Before I delve into a rant or ramble or other thing starting with R, a public service announcement–with Monday’s comic, we have officially gotten through the Digger backlog! So if you were holding off signing up for Graphic Smash until the new ones start–now’s the time, the new ones start goin’ up Tuesdays and Thursday, starting midnight tomorrow. And if you sign up before Oct 15, it’s only 19.95 for a whole year!
If, on t’other hand, you’re poor but still wanna follow the wombat–and I understand completely–if you drop by the day of the update, Tuesday and Thursday–it’s free and you can read it. You can’t access the archives, but you can still read that day’s comic for the 24 hours it’s up. (Insidious ploy to get people hooked, ain’t it?) Click the niiiiice link…
Ahem. Enough of that.
I got an e-mail not long ago asking me about how I practiced writing, and why, and this made me stare somewhat blankly at the ceiling for a bit. And that’s the topic for the day, and because I’m an artist, not a writer, it’s mostly a rambling, confused rant that may not be any use to anybody. But hey, that’s the chance you take.
Writing was never something I had considered that I’d practiced. I mean, sure, I wrote, all the time, practically daily, since I was like, seven, and writing–don’t laugh–Watership Down fan fic (I didn’t even know what fan fic was, mind you, but that was definitely what it was) but did that count as practice? It was just..what I did. I’d get an idea and I wrote it. It wasn’t like art. With art, I could FEEL that I was practicing, I had anatomy charts and life drawing and I could very literally see the results–you can tell if a drawing of a hand is good or not, in the crudest sense, by whether it looks like a hand (abstract art was a mystery to me, and largely still is) and I could tell that my hands were getting more hand-like. But writing? There was nothing to compare it to–you can’t write something and say “Yeah, this looks exactly like the opening to The Shining.” How can you tell you’re getting better? How can you even tell you’re practicing?
And the short answer there is that yes, that was practice–years of nearly daily practice. I wrote thousands of pages of utter, utter crap as a teen–that was what I did. Sports? No. Friends? Not many. Hobbies? Writing. Most it dreadful, dreadful stuff, but it was practice. Wrote a 200+ page novel with my boyfriend at the time, a hideous morass of cliche, in-jokes, adolescent angst and religious rebellion that was practice. (It had a rhino named Peaches. I’ve blotted most of the rest out.) I started stories. I never ended any of ’em, but god, did I start a lot of ’em. I wrote chapters in the middle. I wasn’t nearly experienced enough to understand how people actually interacted, so I have lots of tortured love stories written in the absence of ever having been in love, and characters that would require filling out to become merely one-dimensional. I thought that manticores would be the next big thing after griffins. I was derivative of everybody, from Lovecraft to L’Amour. Simultaneously. (Sadly, I am not joking.)
I also, as a side note, wrote a lot of sex scenes, being that I was in that hinterland of puberty. And jesus christ, I’m glad those are lost to posterity. I think I’d just discovered Jean Auel, which was largely my introduction to the world of Really Explicit Things With Throbbing Pulsing Whatsits. (And the phrase “rampant manhood.” My god, it’s like genital heraldry. “Manhood rampant, on field azure…” Has anyone, in their entire life, actually referred to the male anatomy in such terms? And if so, did the assembled company burst out laughing until their spleen came out their nose, as it deserved?) Amazing how that dropped off once I was actually getting laid regularly…*cough* Anyway, you probably didn’t want to know that, but I’m guessing there are more than a few in the audience who did the same thing, although they don’t need to admit it if they don’t want to.
Getting back on track, from about seventeen through about twenty-three, I wrote a novel, more or less, which was arguably 400 pages of bloody practice. And these days, I keep this Livejournal thing, and I write all the time even if it’s just the saga of Ursula vs. Iron Bladder.
So I guess the answer to the question–how I practiced writing–was that I spent most of my life writing. And I take what meager skill I have these days largely for granted, because it didn’t FEEL like practicing, it was just how a kid who insisted on maintaining an isolationist social policy kept herself amused when not playing Tetris or Civ. I wasn’t comparing myself to anyone and going “Damn, they’re way better,” I wasn’t thinking “My characterization is weak, I should work on that,” I was just writing whatever crap came to mind. I didn’t think “I’m bad now, but I’ll get better,” as I did with art, I just wrote. (And it was bad, believe me. Excreable. People referred to each other as “my lady” ALL THE TIME. I once wrote about arranged marriages with werewolves. And that was one of the better ones. God, the shame…)
The flip side to this, unfortunately, is that never having thought that I was developing a skill, I developed it completely half-assed. Sure, I can be amusing for the length of an image description, but sweet blue-tongued mother of Gila Monsters! Try to get a plot out of me and I curl into fetal position. Try to get me to be brief and you’re completely boned–my writing method is the “start somewhere and go until you run out of words,” method, which works fine for the dark depths of Livejournal, where editors are hunted for their tasty flesh, but is rather more frowned upon in publication. My plots are ungodly weak, and my metaphors are so cloyingly thick you could stand a spoon up in ’em (See!? See?!) You don’t even want to KNOW about my poetry.
So I dunno. I had planned to be encouraging to any fledgling writers out there, but I have, as usual, sidetracked myself completely–reading back, it looks like I’m saying “Just write, and write, and write, and don’t worry about it.” And I don’t know if that’s the right thing to say, because I’m not a writer, and I don’t have any good advice for people that want to BE writers. I just kind’ve did it because I had to express myself and I can’t dance. Ask me for advice for struggling artists, and I’ll give you ten pages on it, but I don’t know what to say to people who want to write. Maybe you should study dialogue or something. Maybe you should take workshops. Maybe you coat yourself in nectar, then pray to His Awful Iridescence, the Lord of Hummingbird Feather Mites, under the full moon and beg for inspiration. I don’t know. I’m okay at clever rambling, but if you want to know how to be a good, well-rounded writer, you should probably go to the experts. Particularly if you want plots, or brevity, or something.
Then again, if you want to be an artist, draw, draw, draw, damnit, draw. Even if it’s crap, just as long as you learn something by doing it and keep trying to do different things and don’t stick to the same mistakes. So I’m gonna guess that there are worse bits of advice than “write, write, write, goddamnit, write.”
And there’s another part of it that IS kinda like art, and that’s the answer to the “Why?” question. And the answer is not to bother with the question. Don’t worry about WHY you’re doing it, or whether you’ll be any good or not, or if other people have done better. If you enjoy doing it, even if it’s hard, even if your chickens don’t look like chickens, or your poetry is as bad as mine was, then that’s why you do it. It doesn’t matter that someone else may be better–the Sistine Chapel is better than I’ll ever be, but who cares? I don’t like chapels. Frescoes don’t do terribly much for me. Somebody’s gotta paint killer eggs. Somebody’s gotta write about cat urine. Hell, somebody somewhere probably has to write about rampant manhoods. You do anything creative for just one reason–you have to do it. It’s in your brain to do it, and if you don’t get it out, it’ll start chewing on your ear. And even if it’s godawfully BAD, that’s okay. It’s good to do bad stuff. It’s practice for something. You just gotta keep scratching at it, every single day, and then one day, years later, you wake up to discover that people are asking you for writing advice and you’re staring blankly at the page going “I’m an artist. What the hell can I say about writing that’ll help anybody?”
So that’s what I’ve got to say. I don’t know if it’ll make any sense–it’s late, after all, and I’m groggy–but that’s what I’ve got.
If someone would like me to draw a picture about writing advice, on t’other hand, just ask. That would be a lot easier, and I can guarantee a certain basic quality as well.