The Simple Advice

I’ve been writing stories since I was in the third grade, I think. I started with horror stories and the following year I ventured to my first fantasy story, which was a bland ripoff of some science-fantasy anime I used to watch.

Anime and film had been my inspirations. Books were never a thing for me until I was much older. So in my younger years, I basically skipped the basics, and did a bunch of experiments I thought at that time were brilliant.

In the end, there were not at all that great. Fast forward a few years later, my first books were Harry Potter one to the “Order of the Phoenix.” I had, at that time, also read “A Game of Thrones” and “The Gunslinger.” And I thought I’ve learned a lot from those.

The first ever epic I’ve written was called “Dragon Wars,” I was in my third year high school, and I’ve gone halfway through it before deciding to show chapters to some friends and to my grandma. Of course my friends liked it, of course they did. Grandma liked it too, so, of course she would give me a pat on the back. However, she added, “You should explore more on writing simpler sentences.”

I refused. I wanted to be eloquent and dramatic! I was thinking, she didn’t get it. She hadn’t read the books I’ve read, which were, what exactly? Harry Potter, Thrones, and Gunslinger. Nah. I wanted to write shit sentences like, “The susurrus of thousands of leaves rustling in the cold and violent night allowed him to see through the prestidigitation and blahblah.”

In short, I was a thesaurus whore, thinking the more complicated words I used, the more lyrical and more poetic my words would sound. I only realized I’d look like an asshole. I looked at Rowling’s books and King’s, and found that all they ever used in their stories were simple words. Words that paint images as soon as you read them. George RR Martin’s prose is just as easy to read, he never used words that would make you flip through a dictionary, or make you pause to wonder what the fuck did that word mean.

As my readings expanded, I learned that most authors just use words so simple, the story moves on in a fluid and comprehensive pace. And it’s a wonderful experience to go through that phase. The problem is this, it’s how you construct the sentences, how you piece together these simple words to bring out readers’ imaginations.

Later I started reading a bunch of books about writing. There’s a lot of useful advice out there that can inspire writers. But I found that “The Elements of Style” by Strunk and White to be the best source for writers, because they teach you the most basic form of writing from which you can build upon your own voice.

It’s a lesson I’ve learned the hard way as works I’ve been so proud of were crushed or dismantled by beta readers and critics. It’s an experience worth going through and I like to think that my voice has grown over the years. But I’ll never forget that aspect, where you need to write with simple words to build a story that every reader can understand.

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Innards #13

I promised never to make another “Innards” post unless I’ve actually made some real, solid progress with my stories. Then this means, I just made some real, solid progress!

It’s only been a little over a month, and my current project, titled, “Year of the Red Whale” has built itself a humble 15,000 words. More are still pouring in as I do my best to type as fast and meticulous as I can. I’m rather satisfied with the outcome so far and things are continuing skyward, much to my satisfaction. Before the month ends, I hope to reach 20,000 words and enough to proceed to the book’s “Part 2” segment, which I aim to become my NaNoWriMo entry. Whether I reach the 50,000 goal or not should be awesome. There is a deeper drive now to finish my stories more than ever.

As I continue the Red Whale, I’ve gotten a chance to check out my older projects, “The Conductor” and Project Scar. Each were started in 2010 and 2008 respectively. Both are around 30,000 words and looking at them now, I’m surprised by how different they are from what I’m writing today. Not in a bad way. The prose was a little bit more florid, the pacing was nice, and world was more imaginative and bigger. On a single page, I’ve managed to cram in a lot of information, without feeling like an infodump. I know what I’m saying sounds egocentric and I’m just blowing air into my head. Not really, I’m just saying, if someone like me, who has little to no talent in writing, can come up with something like that. Then anyone can.

