound, taste, touch, and smell all help immerse the reader into the world. Often times, though, less is more – and this becomes crucial with writing strong stories.

Atmosphere can take center stage

Atmosphere can take center stage

There are moments where the atmosphere or locale needs to take center stage, where an anticipated character gets the opportunity to wow the reader with their carefully put-together attire. We just need be careful that it doesn’t add obstacles to the enjoyment of the story.

World Building. When I began designing my MUD, The Towers of Jadri, I started from scratch. I had a common look-and-feel in mind, as I wanted to create a unified world for my players to immerse themselves in.

I built dozens of areas – likely 80% or more of the playable zones on the MUD – for the characters to explore and live in. I spent countless of hours writing help files for players to be able to read to further understand the culture, history, and abilities. I’d even pay players in the form of special in-game points to go through all the game’s commands in search of missing help files, or scanning the current help files for things of interest which could be elaborated upon to assist in the understanding of the world.

Ultimately, I don’t know whether the players appreciated the several hundred help files that the MUD had. However, when I stop by other MUDs, I am often dumbfounded by how non-user friendly they seem to be – simply because I am unable to get the answers to the questions I have in order to successfully develop the depth of my character.

Now, the hours I spent fleshing out the world served another useful purpose, as I still have those areas and help files. Since the Towers of Jadri was a MUD set in my world, everything I built – from rooms and objects to monsters and help files – furthered my own understanding of the world, the history, the nations, races, special and magical abilities, etc. This was serious world-building, and as a result I believe that when my stories are read, there is a sense of full immersion into the richness of the world. My beta readers seem to agree.

Okay, it sounds like I’m tooting my own horn a little bit, and I apologize. I’m proud of the world I created, and I often find myself a little blown away by the fact that, 15 years later, the game I created has turned into an honest-to-goodness book. It’s allowed for me to create a fully-realized world where the metaphysics and history make sense, where the way people interact with each other is plausible, and where the stories have become quite easy for me to share.

How has your involvement in gaming helped develop your craft and the stories you tell? Have you had any special experiences that have led to your worlds being fully immersive and highly developed? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below – it’s pretty nifty hearing how other people came to develop their worlds.

Book Review: The Girl in the Steel Corset

Every now and then, I will be posting book reviews on my blog. I know this can be challenging, as we all have personal tastes. What rings true for me might be in complete opposition to your own experience. This is 100% okay, and I welcome differing opinions.

That being said, I hope to use these reviews as an opportunity to explore where novels did or did not succeed.  These are the lessons I took, and, with a little luck, they might be helpful in your own work.

The Girl in the Steel Corset, by Kady Cross.

This young adult novel is a steampunk adventure. It has received a lot of praise, sales, and even an award or two. It has a sexy cover, its title evokes the popularity of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, and the premise is pretty neat. I was excited to give it a read.

From the back-cover blurb:

“When a young lord tries to take advantage of Finley, she fights back. And wins. But no normal Victorian girl has a darker side that makes her capable of knocking out a full-grown man with one punch…

Only Griffin King sees the magical darkness inside her that says she’s special, says she’s one of them. The orphaned duke takes her in from the gaslit streets against the wishes of his band of misfits: Emily, who has her own special abilities and an unrequited love for Sam, who is part robot; and Jasper, an American cowboy with a shadowy secret.

Griffin’s investigating a criminal called The Machinist, the mastermind behind several recent crimes by automatons. Finley thinks she can help – and finally be a part of something, finally fit in.

But the Machinist wants to tear Griff’s little company of strays apart, and it isn’t long before trust is tested on all sides. At least Finley knows whose side she’s on – even if it seems no one believes her.”

The novel is published by Harlequin Teen, and I will acknowledge that I am not the target demographic. That’s okay. Good stories can have universal appeal, but sometimes they target a specific group of people. That being said, we should be able to appreciate aspects of the story – characters, plot, atmosphere – regardless of the genre.

A cursory scan of the reviews on-line suggested that a number of readers have thoroughly enjoyed this book, so I acknowledge I may be in the minority in my opinion. But the story didn’t sit as well with me. I’d like to explore the reasons why as an opportunity to learn.

I struggled with the plot. I felt like I was never given a real sense of the antagonist. Right from the get-go, we’re given the impression that perhaps it’s one guy. But after a single scene, he is all but forgotten. We’re given a hint that this other fellow named The Machinist might be the antagonist, but he seems so much on the periphery that it is hard to believe he’s truly important to the story. At the half-way point of the book, I was still at a loss for a clear antagonist, and that’s problematic.

The lesson: It is important to establish the stakes of the antagonist as early as possible. We need someone to be worried about – someone that will pose a threat to the survival and well-being of the protagonists, the characters we’re going to root for. If the protagonists aren’t in jeopardy, how can we become thoroughly invested in the story?

Some novels manage to accomplish a subtle antagonist – someone who doesn’t clearly jump out as “the bad guy.” And please note, an antagonist doesn’t need to be “the bad guy.” They simply need to provide the conflict – the challenge – to the success of the protagonist. And without strong, clear conflict, it becomes difficult to invest.

