the mechanics of writing

i'm not sayng i'm the best writer, nor am i saying i'm a terrible one. i'm someone that sort of floats in between i suppose. but what i do know is that i have learned some things. you can't really teach anyone how to write, but you can just spout out what you've learned in your own writing, so here are 10 things that i've learned:

1) character: most people will tell you to write what you know. but really, if you're good enough of a liar and are willing to research, you can write whatever you want, and you can make it good so long as you write with some talent, conviction and/or hard work. writing what you know can be bullshit, because sometimes what you know can be boring. when it comes to character, however, writing what you know does sort of ring true. every character that i have written has possessed qualities that my friends or myself posess. it's just easier to make up events than it is to make up characters, so mining from your friend and neighbors is always good. especially when they read it and think you've written about them and start yelling at you because they find it offensive. hey, it happens! the key about character, is that you always want to write someone that will anchor the book. you can have a book filled with vacuous, slutty people, or a vast fantasy world, but if you have that one "normal" person, you'll find your other characters stand out more. it works the other way as well. the key is to give the reader someone to identify with. without an identifier, it can be like watching an opera.

2) prose: i love writing prose. love it. however, prose can get really boring really quick, especially if you're describing every stitch of furniture in the room. that's unnecessary. the trick with prose is to keep the reader interested, especially if you write thick prose like i do. so i find that i try to write prose as i would edit a music video. i want it to be fluid, to move, to have words that flow. the goal is to have a person read a thick paragraph, and not realise that they're reading it. this can be accomplished by describing a very visceral and action-filled image (there's always some sort of movement or action in my prose whether physical or simply lyrical), or to write longer sentances for example. the main thing about keeping prose interesting, is to write only what is necessary. don't tell me how many cracks there are in the floors (just say "a lot"), don't tell me how many dents a car has (just say "a lot"), and don't describe every single patron in a bar (just say "typical").

3) cliches: cliches are good. fuck what anyone else says. originality is too much effort, and people really identify with cliches. the only danger is to not use too many cliches. every once in a while when you do the opposite, subvert the obvious, you can achieve greatness, especially if you've used a couple of cliches and the reader is expecting a third. pulling the rug out from beneath the reader is always good, but don't fuck with the reader. (you know what i mean, you david lynch wanna-be assholes.) toy with the reader for sure, but don't fuck with them. they'll respect you more in the end.

4) style: by style, i mean the way the words are physically arranged on the page. if you use block prose, it can portray one message, and if you use multiple, small paragraphs, it can portray another. the way your words look on the page are almost as important as the way they flow. it's like looking at a dinner plate full of food. if you have it set nicely, it looks classy, and if you have it all bunched up together, it looks like slop. it doesn't really matter in the end how it's arranged, because it's just food and it ends up all the same in the end, but the look of it can really say a lot.

5) tired material: do we really need another book about some young girl or boy growing up on the prairies? fuck no. but you might want to write one. if you do, try to do something different. you don't have to be original, but you have to be able to do it with some style or distinction. otherwise, what's the bloody point? for instance, on the surface, my book cooler than the millions sounds like it might be a typical book about political terrorists, but it won't be. and i'm not just talking about the vampires. when it is done, i hope to add my own style and voice to the mix, thereby cementing something different. i will guarantee you, cooler than the millions will not be a tom clancey book.

