“Am I a Writer?”

Am I? . . . Are you?

If you’re like me, you have probably asked yourself the golden question: “Am I a writer?”

If you’re human, you’ve had doubts. You’ve wondered, Are you really a writer? Are you really worthy of the art? Do you really know what you’re doing? Above all, you’ve asked, Are you a good writer?

If you’re like any other artist, you’ve questioned your skill, your ability, your understanding of the art. You’ve doubted yourself and the meaning of what you do.

If you’re a writer, all of the above applies to you. If you’re like me, you’re a writer.

 

What Is a Writer?

A writer is someone who’s never sure of anything. The more he knows about something the less he’s certain, and the more he knows he doesn’t know about it the more he’s certain of it. He’s never confident until he’s certain he’s not certain about anything. If that sort of logic makes sense to you, you’re probably a writer. That or you’re psychotic, but let’s lean toward the former.

See, what I mean is, writers are usually insecure people who are confident about their insecurity (out of necessity).

We think a lot, we think too much, we overthink, until what we’re thinking about is blurred by all the underlying complexities of what seemed simple a moment ago, and then it’s impossible to do the dishes or the laundry because we’re staring out a window (or maybe hiding under a blanket) trying to make sense of it all.

The reality is, thinking can be hard, and most people can’t afford to think, because the more you think the less you do, because thinking complicates things. Don’t you think? To quote my favorite Watterson, “Ultimately, knowledge is paralyzing!” Men of action can’t afford to take that chance.

But then people like us, writers, we think, we confuse ourselves, we complicate things – and sometimes that’s daunting, but often it’s empowering too. We become confident in uncertainty. Assured that the little we understand is all we need to know for the moment, we’re happy to carry on.

Point? Yeah, there’s a point. Getting to that.

 

Real Writers Doubt, and Revel in That Doubt

When we overthink ourselves, as writers like any introverts have a habit of doing, we (inevitably) begin to doubt ourselves. As I’ve explained, it’s a very natural part of  the artistic temperament. It’s the creative mind at work.

But doubt leaves us with two options: stop existing (not really an option anyway), or carry on until we find an answer (and carrying on usually is the answer, which we usually realize in the end).

Doubt can be hard. It can be depressing and distracting. But no writer is ever 100% sure about what they’re doing. That’s the thing about art, you’re never certain, you never understand completely. What it comes down to in the end is the feeling.

When doubts come, we welcome them like old friends, ask them how they’ve been and then talk with them and listen to what they have to say. Sometimes it’s illogical, sometimes it’s emotional, sometimes there’s sound sense behind it. But it’s hard to tell the difference, and we don’t have all day to listen to the doubts. They can stay for as long as they like, but we still have a household to run here and even though they get in the way sometimes, we carry on with our work. And in spite of the voices in our heads that have suddenly all turned nasty and waged war on our conscious mind, beneath it all there’s the feeling that knows we’re doing the right thing, because we’re writing – that’s what counts.

Writers are people who accept that like any other human being we really can’t understand much. Though we have difficulty pretending certainty in petty doings like most people do very successfully, we see that and we keep going anyway, being certain of what we can and pretending to be certain of what we can’t and always learning and moving forward.

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Top Ten Tuesday #39: Books I Almost Put Down But Didn’t

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish where book lovers post their top ten books for various themes that are given.

May 6: Ten Books I Almost Put Down but Didn’t

Andrew’s Picks:

Like Caleb, I hardly ever will put down a book. Probably because I’m slightly OCD in that regard because I figure, hey, if I have the book, and I already spent X amount of time reading it, why waste that? (plus, who knows, I suppose the novel always could turn around) But there are definitely times when I either wanted to or considered putting a novel down:

