The Reason for Writing

I have a confession. I lost my way on the writing path…

I seem to have forgotten my own definition of “success,” which is not about money and not even necessarily about visibility. My definition of success as a writer is creating work that I am proud to share, work that I myself enjoy reading, and work that connects with someone out there. The point is to capture something about the world, to distill pieces of reality into my weird speculative fiction. And instead of doing that, I’ve been obsessing over writing work that will “sell,” or that will be popular.

In regard to my writing here on wordpress, I blame Freshly Pressed. Now, before there is any confusion, I must say that I think it’s great that it exists. It makes perfect sense for wordpress to select posts that they feel would be entertaining or illuminating for many people and help them reach a wider audience. I completely get that and I applaud everyone who makes it into that category (although I guess some people don’t think of it as such a big deal). What bothers me is that the selection seems arbitrary to a certain degree. They have made posts that explain what makes a post more likely to become Freshly Pressed, but those posts don’t fully explain it. I’ll still go through them sometimes and think, “these posts aren’t better than my posts. I could be Freshly Pressed.” So then, I try to think of what I could do to make a post that would be featured by wordpress, or maybe “go viral.” This is a terrible approach.

The way I see it, there are three basic ways to approach writing. One is just as a hobby, and that to me means that it’s something that you enjoy doing but isn’t incredibly important to you. The other two ways are: writing to make money, and writing because it’s in your soul and you can’t possibly be happy if you don’t. Writing as ART. Writing as art does not often overlap with writing popular works. There are plenty of popular books that can be considered real literature, but it seems that the majority of the moneymakers in the publishing world are NOT impressive literary works.

Being popular as a writer should not matter to me. You have only to look at the Twilight books to see that the masses are not the best judges of quality. That is, being popular as a writer should not be how I define success; but it does matter. It matters, and I will tell you why.

It matters because although I am writing for myself, I do not exist in a vacuum. I have to write for myself, because I am the first person who will ever read it, and I certainly believe the saying that if I don’t want to read it, no one else will either. However, the intention, after that first viewing, is to reach as many people as I can–to connect, even with people I never meet. To express for my readers things that they cannot find the words to say themselves. To allow my readers to enter the worlds I create, whether in a meaningful way or as pure recreation. And none of that can ever happen if I can’t get people to read the work.

I think that becoming well-known, maybe even being able to support myself financially, as a writer will always be a dream of mine, whether or not I ever come close. For now, I have to put that aside and find my way back. I have to remember that I am writing for me. Plenty of readers seem to like what’s come out of that approach in the past… I’m sure some will again.

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A Response to Neil Gaiman’s Graduation Address

Dear Neil Gaiman,

I would like to start by thanking you for this speech, as I did find it inspiring and thought-provoking. I think you are extremely creative, with a very unique imagination, and I have enjoyed everything of yours I’ve ever read. I do not imagine that you’ll stop working during your lifetime, and I think the literary world would be worse off if you did. It needs people like you, not thinking about the “rules” or what you “should” write, but writing what you want to write.

I would love to just be inspired and motivated by your words and leave it at that. But, as it turns out, I can’t. I keep thinking about one thing you said, about having to balance pursuing writing as a path, doing what you want, with paying bills, eating, and other such “necessities” of life.

Your name is well-known, established in the literary world. As you’ve said, all your “bottles” are returning to you. I’m sure you have to sort through many requests to write stories or episodes of Dr. Who (!). Because you’re so well-known, with all the doors open to you, while I’ve just barely got a foot in, I find myself going to the “That’s easy for you to say…” place. It is so easy in situations like this to think that the successful person speaking doesn’t understand the whole starting out and getting work out struggle. It’s ridiculous–of COURSE you understand that. You were not born a famous writer. You had to work and revise and revise and revise, and I’m sure you got your fair share of rejections when you started out. But when I am watching this speech, I can’t see all of that. I can only see someone who because so successful that he has been asked to speak at a college graduation.

The trouble with admiring famous people, aspiring to be where they are, is that no one is well-known until they are. We never see the name until it starts to appear everywhere. There is, to some degree, an illusion that it simply happens all of a sudden. You can talk about your starting-out days all you want, and I believe they really happened, but the reality of it escapes my grasp. I am unable to connect your early days as a writer with mine. For every person whose story led to success, like yours, there are probably many more who never made it. I suppose the most common difference is that all of those people, at some point, gave up. But you have to admit, there is no guarantee that it will ever happen for any particular person.

I am not trying to imply that you don’t deserve your success, Neil. I’m a fan; it’s clear that your work is well-loved for a reason. It’s just that I have never been able to understand that bridge between writing and getting the writing recognized. Maybe that’s just me.

 

Sincerely,

Deva Jasheway, long-time writer

Basic Writing Advice

I’m no certified writing expert: let’s just get that admission over with. I “only” have a bachelor’s degree, and I have not had a lot of time to pursue writing professionally up to this point. However, I have years and years of experience with writing and literature–honestly, so many that I find it impossible to truly count them–and significant experience as a copyeditor. (That is, I consider it significant, as I have reached a point at which I feel absolutely confident in my editing.) I am a talented writer, and I read a lot. In professionally published writing, I do not usually see the problems about which I intend to speak.