The biggest difference I’ve made was spending a lot of time in those two stories. I remember staying up late at night trying to finish a chapter. Always pushing into my head, one more paragraph. I’d spend entire weekends locked in a room, staring at a blank page, trying to cough up the right words that would breathe life into my stories. I wrote a paragraph. I stare at it and I take it out, unsatisfied. It’s a long, damning process that ended up being worth it.

It was also a time when I’ve done nothing but read a lot of books, nonstop. I suppose all those prose bled out into my subconscious. “Year of the Red Whale” begins to pale in comparison against “The Conductor” and Project Scar. Looks like I’ve a lot of thinking and redesigning to do.

The only advice I ever took was from an Aussie writer: “Read, write, and practice.” He said. I took it to heart, kept reading a lot, kept writing a lot, and got a lot of feedback. I never settled on what I’ve written. If I had to cut out entire chapters just because they no longer fit, so be it. It’s a habit that needs to come back.

These days I only get to write three to four hours a day, at night, after getting back from work, where I’ve spent the entire day writing. It gets dull and sickening, but, that’s all part of the challenge.

I never really relied on any other books that thought how to write. Sure, I got a few, read what advice they’ve got to offer, and I’ve only ended up feeling disappointed, wishing I’ve spent my money elsewhere. There are a ton of forums out there who can give the same exact advice from those books, for free. They can be a little harsher though. The only books that I felt were ever really important, were Stephen King’s “On Writing” and Strunk and White’s “Elements of Style.” The first one, was well, because it was about King telling us how he got into writing and it was damn interesting. The second book, King himself had actually suggested in his book I’ve just mentioned, cleaved a path  on how to write better, how to construct concise and clear sentences. If I had to choose between two sentences where one attempts to sound profound and sophisticated, over one that immediately puts an image in my head without disrupting the flow of the story, I’d pick the latter any time. That’s the most important thing, clarity. Writing is a long process. You’d start with a blank page and by the time you hit less than 1,500 words, over an hour has already passed. That’s fine. That’s how good art is crafted. Savor every moment of it.

On other news: The Wife is insisting I should switch jobs. With my income, I could hardly blame her. She believes I can do better. She’s not the only one, truth be told. Many other folks who have grown old within the company are insistent, I should get out while I still can. The inferiority complex in me is trying to cower behind closed sheets, afraid to take on another professional, meet new people, but, but, potentially earn at least twice as more than my current job. I only earn, in US dollars equivalent, around 280. It’s pretty dismal.

Earlier this week Nintendo has finally unveiled the NX console – the Switch. It looks amazing. It’s a console I want to have alongside a PlayStation 4 when I get one. When they announced sometime ago that Nintendo was working on going mobile, I didn’t expect this. It is a brilliant execution, a potential merging between handheld and home consoles – considering handhelds in these past years, had been Nintendo’s strongest selling point. If ever, the Switch will be my first Nintendo console since the SNES, and I’m really looking forward to it.

It’s no mystery that I’ve gotten myself into reading more self-published books. It started with Hugh Howey’s “Wool,” and followed by Anthony Ryan’s “Blood Song.” I wanted to see what all the fuss had been about and how the independent-segment is fairing. And it’s looking quite good. There are lots of talented traditionally unpublished authors out there. Sure, some of them needs a few more polishing, but the quality of fun and stories they deliver remain to be topnotch. My recent read was Will Wight’s “Unsouled” and it’s something that needs more attention.

Apparently I’m still in-love with Hayley Williams. Her weird iTunes Festival getup in 2013 and the green-haired, tight shirt,  skirt, stockings look in Wango Tango 2014, was just, damn.

Out of boredom I went back listening to some bands I haven’t listened to for a long time. It’s just such an amazing treat to go back and relive the songs that defined my era while growing up and how I started getting into music. Green Day gets the most nostalgia in me with their song, Basket Case, and of course, Boulevard of Broken Dreams. This is quickly followed by Yellowcard’s Ocean Avenue, bringing back old memories from my time in California as a wandering, angry, solitary teenager. I also just found out they’re on their very last tour. That hurts. Finally, there’s Foo Fighters. I haven’t been a fan of their newer songs, while still great, I’d still like to dwell on their songs like Monkey Wrench, Learn to Fly, Long Road to Ruin, and yes, Everlong.