  1. Sharp Objects, by Gillian Flynn. This book was just really depressing. And not in the good way, if that makes sense. The Fault in Our Stars is probably the most famous example I can think of of a good depressing book. Because it doesn’t make you feel depressed really, it just tugs at your heartstrings and makes you interested in/feel for the characters. Not so with Sharp Objects—it was just depressing.
  2. The Casual Vacancy, by J.K. Rowling. See above, basically. Although this I wanted to put down less, because I love Rowling and her writing style. Not to mention she’s utterly fantastic with making round, in-depth characters. I did enjoy reading this, even if overall I didn’t really like it.
  3. A Confederacy of Dunces, by John Kennedy Toole. Nothing in this novel interested me, really. Plot, characters, writing style . . . I will say that it gets point for setting, because that actually was interesting, but by no means enough of a saving grace. To be honest, I’m really not sure I would have actually finished this, if not for the fact that I had to read it for school. Just not my kind of novel.
  4. Choke, by Chuck Palahniuk. I’m reading this now, actually. But if not for what I said at the beginning (i.e. I don’t like not finishing books), I’d probably just set it down (though it is a really quick read, and that helps me stick with it). I thought his Survivor was interesting. Not my favorite novel, but it was worth the read. I can’t really say the same here. I suppose I should have listened to the first few sentences of the book: “If you’re going to read this, don’t bother. After a couple pages, you won’t want to be here. So forget it. Go away. Get out while you’re still in one piece. Save yourself. […] What happens here is first going to piss you off. After that it just gets worse and worse.” Well, he did warn me.  Still, I’ll be reading more Palahniuk in the future. His writing style(s) interests me (one of the things I particularly liked about Survivor), and I at the very least really need/want to read Fight Club.
  5. I, Alex Cross, by James Patterson. Maybe it’s because this was the first Alex Cross novel I read (and it’s like…15th in the series or something), who knows, but I just really never got into it. To be honest, having the incredibly short chapters was one of the things that kept me reading, as otherwise I may not have wanted to keep putting in the effort. I’m going back and reading his earlier Cross novels, and they’re kinda the same thing. He does have some interesting ideas at least, though, but I can’t say I”m a fan.
  6. Bonus: A Clash of Kings, by George R.R. Martin. Technically I did put this down for about 4-5 months before finally picking it up again. Simply because it was taking too long to read and it was hard for me to focus on it, so I wanted to wait until winter break. This has absolutely nothing to do with the quality of the work, or my liking of the work, as I think Martin (and his writing) is fantastic. Rather, it was simply the density and not feeling like reading something like that at the time. It’s an amazing novel.

Caleb’s Picks:

I rarely put a book down – I don’t like to start something without finishing it, least of all a book. On that incredibly rare occasion I do put a book aside, it’s usually for a very good reason; and when I come close to putting a book down but don’t, I typically find that I was justified in seeing it through.

  1. Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne. Journey to the Center of the Earth bored me to death like few books I’ve ever read. I was very timid approaching Verne again, and even after I did finally pick up Eighty Days I wasn’t immediately won, but soon enough I’d forgiven Verne.
  2. The Quest by Pio Baroja. Baroja’s work can be hard to get through. It’s slow, very very slow, and also very bleak and depressing. But it really is worth reading through, and though I have not yet and am in no hurry to read the rest of the trilogy, I know I will, because Baroja deserves it. His stories may not have been engaging or entertaining – but they’re meaningful.
  3. The Nine Tailors by Dorothy L. Sayers. Sayers certainly didn’t grab her readers; if anything, she dragged them along. At best, she ambled with them. For example, when she collaborated with her fellow members of The Detection Club to write The Floating Admiral, her chapter was some forty or fifty pages out of a 300 page book (and bear in mind, there were thirteen other chapters written by as many authors). Still, she was a brilliant, ingenious writer with very intricate, innovative mysteries.
  4. The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien. Okay, technically I did put it down. I had just read Chronicles of Narnia and been just a little bit bored by Lewis’s style (much as I loved his stories), and at first The Hobbit didn’t appear any more promising. In addition to that, I had several other books I was particularly interested in reading and a story I was keen on writing, and Hobbit just didn’t end up fitting. But
  5. Roverandom by J.R.R. Tolkien. It’s actually the same story here. I put it down years ago when I was too young to appreciate us. Alas! children had much more refined tastes in Tolkien’s day. I only finally picked it up again this year, and as with Hobbit I enjoyed every word of Tolkien’s genius.

And as a bonus, here are five books I almost put down but didn’t and wish I had:

  1. The Black Tower and A Taste for Death by P.D. James. I purchased six or seven James novels from a used bookstore and, a rare thing for me, returned them all, after reading just two. I could hardly stand Black Tower for a number of reasons, but I gave A Taste for Death a chance anyway because I’m like that, which turned out to be an even bigger waste of my time. I ended up skimming and even skipping irrelevant chapters (which James was very fond of writing in). I respect James as a mystery scholar, but as a novelist not so much. Her stories lack imagination or cleverness, the mysteries are bland and unexciting, her characters are exaggerated and dislikable, and like Sayers her style is long and rambling. Unfortunately, James did not possess Sayers’s saving grace, the ability to make you care enough to finish the story.
  2. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. Dull, murky, depressing, and prolix. Thankfully, it was short.
  3. Dangerous Days by Mary Roberts Rinehart. It depicted high society life in America during the Great War, and ended in Paris on Armistice Day, which made for interesting research to someone interested in the time period, like myself; the characters, however, were difficult to stand, in the same sort of way you’ll recognize in most works of the time, such as The Great Gatsby. Many writers, including Rinehart, had the uncanny ability to make you care anyway and enjoy the story, but this one didn’t do it for me.
  4. The Secret Places of the Heart by H.G. Wells. Another work from the same period starring unbearable characters in an uninteresting situation.
  5. 100% – The Story of a Patriot by Upton Sinclair. See above. The redeeming grace was that the protagonist in this story, a hateful imbecile, was at least so outrageously idiotic that he was amusing, and at least his situation was interesting. Still, I haven’t been in any hurry to try any of his other work, such as The Jungle, though I’ll have to give Sinclair a second chance eventually, because I’m like that.