The story had multiple points-of-view. I found this problematic. The story starts off by introducing us to the protagonist, Finley. But after one scene, we jump into another point of view. And then another. I never really got a true enough sense of the characters to care about them long enough to give their perspective up, and this proved problematic.

The lesson: If we’re going to use multiple point-of-views, it is worth-while to ensure the reader develops an attachment to the character – roots for them, wants them to succeed – before we dive into another. Multiple points-of-view can succeed and be highly effective, but I think it occurs in situations where we’re truly invested in the heart and soul – the ambitions, challenges, and humanity – of the character.

The editing posed a problem. It may be a matter of personal taste, but I felt this book could have used a little more massaging. Several scenes felt clunky. There were run-on-sentences – which I acknowledge can be used to drive tension, to up the ante, as it were – but unfortunately it often came across as grammatically flawed. There were also instances where a simple re-ordering of sentences would have done WONDERS for the scene… and other instances where sentences could have been cut to help drive the story – the action, the plot – forward.

The lesson: Be diligent. Challenge sentences every step of the way. Does it further the story? Does it add to the atmosphere? How about the pace? Editing can be tedious, but 99% of the time it’s what makes your story sing. Janice Hardy has numerous excellent articles on editing, and if you choose to invest the time, it will take your novel to the next level. I highly recommend her blog.

The Girl in the Steel Corset was a fairly easy read. It didn’t bore me to tears, and I managed to move through it fairly quickly. I’d actually love to see the film version of this book, and I hope that we’re given the opportunity. For the book, however, I simply felt that with a few little tweaks, it could have gone from an acceptable story to an incredible story.

I encourage you to see for yourself.

Have you read this book? What were your thoughts? Do you agree or disagree with any of my observations? Please share your opinions in the comments below – I’d love to hear what you have to say.

Love What You Write: The Challenge of Short Stories

I’ve decided to answer a call-for-submissions for a short story anthology.

The anthology in question is Tesseracts 16: Parnassus Unbound. It’s being produced by Calgary publishing firm EDGE/Tesseracts Books, and, to quote the website:

“Submissions should focus on art, music, literature and cultural elements which are integral to the story. This anthology will reflect as broad a spectrum of stories as possible; highlighting unique styles and manners.”

Sounds like a cool opportunity to write a nifty fantasy short story, doesn’t it? I thought so, too. I never thought it was going to be so challenging, though.

My first task was to figure out the “trick” to writing short stories. As it turns out, it’s the same as writing any story – only shorter. Go figure.

I did come across a couple of tips, though:

Every word counts. Make sure that every sentence either furthers plot, action, character, or world building. Any sentence that doesn’t touch on one – or more – of the above points needs to be revisited. Or else, you’re hooped.

Story structure is key. You know: exposition, inciting incident, rising action, climax, denoument/resolution. All that jazz. It can be 3-act, 5-point, or 7-point structure – whichever you prefer – but stick to a tried-and-true structure, and you’ll be fine.

But what I wasn’t expecting?

Being given limitations / restrictions as guidelines can complicate things.

This blew my mind. As an actor, I love restrictions. The more restrictions you give me, the more creative I get. For instance, if I tell you to get up and improvise a 15-minute monologue, chances are you’ll soil yourself and stammer and mumble aimlessly. It would be a traumatic experience for all involved.

However, if I tell you to improvise a 15-minute monologue as a young girl who goes looking for her run-away dog and comes across a mysterious triangular-shaped stone that transports her to a world of talking plants where she must go on an adventure to find the Paramion Seed, granting her the special elemental powers needed to return home…

Chances are you’ll succeed.

I thought the same thing would happen with this short story. It has very specific (although definitely not simplistic) limitations, and limitations are the key to creativity.

And limitations can be awesome.

But they can also be limiting.

I am working on building a specific, marketable product: the fantasy world I created. I plan on writing 30+ novels that take place in this world, because I know it so well. I’ve literally spent decades and tens of tens of housands of hours developing the world. I know it inside and out, and I love it. I love it to bits.

So naturally, I wanted to write a short story set in this world.

Correction: I wanted to write a short story – that would be selected for this anthology – set in this world.

But the requirements / theme of the anthology? Now there’s a fly in the mimosa.

I dove head first into the first idea that came to mind, and wrote 2500 words. I challenged myself and learned a lot about telling vs. showing, and I played with some narrative techniques I was looking to explore.  But ultimately, the required theme of the submission became a gimmick, rather than a central core value of the story. In that way, it was a fail.

So I did a little more research, and came across some essential advice:

Write what you love.

I think this is an important message that we all must take home. We should always write what we love. Sure, we sometimes have to write things we’re not too gung-ho about, but I think it is imperative that we find something to love. We need to force ourselves to find it. Growth will happen as a result, and isn’t that the saving grace of the “art” of writing? I think so.

I am happy to say that I’ve started a new short story and I’ve written 1,600 words. I still have a ways to go, but I’m digging it, and I am looking forward to continuing to work on it. Whether it’ll succeed and be published in this anthology, I do not know. But I do know that I’ll have loved every moment of that, and at the end of the day, that is an accomplishment worth celebrating.

