The reason I gave up on writing

Since I was a teenager, I wanted to tell fictional stories. I can’t help it, in my mind there is always a conversation between two imaginary characters. Other times I imagine myself  (or a character)  discovering new places or trying to escape form a dangerous (or weird) situations.

All I’m saying is that I like to write. So, when I turned 18 I decided to become a writer. It was very exciting. To be more specific, I was excited at the idea of being a writer. To create something unique. A character, a whole imaginary world for my character to live in.
Well, this excitement stopped the first time I stared on a blank Word screen. So white, so … empty. “Now, all I have to do is start writing, right?” I thought. And for the next 10 minutes I was staring the blank screen. And I stared, and I stared. “I’m missing something here. It can’t be that difficult. I mean, in my mind I have a whole book written. All I have to do Is to write it. Man I need coffee”.

Long story short I couldn’t write a single word. So, I decided to learn how to write a story the proper way. The art of storytelling. And I did, in my opinion I became really good at it. With my confidence restored I decided to finish a book. A WHOLE BOOK. Man it was difficult. I really admire those who can commit to this task. It doesn’t matter if it is a good book or a bad one. Or the next generation defining masterpiece the whole world waited for so long. It’s is your book. And that’s great. That’s the purpose of a writer.

Then reality hit me hard with a bat. Really really hard. I’m talking about brute force here. Apparently it doesn’t matter how well you write. Or if you are a good storyteller. No sir! If you want to be a writer you need to sell. You need a dedicated audience to support your effort. “Don’t worry, start a blog”.  They said. “It will be easy” they said. So, I started a blog. I’m from Greece and my English are a bit … how to put it correctly. Not good. If to write in your native language is difficult, then  in a different language is rather a tedious task. Especially if you want to express yourself in that way.

I started a blog. The Writers Bog (see what I did there?). My goal was to help other writers to learn about storytelling. Am not a master but I want to help, because I know how frustrating is to construct a story if you don’t have the knowledge and the right materials.  Free knowledge is a good thing, right? I did my best, and I loved it. I worked hard to make interesting posts because , in my opinion, if you want someone to his spend time reading your text,  then do your best.

Then reality returned with her favorite bat. “No no no If you want an agent to pay attention to your work then you need an audience you idiot. You. Need. To. Sell.” Find out what people like to read and write about it. I mean hot topics, the right keywords. You need to show a possible target group to an agent. I don’t blame them, it’s business. I wanted to make a living from writing. Not right away, but sometime.
The moment I started to care more about my ratings, or audience engagement than real connection, I stopped writing completely. I lost my purpose. The writer’s blog became o blog without a writer, because I wasn’t a writer anymore. I didn’t want to write, I gave up. My name is Thanos by the way. After 637 words in this text it was time to introduce myself properly.  Yeah I know, weird name. So weird that marvel named their main villain in their marvel cinematic universe Thanos.

Anyway, recently I realized this : I just want to write. I don’t want to impress, or become the next J. K. Rowling.  I love writing and, well, I just want to write. Is that simple. I really don’t know why I hadn’t realized this 2 years ago.
So … that was the reason I gave up on writing. I want to share my thoughts and my stories. All I’m asking is to help me become a better writer.

What if?

Life is full of “what ifs”. Choices that define who we are. I believe that in every difficult situation, I always make the wrong choice. It’s like the right one is hidden in a corner and laughing at me. The most common mistake that I‘ve made was that, when I was at a crossroads, I didn’t make any choices. I was a mere viewer of the events that I should participate in. I have chickened out more times than I can remember. One day I decided to man up, make my own decisions and face the consequences. Yesterday, while I was making my coffee, I considered the choices that I’ve made. A big WHAT IF took form in my mind and it is still there.

What if I had been braver and talked to that girl?

What If I had made that trip I always wanted to make?

What if I had learned how to play the guitar or another instrument?

What if I were closer to my parents?

What if I hadn’t given up on writing three years ago?

What if I had more friends?

What if I had asked her all the questions I wanted to ask before we broke up?

What if I had made the right decision then?

What if I had known how to make a right decision?

With my characters, I make the choices that I wanted to have made and I create different versions of those situations I‘ve been in.  After some thought, it seems that there is no right or wrong decision. I’m not complaining, I have learned valuable lessons that shaped my personality. My characters haven’t learned anything yet and this is the reason I am so mean to them. They have to learn the hard way, just as I did. What do you believe? Is life a big WHAT IF?

The reason I prefer unedited, sloppy even, first drafts.

“Every first draft is perfect because all the first draft has to do is exist. It’s perfect in its existence. The only way it could be imperfect would be to NOT exist.”
― Jane Smiley

I admit it, I love my first drafts. Don’t get me wrong, I believe that editing is crucial for a book’s success. As a reader I want to read an edited and proofread book, not a sloppy draft. In other words, I want to read a complete book. As a writer, though, I prefer drafts. The draft is the purest form of the story. You can see where the writer struggled the most, where he was overwhelmed by his thoughts and his feelings were unfiltered from grammar rules, the plot or his editor. First drafts are like a rough diamond. Ugly but also pure. In the editing you change pretty much the whole book. Although I believe that an edited book is better than the draft and more shiny, some of its magic is lost. When you write a draft you get your hands dirty in order to put your thoughts down on paper.