This advice is geared particularly toward internet writing. These days, anyone who wants to can go online, to various platforms such as our lovely WordPress here, or create a website, or even hop on twitter. People can write absolutely anything they want and put it out there for hundreds or even thousands (and, in rare cases, millions) of others to read. I do think that is fantastic. It is at this moment the only outlet I have for my writing, although I am really trying harder to create more opportunities for myself to write.

However, in that wonderful freedom lies an extremely irritating problem. While you can publish any written piece you want online, whether it be 140 characters or 50,000 words, you might want to just take a moment to proofread your thoughts before you click on that “post” button. I suppose everyone should feel free to post rambling, ignorant, or substance-less writing if that’s how they choose to express themselves. I’m not complaining about the content–that’s just freedom of speech, man! (I find myself saying “man” a lot lately. Mostly when talking to myself. I’m not sure why.) But when you don’t know the rules of grammar, why do you think this is the best way to convey your thoughts to others? If I’m looking over a very thoughtful blog post and all of a sudden I come across a glaring grammar mistake, it kind of just ruins the experience.

With that in mind, I have just a few small tips for you to start off with.

The first piece of advice I have for you is to read. Find something you enjoy reading and read a lot of it. It can be incredibly helpful to develop your writing style and voice to just absorb properly edited, published writing. I honestly think that is how I learned a lot about grammar and using language.

Second: KNOW YOUR APOSTROPHES. I’m not going to rant on and on about their, there, and they’re, because I’m sure you’ve all heard that one before. I even recall reading over a blog post before publishing it to find that I’d somehow substituted one for another (see, proofreading is your friend!), and that was quite recent. However, the one that I can never seem to get over is its and it’s.

I suppose I understand why people get confused there. Using specific nouns, the possessive always uses an apostrophe. I would really like everyone to please learn, however, that when you’re using pronouns, if there is an apostrophe in the word, it is NOT a possessive form, but a contraction. It’s means “it is.” Please, please stop confusing them, it really is one of the biggest day-to-day frustrations for me in terms of reading anything printed on the internet. I have even seen this mistake in advertisements, and that makes me sad. Don’t advertise your business with incorrect grammar, please.

While I’m talking about apostrophes, I want to tell you that the correct way to write about a decade would be, for example, “the 1950s.” If you have written “1950’s,” then your thought in fact says “of 1950.” You need to know this. It’s important. If you are abbreviating the number, then you would use an apostrophe: the ’50s. It’s not confusing, really, even if it seems that way.

My third bit of advice: what do people have against the oxford comma? Granted, it is often not completely necessary, but there are definitely times when its use is beneficial to expressing the proper thought. To demonstrate, I’ll share a picture you may have all seen before:

I don't know, maybe that was the intention...

I don’t know, maybe that was the intention…

 

If you don’t like oxford commas, you can rearrange word order to avoid confusion. “We invited JFK, Stalin and the strippers” does not have the same potential for horrible (or awesome?) mental images.

I think this is long enough for one post, but I can post more writing advice in the future if anyone finds my thoughts helpful.

To close, I want to say this: I am not writing this to mock people who don’t have a talent for writing, or to pretend I’m the queen of grammar, or anything else like that. I understand also that each person’s grammar skills can be affected by their background, their education, and the speaking and writing habits of their family and friends. I do not think, however, that basic grammar is difficult to learn; I think it is possible for most people. It’s about how you present yourself. Potential and present employers, college admissions, other writers and bloggers and people out there reading what you have chosen to show them … none of these people are going to take you seriously if you publish writing with such simple mistakes in it. Have enough respect for yourself to make your writing better.

A Good Blog: Another Pot of Chai

I recently started following this blog. I was drawn to it for the title, because, although I love coffee, chai is my FAVORITE beverage. I really liked this post, and it’s a great example of this blogger’s voice. It’s probably my favorite blog that I’ve found so far. I have been bad about finding blogs to follow so far, I need more, but I’m sure this one will remain high up on the list!

Brief Update

Hello gentle readers. I have some almost-news that is not ready to be shared yet, and one or two thoughts for posts that I don’t feel like writing right now. Instead, just a short post…

 

Not too long ago I was looking through some of the comments left on older posts (yes, I read all your comments! I usually even try to respond to them!). The response to the two chapters of the Helen of Troy novel I was working on, although small, was quite positive. A few people expressed that they would like to read more. If anyone is wondering if I’m going to continue with that story, the answer is yes… eventually. It’s been put on hold for now. I will let you know when I start working on it again, but it will be quite a while before that happens.

 

A week or so ago, I did finally write a little in the novel that is my current project, a very altered version of Sleeping Beauty. The intention was to write every day, starting then, but of course I didn’t. I only wrote about a page, but I have got a better idea of how the story should move from here.

