Saturday, November 01, 2008

Foundational Beliefs

It's funny how the beliefs you grow up with are ones that stick with you, in spite of rhyme or reason. Like my refusal to use a Weed Eater. My mother ingrained the belief in me that the little string could slice my foot off. I cannot bring myself to use one, even though I've disregarded most of the other fears my mother tried to instill in me, LOL.

So I was curious what your foundational beliefs about art and writing are. What tenets influence your attitude and approach to writing?

Mine are:

Never waste a word.

I'm a bit clueless how I got this one, because it's largely unuseful. Mostly, I think it's because I started out getting paid by the word, and deleting a word felt like throwing away money, LOL. I remember my brilliant writer-friend, the only one I had at the time, used to believe this, and evidently she influenced me more than I realized.

Going into NaNo, I've got a couple of projects to do, but I want mostly to spend time writing self-indulgently. I want to experiment and push myself, creatively. Write outside my comfort zone. I don't care what I end up with.

Sadly, I've sold every story I've ever written, which is not a good thing. I need time to discover myself as a writer, I think. I doubt I'll come up with a novel, but I'm looking forward to writing whatever, anything. 50,000 gloriously wasted words if necessary.

"Is it too much to ask for a single month of creative playtime in return for all your labors? Don't you deserve a 30-day literary vacation? One where you set sail with 100,000 other adventurers and discover one of your great, unwritten novels?" ~Chris Baty, founder of NaNo

Everything is learnable.

I don't recall anyone talking much about talent in music school. Maybe it was the great unspoken pink elephant in the room. If it was, I was unaware it was there. f you think about it, the premise of conservatory is that they can teach you talent, that they can teach you to be a solid musician.

I believe most of "art"  is skill, and a learnable skill at that. The trick is to find the way to learn the skill you seek.

In 90% of the truly talented students I have taught, their talent is an impediment to learning piano. Piano takes too much drilling, too much practicing, and the talented ones tend to be accustomed to riding on their talent. It's a strange thing.

Talent, in music, is mostly understanding the musical language, being able to speak and interpret it. I guess I've always assumed the same about writing. If you study the written form, learn how authors use and choose their words, make their story decisions, then you're on the road to talent.

I suppose, every time I see an author do anything, my first question is: How? Reading with a how is how I've learned most of what I've learned. And then I apply my new understanding until I can do it, too.

What about you? What are your foundational beliefs about writing? And how do you improve your writing skills? What methods do you use?

23 bonus scribbles:

Mark Terry 11/01/2008 08:57:00 AM  

You know, that's really interesting. I do believe in talent, and no, this metaphor isn't my own, but I think that talent is like a knife.

You can be a big knife or a little knife, but it's learning how to use it and sharpening it through practice and practice and practice that makes it work. It can be as big as a sword and be dull and not cut much, or as small as a scalpel and razor-sharp if it's honed properly.

But what you say about talent being a hindrance is interest. In high school, I would say that school came too easily for me. I didn't have to work hard--barely at all--to get mostly As with the occasional B. I had "talent," such as it was. But when I got into college and the coursework was both larger and more difficult, the talent I most needed and didn't have, so to speak, was the ability to study.

I've wondered over the years what would have happened to me if my fiction writing had taken off right away. Would it have seemed too easy? I understand that one of the things that appeals to me about certain activities--writing and music and working out--is how working and working and working over a long time and tackling challenges one at a time, grinding away at things, results in a lot of pleasure and pride when you actually accomplish what you're attempting to accomplish. And you also gain a greater depth of experience that shows in your work.

Melanie Avila 11/01/2008 09:45:00 AM  

Ok, I'm completely panicking over NaNo and now you've got me thinking about talent and I can feel the block coming. Good lord, lol. I think I need to run a few errands before I get started.

It's interesting to me what you said about the talented kids riding on their talent. I played clarinet when I was young but despite NEVER wanting to practice, I was always among the top two. My mom was disappointed I didn't stick with it but I hated all the drills. I never thought about it the way you described.

Travis Erwin 11/01/2008 10:14:00 AM  

First and foremost I try to write a story I would want to read. If I lost interest how can I expect others not to do the same?

Zoe Winters 11/01/2008 12:29:00 PM  

I want people to think I have talent, even though I know even if some do, some won't.

But... I always hope I have more drive than talent. Because it's the drive that will get me there.

Zoe Winters 11/01/2008 12:30:00 PM  


would it help you if I told you you don't need talent for the crap draft? You just need to know English (or the language you're writing in) and have a computer or pen and paper. It can suck beautifully, then you can worry about talent in the rewrite.

Melanie Avila 11/01/2008 01:20:00 PM  

Thanks Zoe. I actually wrote my daily quota after posting here, so I'd say my block is gone. :)

Kath Calarco 11/01/2008 03:25:00 PM  

Spy, this is so deep! No wonder I love reading your blogs so much. They kick start my brain.