As Jennifer Egan said: The bottom line is that I like my first drafts to be blind, unconscious, messy efforts; that’s what gets me the best material.

It’s a messy but also  fun process. The writer is eager to move his story forwards and I want to read and feel his impatience.  If I could describe the process of writing and editing a book, it would be like that: a writer writes a book with his heart and edits it with his mind. What do you believe?

How does a fictional character feel about writers?

This is an interview with a fictional character. It may be a satirical text but if you consider it, the heroes in our stories always have to handle very difficult situations that most us will never face in our everyday lives.  After all, characters have a will of their own.

As Stephen King said: “I try to create sympathy for my characters, then turn the monsters loose.”

If fictional characters were real this whould be the most realistic opinion about their writers. Or I will rephraze: if I was a character in a book, this would be my opinion about writers. With a small dose of humor of course…

Host: “Hello, ladies and gentlemen! Today we have a special guest. He’s a character from a book that’s coming out these days. It’s a fascinating mystery called It’s raining bullets. Isn’t that so?” he asked the guest.

Guest: “Yes. It’s an amazing book. It’s… I can’t find the words to describe it.”

Host: “The name of this evening’s guest is -” The host leaned towards him and whispered:  “What’s your name?”

Guest: “I don’t have one.”

Host: “How should I call you?”

Guest: “Call me whatever you like.”

Host:  He squirmed in his seat. “His name’s Bob.”

Guest: “But I’m a woman .”

Host: “Really? You look like a man.”

Guest: “How flattering?”

Host: “Her name’s Lorie then. ” He cleared his throat. “Lorie, why are you dressed and wear your hair like a man?”

The Art of Simple Writing.

“One day I will find the right words, and they will be simple.”

― Jack Kerouac, The Dharma Bums

The purpose of every book is to be read. Yes, of every book. If you leave it on the shelf to collect dust, then it’s pretty much dead. A story is alive when there is someone to read it, so if we want to keep our book alive, we should keep the reader hooked to our story, thirsty to learn what happens next. There is a tendency for authors to use pompous expressions and ornate words to display their knowledge. This shows incompetence on the part of the author in being concise and expressing his thoughts in the best possible way.

Feelings usually do not require elaborate words and complex metaphors to be expressed. Love, sorrow, hatred, joy: with four words the writer can perfectly describe the emotional state of a character. It’s not the actual words that touch the reader’s heart, but rather the meaning of them. The right words are simple, they are those that sneak inside you and gradually unfold their meaning as you progress in the story. Do not fool yourself. It is much harder to get a complex meaning across with simple words and few paragraphs than to spread yourself thin in trying to write reams of pages of ornate, complicated language.

Hans Hofman said.  “The ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak.”

What would you prefer? To put your knowledge on display through complicated expressions and redundant details and force your reader to skip whole pages because they don’t understand what you’re writing, or to use simple words that together form a complex but understandable meaning? And the best part is that the readers will forge a bond with the character exactly because they can understand him. Simple is beautiful and, as a writer and reader, I try to keep it simple. The words, that is, not the meanings.

Do your characters have a will of their own?

Imagine the following situation. Today you have the day off and you have plans to go on a trip. It’s 2 o’ clock and any minute now your kid will come back from school. You have been packing, just the essentials, and then the phone rings. With a shirt draped over your shoulder, you pick up the phone. It’s your wife and she tells you that she wants a divorce. In the blink of an eye, your whole life changes. Your wife will leave you and you will see your kid only on weekends. What would you do?

For starters, let’s define free will as: the apparent human ability to make choices that are not externally determined[1].

I will give the character above a name and a personality. His name is Jim. He is easy-going, not very brave, he loves his wife and kid and he is shy. Pretty much your average Joe. Based on his personality, what would he have done in the situation above? My story needs a brave hero who will eventually win back his wife. Can I force him to do that? I don’t want another character, I love Jim just the way he is. Through the course of the story he will change –it’s inevitable– but he will still be the same person: Jim. What do I do if my story needs a brave man and not … you know, Jim?

This is a very common problem for a writer. Plot VS. Character. We will talk about this conflict in another post.

Let’s put Jim through a test. We are halfway in the book and a month after Jim’s divorce: He sits in a bar, a bit drunk. His feelings for his wife are still strong and he’s lost his kid too. A woman approaches. They talk and, eventually, she suggests going to her place.

Is there a story inside you?

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”

― Maya Angelou, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

If you are a writer, consider this for a moment. Why am I a writer? What do I want to achieve? Fame? Money? Do I want to entertain people or to just earn enough money for the rent? All these reasons are acceptable but they are not the real ones .

I will speak only for myself. Simply put, it is the urge to tell a story. When a thousand thoughts consume me and I’m bursting at the seams with ideas, I sit in front of my computer and write. I want to express my thoughts, my feelings and my troubles through a story. I want to see through the eyes of another person, one who lives in another world, who does different things but, at the end of the day, we are still one and the same . We share the same emotions, the same troubles and we see the world from the same perspective. Eventually, I get attached to this character and my only reason to write is to tell his (or her)  story.

It doesn’t matter if you are a writer or a reader. The question is the same: why do you write or read a story? Maybe there is something untold deep inside you that you need to explore. Possibly, there is a story that needs to be told, by you or someone else.