6) which brings me to my next point, voice and influence: you have to have your own voice. i know that sounds like oprah got to me, but i really don't know how to say it any other way. it takes time to get this voice. the best way to do it, is to copy those you like, steal as much as you can, and then from there, you'll find that you've grown tired of it and you'll start to develop your own style and voice. you take what's best of the writers you admire, and add your own twist. it took me 10 years before i finally found something to call my own. is it like other writers? for sure. bret easton ellis, j.g. ballard, j.d. salinger, h.p. lovecraft, don delillo, and now earnest hemingway to name a few. you can't escape your influences, so don't fight them. embrace them. i stole ellis' sparse writing style, ballard's sci-fi/contemporary flare, salinger's simple insight, lovecraft's thick prose and taste for horror, delillo's poetry and serious take on the world, and hemingway's short, simple sentances. i took them all, and i added my own, such as my music video way of cutting/writing scenes, emphasis on what i call, big sentances, my need to write rambling prose at times that bleed into one another... lots of stuff. and don't forget to accept influences outside of the writing world. i can't tell you how many times a music video like robert palmer's "addicted to love" or a visceral movie like the thin red line has influenced me. and i can't forget music. listening to music helps me set the tone of the book. for example, when writing desert sessions, i listened to lots of desert rock and city punk music. for this is hardcore, i listened to lots of trance and classic music standards from the likes of frank sinatra. and for cooler than the millions, i'm listening to lots of 80's pop because i'm trying to catch the nihilistic flare that the 1980's represented. i want the regan 80's!

7) experiment: try new things. always. otherwise, how will you ever evolve? most of human society is not evolving, especially western society, because no one is willing to try anything new, mostly because they don't have to yet. always look for something new. always. i realise how stupid this sounds considering just earlier i said originality is too much effort, but that doesn't mean i don't want people to try. heck, i try all the time.

8) know your destination: have the ending in your head. i find this helps for me, because that way you can help yourself navigate and not fall too far off the beaten path. that being said, keep a list of ideas and things you want to do with your book: don't depend on your brain to keep all of this in check, because memory is a poor copy for the real thing. just ask any lawyer.

9) welcome criticism: if you write a bad book, and people let you know it, they are most often right. i know it hurts sometimes, but with enough time, it won't hurt anymore. i can take criticism on the chin and still stand my ground. that's what writing for 10 years gets you. in those ten years, i've written dozens of short stories and poems, finished three full novels and one short story collection, and i've recieved over sixty rejection letters from agents and publishers. there is nothing anyone can say to me now to hurt my feelings. i've got skin as thick as leather. a writer's best defence is exposing him or herself, letting people read the stuff, and risk being blown out of the water. with desert sessions for example, most people liked it, but one girl absolutely hated it. she hated everything about it and really let me know. at first i was hurt, but then i re-read her notes, and realized how right she was about a lot of it. so i re-wrote the book on her opinion, and it turned out much better. in the end, don't worry if it's not perfect. you can finish the book and then later realize lots of it sucks. that's just the way things work. perfection is unatainable, so deal with it.

10) own up to your own work: if you write a piece of shit, admit it. if you write something that offends someone, stand your ground. you wrote the damn thing, spilled blood and sweat for it, so don't ever apologize for it. if it sucks, yeah, admit it, but don't say you're sorry; just dust yourself off and start over again. however, even if it is a piece of shit, be proud of it. seriously. how many people in this world can say they've legitimately created something? not that many i can tell you. most people in the world live without ever creating (babies don't count) or they go through life doing nothing but destroying. and don't throw anything away. i've never thrown anything away. if anything, keeping that old writing around has made me realize just how far i've come. sure i'm embarassed of most of it, but i'm not sorry i wrote it, and deep down inside, i'm still proud of myself. i blew away the competition when i was 17 years old, and i'm still managing to hold my own today. is the stuff that i write these days my best ever? you bet. is it the worst? you bet. i think at least 40% of what i write today still sucks, but that's what hard work is all about. i have yet to write my best novel, and i may never write it. honestly, i hope i don't, because everything would be downhill from there.

so there are ten tips. you don't have to agree with me, obviously. different people write differently, and what may work for one person may not work for another. the only piece of advice that is truly universal to all writers, heck anyone trying to accomplish anything at all, is to not give up. the truth is, you may write shit, and you may continue to write shit, but don't ever give up. remember, there's still a market for shit. just take a look at tom clancy or britney spears or michael bay. books, music, movies... shit can still make you money. in some cases, lots of it. just admit that it's shit, and you'll be cool with the world. no one will ever get down on you for being honest. if they have a problem with it, so what? fuck 'em.