My foundational belief regarding writing is that talent plays a big role, but drive, determination and a whole lotta luck are the bigger part of the equation. One has to weather the trends/storms, yet write the story of their heart while praying that their manuscripts hits the desk of an editor/agent on a good day.

It takes more than talent to stop a writer (at least this one) from throwing in the towel. Some days writing gives great joy and relieves stress, while others it just gives stress. *sigh*

Robin 11/01/2008 04:08:00 PM  

Spy, am I hearing you correctly? Are you saying the weed wacker won't cut off your foot? Then how does it cut down the weeds? Huh?

Looking at my NaNo work, I'd say that one of my writing tenants must be "waste all of your words". Hemmingway would take one look at my work and poop his pants.

Eric Mayer,  11/01/2008 07:45:00 PM  

Never waste a word is certainly my belief too. If anything my writing might be too concise. But I'm not so sure that everything can be learned. All the techniques can probably learned but having an idea that someone else will find interesting? Or, that enough people will find interesting to warrant publication? I'm not so sure about that. Okay...maybe it isn't so much having any ideas as being able to identify the interesting ones. I have read lots by people whose writing skills are perfectly fine but who seem to have absolutely nothing to say.

Eric Mayer,  11/01/2008 07:46:00 PM  

By the way, my dad took the tip of a finger off with his weed eater.

Robin 11/01/2008 08:41:00 PM  

Hah! I knew it! See? Eric's dad, your mom's theory. This can't all be coincidence.

spyscribbler 11/01/2008 08:46:00 PM  

Mark, that is a fantastic metaphor. That's perfect, because both little and big sharpened knives can be very effective.

I had the exact same problem in school, particularly after I got sick. Stuff wouldn't stick in my head, and I had one heck of a time learning how to memorize and study.

I think I'm more a short-term goal person. I hate long-term goals, the wait is FOREVER. Writing and piano both drive me crazy that way. But the most fun things in life are long-term goals, I think!

spyscribbler 11/01/2008 08:52:00 PM  

Melanie, you did awesome today! I can't wait to update my numbers tonight. I'm still working. I'm actually going for 150,000, which is a little crazy, I know, but I have a light schedule. And 50,000 of it is going to be shit.

Funny about the drills. They've done studies about how boys have less injuries because they don't mind doing the drills and such in sports, while girls prefer the social aspect. I find girls are less enthused with scales and technique, too.

spyscribbler 11/01/2008 08:54:00 PM  

Zoe, for some odd reason, I've never considered whether or not I had talent in anything. I guess I always assumed I didn't, and took comfort in the fact that I could make up for it by practicing.

spyscribbler 11/01/2008 08:55:00 PM  

I swear, Melanie, I was sitting here struggling, thinking I had the company of the fact you were struggling too, and I blink and you're done, LOL!

So then I had the inspiration! :-)

spyscribbler 11/01/2008 08:59:00 PM  


Wow, good point about the stress! I like that comment. I find writing is taxing and involving, but thinking about writing is highly stressful.

I admire your drive and determination, and really hope you trip over lots of luck!

spyscribbler 11/01/2008 09:00:00 PM  

Robin, GOOD point. Okay, see? I'm not touching the thing.

Hemingway would take one look at my writing and say, "please throw at least half those words in the wastebasket!"

spyscribbler 11/01/2008 09:02:00 PM  

Eric, I have that worry. I remember Robert Heinlein used to say he could write a story to please anyone, and he wrote a story for girls to prove it. I used to think a good storyteller could do that: write a story to please anyone.

I have to say, I'm not convinced this storyteller could do that. I wish I could. There are some stories/ideas I have that just Won't. Write.

spyscribbler 11/01/2008 09:03:00 PM  

Eric and Robin--

That does it! The Weed Eater is one fear this girl will not be facing down.

Yikes! A finger? That's my greatest fear!

Edie 11/02/2008 12:40:00 AM  

I was at a Margie Lawson workshop today. Both my CPs had critiqued my ms., and I thought my first 3 chapters were pretty good -- and was amazed to see that in many ways I could make it better.

So my fundamental belief is to believe in my talent but to keep improving.

spyscribbler 11/02/2008 12:53:00 AM  

Hey, Edie! I was just thinking about that workshop, wondering if it was this weekend or next. How was it? Are you going to blog about it? I hope so. I know you were looking forward to it! I wanted to run up to see it, but I was housesitting this weekend. Ah, well.

I hope you had a great time!

Zoe Winters 11/02/2008 10:30:00 AM  

hehe Spy, that's an awesome way of looking at it. Talent is pretty subjective anyway. It's completely the wrong ball to focus on. Whatever you do or don't have inately isn't the point.