And last, I’m trying to put more effort toward getting my life to be closer to what I want. If that makes sense…

Forgive the disjointed post, I am a bit tired at the end of every Monday.

Choosing Themes

In case you haven’t noticed yet, I decided to give my blog a makeover. New look, new title.

My prior theme (as they call the background/layout, as I’m sure you know), Koi, was in place for about two years. Three years? Anyway, a pretty long time. I liked everything about it except that it was so popular that as I browse others’ blogs, I’d come across it and get this strange sense of –I suppose deja vu is the correct term. Something that seems familiar, but isn’t. It’s like a pod-blog. Looks just the same, but with different content. I chose this one, which is simpler in color scheme and appearance, with slightly more customizable options. I found that picture of the tree on some public domain site. That picture might not be around long, so enjoy it while you can (if you like it, that is. Do you like it? If you don’t, feel free to tell me. I’m open to your input.)

The title is NOT about the internet being not physically there or anything so trite. You should be relieved to hear that.

The new title, Between Worlds, has two meanings. It refers to 1) bouncing between the work/chore/necessity aspects of my life and the writing/dreaming/anything I actually want to do parts. The trick is to make the creative part of my life make me money, so that my creative life and my professional life can be joined, but I haven’t managed this yet. In the meantime they really feel like two different worlds… 2) Traveling between the worlds of different pieces of writing, or different parts of the same work. Ever read Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino? If not, you should, it’s an awesome read. Anyway, think of it like that.

I feel the need now to discuss how difficult it is to choose a theme for a blog. There are so many options, and for the most part one is really no better than the next. The deciding factor, I guess, is which one “speaks to” you when you’re deciding how your blog should look. I honestly don’t know how many pages of options you could scroll through, because I don’t believe that spending several hours trying out every possible theme is a great use of time, so I’ve never gotten to the end. Like I said, one theme is not that much better than any other…

Of course that doesn’t mean I could just pick any old one and apply it to my blog. No, it does have to feel right. The key points of theme selection, for me, were as follows.

In the “browse themes” page, I sorted by “newest.” I figured, most likely without any factual or statistical basis, that fewer other blogs would have the newer themes. I believe this would be called flawed logic, but I thought at the very least I would find themes I had not seen yet, so I just went with it.

I only looked at the free options, which narrowed things down. The choice to pay extra for certain blog features probably makes plenty of sense for some people, but on my budget it just doesn’t work. I need to eat this month, you know…

So then, within those constraints, I had to decide between different types of themes. There were two real considerations here: layout and color scheme.

Layouts like this one, which show the posts or summary in a sort of standard, book-page form, linear and very readable, are the best choices for a writing blog. (At least, I think so.) For some blogs, the home page with multiple boxes laid out side by side with different posts is a great way to browse, but for me it’s just too busy. The writing itself is the draw here, not a fancy design. I don’t want my content to be lost in all the little boxes.

Out of the themes that are designed in a similar layout, I then had to choose a color. Koi had a nice soft coral background, which was one of the things I liked best about it. I know that I don’t like to look at a website with a very bright background for more than a few minutes; I don’t want to drive away my readers with the blinding glow coming from the computer screen. Then again, although I liked some of the darker themes, having too dark a background does not seem too welcoming. I don’t want to come to my own blog and see this dark screen. The world’s a dark enough place already. (For some people, the dark background works great. I’m happy to read your blog on any background you choose.)

The theme I chose is a little brighter perhaps than I would have liked, but the gray softens it, making it easier to stare at for long enough to read the first two chapters of my Helen of Troy novel (under the “Helen” tab). The other aspects of the design were pleasing enough for me, and there are quite a few custom options, meaning that I can make it feel more personal.

Any other features, like headers, title font, where the tabs appear, or funky pictures, were mostly irrelevant to my selection process. They were items to be dealt with if they were attached to a theme I liked, but not what I sought out. After Koi’s very pretty but rather intricate borders, I felt it was time to simplify.

 

Much like I should simplify in real life by sorting through all my crap. But that’s a story for another time…

 

 

Time and Money, the Worst Things In the World

Ok, I know there’s a reason for the calendar to be the way it is, and it has to do with freaking SCIENCE – physics, calculations, earth’s rotations and revolutions. Nevermind that leap year thing, this is probably as close as they can get. But I can’t help feeling like they did it wrong, leaving us with a distinct lack of time to get anything done.

I mean, think about it. Wouldn’t it be great to have eight-day weeks–three-day weekends every single time–and five-week months? An extra weekend day to make trips and projects more doable. Another week’s pay before you have to shell out for all those bills. Yes. YES. What a glorious idea. It would make life so much easier. We can all relax now.

But it wouldn’t solve anything, really. The bills would just cost more, and the deadlines would be moved up, and we’d all be clamoring for FOUR-day weekends because those three days were spent on Netflix and we just need ONE MORE DAY and we’ll actually use it to get things done. Or so we say.

It’s not the calendar guys’ fault. It’s whoever decided that people should be constantly doing or paying for something. We should all just calm the hell down.