The season 7 premiere of “The Walking Dead” blew my brains out. So, spoilers from here. Based from the comics, I knew what was going to happen. But the first shocker had thrown me off guard, it was an attempt from the production crew to mess with the longtime fans of the series. Something worst was bound to happen. It just did.

Innards of An Erratic Writer #6

I claim no expertise on writing. But I did pick up a couple of things along the way, which I feel like sharing – for any of its tiny, tiny worth. One of those things came from a fellow writer, who called himself, Match. He said, “Read, Write, Practice.” And I have been living to that principle ever since. But when things started to get harder, I decided to outsource some help, in the form of books.

A few months ago I acquired two writing books, you might have heard of them – “Bird by Bird” and “Writing Down The Bones” by Anna Lamott and Natalie Goldberg, respectively. I’ve also been hunting for Stephen King’s “On Writing” but the book has become a mythical figure in this country, and having to scour for it without hope is tempting me to rip people’s eyelids out – just in case there is one hidden there.

Now, these books offer fantastic advice and suggestions on writing. But, it’s just that. The authors’ opinions. It sure boosts your morale, for a time, and then you find yourself withered again. You’ll soon be looking for another book for inspiration, and the cycle repeats. The thing is, I noticed some writers, tend to read a lot, hoping to find some hidden wisdom within the sea of text. Some secret why this guy is a freaking bestseller, while yours has yet to be pulled from the slush pile. Or maybe, reading books itself is the form of inspiration.

I then rediscovered an old book, required by my college professor, claiming it to be the “Bible of All Journalists”, “Elements of Style” by Strunk and White, which turned out to be the “Bible of All Writers”. Everything you need to know about writing is in that iPhone 5-thin book.

But there is something else missing. It’s the actual process of writing. Lots of writers (at least, the ones I know) stare into the white void of their monitors, trying to figure out how to start their story or procrastinate on how to write a compelling hook. Doubts and hesitations here and there, time passes, and either a few words were written and author is not happy, or there is nothing written at all.

I say, just write.

Cut off as many distractions as possible. Most of it come from the Internet, TV, and sometimes, from music. I’m not saying you need a shed, a writing closet, or an empty all-white room in order to write (might help a lot, though). But what you need is a comfortable space where you can write for long, backbreaking, periods, stand up and stretch for the first time in 12 hours and say, “I’ve written a lot of shit today.” Edit should come later, keep writing forward, until you’ve ran a full circle around your world. Of course, writing for 12 hours straight is impractical and unreasonable, especially for people who have day jobs, family, and other matters.

So, this is what I do. On rare, lucky occasions, I wake up earlier than usual. I take this time to stretch a bit, take my laptop and start punching those keys up until it’s time to hit the shower. It is important to note that it’s better practice to do this religiously – write early, while it’s still dark, while other people are snoring, and while watching the sky turn orange and red with birds chirping and the roosters doing whatever ear-splitting noise they make. Sometimes it will rain, you’ll hear it pounding on the roof, the shutters fluttering against the wind, knocking down family portraits and other photographs. The important thing, is to write.  Sometimes I break my own rule, I spend an hour or less to check  on the things I wrote so far. Just to make sure my plotting remains consistent, and make really quick edits. Then I push on.

Times when it is dull at work, I write as much as possible. On the way home, while in the train or van, I whip out my phone and type snippets, scenes far from where my story’s current position is, and I’ll rewrite it later and fuse all these scattered fragments into one.

It’s important to write in every possible moment. For most of us, hoping to earn some money in writing and plan to change the world somehow, someway, time is an investment we need to handle with every care.

Above all, don’t forget how fun it is to write. Keep writing folks.