Top Ten Tuesday #38: Book Covers I’d Frame As Pieces of Art

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish where book lovers post their top ten books for various themes that are given.

May 6: Top Ten Book Covers I’d Frame As Pieces of Art

Andrew’s Picks:

  1. A Monster Calls, by Patrick Ness. Quite possibly my all-time favorite cover.
  2. The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien. There’s multiple ones that I wouldn’t mind, but I love this one.
  3. Any of The Dresden Files, by Jim Butcher (drawn by Christian McGrath). I absolutely love McGrath’s work.
  4. Hawkeye vol.1&2, by Matt Fraction. And any of the individual comic covers, too–I love this. Sometimes, simplicity is best.
  5. A bunch more. I mean, honestly–any Calvin and Hobbes cover, many graphic novel covers (particularly Batman ones)…

Caleb’s Picks:

  1. The original cover of This Side of Paradise by F. Scott Fitzgerald. I like how simple and elegant it is, and how vividly it conjures the era. Even in as worn condition as the edition seen in this cover I’d be happy, in fact, perhaps especially so; it has the respectability of age and the
  2. The original cover of Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie. My greatest inspiration as a detective novelist? Of course I’d want one of her covers on my wall, and I couldn’t think of picking any one other than this.
  3. This cover to The Princess Bride by William Goldman, illustrated by Michael Manomivibul, or for that matter, any of his illustrations; aren’t they incredible?
  4. The cover of Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson. I know, I know, Calvin and Hobbes again, I have nothing to say for myself. But if I was hanging covers on my wall, well, this would be one. Actually, it was pretty difficult to single out one cover, but I went with the first because it has the right blend of innocence, imagination and mischief. And with no subtitle, that’s a plus, too.
  5. The Holt McDougal cover of Frankenstein. Mary Shelley is a another great inspiration to me, and this is my favorite cover – as you may remember, I chose it back in October as one of the Top Ten Scariest Looking Book Covers. My comment then was: “I have never seen a cover that captures the Monster so vividly.”
  6. Bonus: Do these count?

10 Tips for Finding the Best Way for Your Story to End

It’s one of the hardest questions we have to ask ourselves in life: Where will it all end?

As writers, we have a lot more control over things, and that includes where and how to stop. Unfortunately, endings are still hard—sometimes the hardest part of a story. Here are some tips that may help you if you’re struggling with an ending you don’t like, or just not sure where your story is going:

  1. Plan the ending first. Get it working right away so you have direction.
  2. If you’re getting close to an end you don’t have and you’re at a loss, go back to the beginning—review your story, gather ideas, get a sense of where it’s leading, and then follow it.
  3. It’s more important that your ending be fitting than happy. (And remember that goes for unhappy endings too.) It can still twist, but the unexpected can’t be the impossible. The best twist is the one you feel you should have seen coming.
  4. The purpose of an ending is to simplify—it’s the moment when you bring light to the darkness, when all becomes clear. You can still have cliffhangers and leave your readers with questions and something to think about, but if you leave an overcomplicated, unexplained tangle of confusion, it’s no good
  5. That said, don’t be afraid of making it big and bold. If it gets out of hand, keep writing anyway—you can always go back and pull it back as necessary.
  6. Ask yourself: Should this have ended already? Am I ending too early? When should it end?
  7. You’re allowed to have more than one ending.
  8. The resolution should involve the characters. If the ending owes too much to an outside force, it’s likely to leave readers disappointed. If we’ve been walking in a character’s (or characters’) shoes, feeling what they feel and dreaming their dreams, we don’t want to see someone else end their story for them.
  9. It was never all a dream. Don’t toy with your reader’s emotions like that. No matter how brilliant you might think the twist is, 99% of the time it’s not.
  10. A lot of build-up needs a lot of resolution. You need to know when to stop, but you also need to know how to suit an ending to the story it’s concluding. A long or complicated story with a lot at stake needs a lot of ending.

 

Are these strict rules? Of course not. A great writer can break any rule. You can get away with anything as long as you do it imaginatively, and as long as you’re sure you can pull it off. But these tips will help you to avoid, prevent, or justify the sins of a bad ending.

 

What are you ending right now?