Friday, January 2, 2009

How to Write

Yesterday my darling aunt called. My cousin (whom I believe is a senior in high school) had an assignment to write a short story. As much as she wanted to, she simply could not get started. My aunt asked me if I could give her some advice or ideas to help her out. I thought I'd do the same for you. Keep in mind this applies equally well to deciding you're going to write a short story or deciding you're going to write a novel. Heck, it even applies to scholarly or work-related writing.

Step One: Decide you're going to write a story.

Step Two: Decide it's going to be brilliant. Imagine the response of your [teacher, classmates, reading group, agent] and how it will completely change the way they look at you.

Step Three: Open up Word.

Step Four: Stare at the blank white screen stretching on into infinity until your eyes begin to burn and your brain hurts from the sheer emptiness of it all.

Step Five: Check your email.

Step Six: Stare at the blank Word document again.

Step Seven: Realize you need music. Spend the next hour finding the perfect "mood" music for what you want to write.

Step Eight: Inspired by [insert perfect music here], click back over to Word document.

Step Nine: Change Facebook status to: [Your name here] is WRITING!!!

Step Ten: Stare at blank Word document. Decide you need a title. Brainstorm for the next hour.

Step Eleven: Come up with a GENIUS title. Proudly type "The Scent of Green Papayas" at the top of the document, followed by your name. Happily consider how easily a story will come now that you have such an amazing, literary title.

Step Twelve: Take a four hour break for snacks and naptime.

Step Thirteen: Refreshed, sit down and toy around with pen names for a while.

Step Fourteen: Realize to your horror that your genius title is actually the name of a Vietnamese foreign film you saw seven years ago.

Step Fifteen: Erase the title, pressing Backspace much harder than necessary.

Step Sixteen: Stare at the blank Word document until your eyes bleed.

Step Seventeen: Check Facebook. See that fourteen people have commented on your status, asking what you are writing. Feel both guilty and annoyed.

Step Eighteen: Slam your laptop shut and go to the movies. Tomorrow's a better day for writing, anyhow.

See? You never knew writing was so easy!

38 comments:

Valerie Geary said...

Hehehe... I thoroughly enjoyed your advice for how to write. Finding the right music is especially my favorite. I would also add- stare out window for several minutes in order to spy on neighbors and watch for squirrels.

JaneyV said...

Luckily there were no beverages around when I read that first bit. Let's just say there was laughing and it wasn't pretty [yes - there was snorting and involuntary guffawing]. I forget which author it was now - but someone really famous - once said that the first thing one should realise about writing is that when you are supposed to be writing [like when you have a deadline or somesuch] your laundry will never be so clean, your ironing basket so empty, your house so dust free because, as every writer knows, 99% of one's time is spent avoiding the blank page.

I hope your cousin managed to break through the blank page.

Kiersten said...

Awesome! I would add write stupid blog posts and compulsively stalk other people's blogs, but don't comment because you're "working."

Kiersten said...

Man, Janey, if that's true, why is my house so messy?

Oh, that's right--I procrastinate by doing useless things ; ) Maybe I should try procrastinating with productive things for a change.

JaneyV said...

I should add that this was probably said before the advent of the internet. Now there's no reason at all for housework.

BBJD said...

Ahhh! I got all the way to Step Twelve before I read the rest of your post and realized you were only teasing about the steps.

Seriously, I usually repeat Steps Seven and Eleven - a lot. There is a kind of sadistic pleasure in knowing I'm not alone in staring at the annoying blank screen.

NOTE: I've got a new one now. It's called "blogging". I guess Naughty Little Bevie had best get back to the keyboard and write that story that arrived out of nowhere this morning.

See ya!

Sarah Laurenson said...

Love the list. I must print it out and hang it on the wall over my desk so that I remember each step on the path to successful writing. Don't want to leave any out, of course.

I use my dreams. I come up with a sentence or something someone says and work from there. I come up with a character and then mull over what that character's story is. About 2 months later, the story will bubble up from my back brain and I'm off.

My favorite though is to open the Word doc and stare at it, then go take a shower. I will write awesome stuff in the shower. When I get back to my laptop, I have some snippets that I remember and I manage to pull those into some form of coherency.

One of my favorite authors teaches a class by using a picture and telling everyone to write a story about the picture. Another uses a grab bag of words, fabric, buttons, and other things. You reach in and pull something to help you get started. Then you reach in and pull something else and work that into your story. It's an amazing exercise.

Kiersten said...

Yes, indeed, Janey ; )

Kiersten said...

Bevie--yes, blogging, the great time-waster ; )

Sarah--those are actually GOOD ideas! I write amazing stuff in the shower and lying awake in bed at night.

fairyhedgehog said...