How often do you write for specific competitions, anthologies, or markets? Do you find it challenging, or an awesome opportunity to push yourself and grow as an artist? What are some tips and tricks you’ve developed along the way when it comes to writing short stories? Please share your wisdom in the comments below – we’d love to hear your thoughts.

Worth a Look: Rebecca Berto & Larry Brooks

Today, I want to introduce you to a woman named Rebecca Berto. She is a young writer and editor living in Australia, and she hosts a blog called Novel Girl where she offers up clear advice on writing, a smattering of comprehensive book reviews and author interviews.

And what’s more, she’s done a ton of work on amassing valuable tools that I have certainly found useful in developing my craft.

In particular, she highlights the skills she learned from Larry Brooks, author of Story Engineering. Larry’s book is definitely on my wishlist, as it sounds like it’s loaded with incredible tools and resources.

As I approach my own craft of writing, Larry’s site Storyfix and Rebecca’s blog have been very educational, and I recommend them both.

Story structure is one of those elusive things that a lot of novice writers don’t think about – and judging from a couple of disappointing published short stories and a 500-page YA novel I’ve read recently, it might be something a few published authors don’t think about, either. Most, however, do – and it becomes quickly apparent as to why.

We’re given a very brief overview of it in high school, and then it quickly drops to the back-burner, never to be thought of again. I will admit that when I wrote my first novel, structure was the last thing to pop into my mind. But I guarantee you that through the editing process, it resurfaced and I paid special attention to the various elements that make for good structure in a story. The fixes were sometimes a challenge, but definitely worth-while.

The following three links are from Rebecca’s site, highlighting her understanding of Larry’s technique.

The Best Advice I’ve Learned on Story Structure: Part 1 – Setup

The Best Advice I’ve Learned on Story Structure: Part 2 – Plot Point 1

The Best Advice I’ve Learned on Story Structure: Part 3 – Midpoint & Second / Third Plot Points

What are your favorite sites for writing technique? Are there any books on the craft of writing that you view as your proverbial “bible”? Please share them in the comments below – I’d love to take a peek at them.

Becoming a Master – 10,000 Hours to Master Your Craft

Malcolm Gladwell writes some fantastic books. My favorites include Blink, Outliers, and The Tipping Point.

In Outliers, Gladwell introduces a concept:

It takes 10,000 hours to become a master at something.

10,000 hours of investment in your drawing skills will lead to a level of mastery. 10,000 hours of the study of the history of Venice will likely make you an honest-to-goodness expert in the field. This makes sense to me, even though life can’t always follow the rules of a formula. But it’s a good general guideline.

So let’s do the math:

  • 10,000 hours / 365 days (1 year) = 27.5 hours/day (Impossible!)
  • 10,000 hours / 1095 days (3 years) = 9.1 hours/day (Possible, but exhausting)
  • 10,000 hours / 2190 days (6 years) = 4.6 hours / day (More likely)

Interesting to think about, isn’t it?

How many hours a day do you spend honing your craft?

To be a good writer involves an investment of time. This is where formal education does come in hand. It forces us to invest the time required to improve our skills. Additionally, we get feedback, critique, and hopefully some encouragement along the way. We gain a formal understanding, and pick up numerous tips and tricks. We’re more likely to develop faster than we would on our own.

But not all of us have pursued this sort of formal training.

I didn’t. I have 7 years of university under my belt, but it was divided between a 4-year BA degree in Psychology and Philosophy and a 3-year BFA degree in Acting. Sure, I did a lot of writing in both programs, but nowhere near the 10,000 hours needed to become a master.

However, there’s another component aside from education: practical experience. We can’t discount that. Any work – be it reading, writing, critiquing, or editing – definitely counts.

Lately, I’ve been reading tons of articles, books, and blogs about the craft of writing. I’ve learned a great deal and it’s really changed the way I approach my craft. I know there’s still so much for me to learn, and I am actively pursuing my own practical experience and training. Some days I’m discouraged, feeling like I’m so far behind. But then, when I look at what I’ve accomplished over the past 15 years, I realize I’m exactly on target.

As mentioned in my last post, I started playing online text-based roleplaying games when I was 13. In the gaming world, they’re called Multi-User Dungeons, or MUDs. They had no graphics, no fancy special effects or sounds. They relied wholly on imagination, and that made them both powerful and engaging.

I am afraid to calculate how many hours I logged on MUDs over the course of the 10 years I spent playing, administering, and running them.

I started out as a player and eventually became a staff member. I helped police the game, assisted with problems, resolve bugs, and even add content. I would also help encourage role-play by planning quests and special events for some or all of the players to participate in, and these events involved storytelling in its purest form.

Now, I know for a fact I logged well over 10,000 hours. It might be close to 30,000 (or more) – but let’s not concern ourselves too much with that. And not all of my hours were spent writing, but a good portion of them were. I cannot deny that my involvement in running and administering MUDs helped develop my craft.

My journey might not be conventional, but it definitely had worth.

How about for yourself? What unconventional methods helped develop your craft? Do you have a unique journey that led you to writing? During a typical day, do you find opportunities to focus and develop your skill? I’d love to hear your stories, so please feel free to share them in the comments below.