I like both parts of this: the "How to Write" that resembles what I actually do, and the "How to Write" that has usable ideas for actually getting words onto paper (or screen, in my case).

Sarah Laurenson said...

My next bathroom remodel will include a large flat white tile and a grease pen in the shower.

the Lola Letters said...

Wow, the first series of instructions were my methods to a T! How'd you know?

Kasie West said...

LOL. I loved step number 9. It is very important that your facebook self is coinciding with your real life self at all times. Ah, if only there were the perfect formula to write a story. Your real advice was very good.

Kiersten said...

FH--thanks!

Sarah--excellent idea.

Lola--love the new profile name. And actually, I've been spying on you, that's how!

Hrm, too creepy? Okay.

Kasie--it's true. Facebook must ALWAYS be accurate.

Jill Wheeler said...

You gave her some good advice. I usually have my kids design their characters. Then we talk about different types of conflict and have them throw their characters into a scene.

Whirlochre said...

You left out shave unecessarily — a Guy Option I often choose somewhere between steps 1 and 18.

Kiersten said...

Good advice, Jill! I usually find my characters in the telling.

Whirl--I could always shave my legs, but hey, it's winter.

Sara Best said...

So funny Kiersten! And so, so true. I laughed out loud.

Kiersten said...

Thanks, Sara ; ) Isn't it funny how we all do the same things...

Natalie said...

No wonder you have an agent! I wasn't doing half of these steps. I clearly have room to improve.

Kiersten said...

I'm here to help, after all.

sraasch said...

I was going to post a comment, then realized how many other Sara(h)'s already posted. Which made me feel redundant. But I'm posting anyway to post that, so I'll say: I like this. I'm going to print it out and give it to people who ask me what it's like writing a book, because this pretty much nailed it. Though you left out how, after days of repeating these steps, you end up crying yourself to sleep for a few nights.

Kiersten said...

Oh, you'll never be redundant! I LOVE Sara(h)s! Hello, main character in Flash? SARAH.

See, I don't cry myself to sleep. I just feel guilty--intensely guilty. And then I think, what on earth, it's not like I'm being paid for this...and then I think, in a tiny hopeful voice, yet...

lotusgirl said...

How true it is. I scared my kids with my laughing outbursts while reading your list. I probably would have added a few more trips to facebook, but other than that you got it about right. LOL!

BBJD said...

I love the idea of printing out the Eighteen Steps. Sounds like some sort of W.W. (worn-out writers') program.

Maybe I'll make a scan so I can dump it into the blank Word document (so I have something to read while I'm waiting to write).

Bevie

Janet said...

Great list - can I add playing Suduko online? Just one game, how much time is that going to take? There, done. But, wait, I can do better than 3:12 - here, let me try one more, I'm sure I can get this one done in under 3 minutes...Ack!

Love the white tile and grease pen in the shower idea. And lying in bed at night saying the perfect opening sentence to chapter 4's edit over and over again to memorize it is a nightmare!

Thanks, Kiersten. Love your blog.

Janet

Kiersten said...

Thanks, Janet! My time waster of choice is currently Bejeweled 2, although I have been known to get sucked into Mahjong....

Kiersten said...

Also, Lotus, I love scaring children. I mean, I love that your laughter scared your children.

Dube said...

LOL! This was hilarious! Those are the same steps I take when writing.... :-P

Lindsay Price said...

There's also that hour of free cell, and it counts because you're on your computer....

I have to stop writing at a certain time each night or else I'll never get to sleep!

Dave King said...

I really enjoyed reading that. We've all been there, done that... if I may be allowed a cliche or two...

Kiersten said...

Dube--we have the same method! Excellent.

Lindsay--me, too. If I go past about 9:30 I can't get to sleep for hours.

Dave--cliches are not only allowed, they're encouraged.

Megs said...

This whole process feels so familiar...I totally relate.

And I really like the REAL advice too! Short stories are the best!

Julie Weathers said...

Good grief. I guess I've been hiding under a rock.

Congratulations on getting an agent. I am so thrilled for you.

I knew you could do it.

Hugs,

Julie

Lauren said...

Hahaha...I absolutely love that first set of "How to Write". Oftentimes a bit too true for me. Anyhoo, I started giggling at work while reading this. Awkward. :-P

Melissa Donovan said...

Hello there! I come by way of the blog Enriched by Words and BJ was right - this post made me laugh. It's so true - checking email and updating Facebook. Oh, how many times I've been there! Thanks for putting a smile on my face.

Kiersten said...

Glad to do it, Melissa ; )

sylvia said...

I would add write stupid blog posts and compulsively stalk other people's blogs, but don't comment because you're "working."

DAMMIT! What gave me away? :(