Taran Matharu on writing the book he wanted to read

I just wanted to mix all these things into a book and I wanted to read that book. But I couldn’t find it anywhere so I just had to write it instead! I think that’s how a lot of authors come up with their ideas because they have this idea and they really want to read that book and they can’t find it. They just have to do it themselves. I think writing is like reading a story that you can decide. It’s like you choose your own adventure as you write.

Taran Matharu

Writing a book that one wants to read is only half the equation. A writer should also consider if the topic and the plot are going to be of interest to readers.

Taran Matharu

John Scalzi on treating writing as a business

This one is an oldie but goodie:

Writing is a business. Act like it.

“Every writer who writes for pay is running a small business. You have to create product, track inventory, bid on work, negotiate contracts, pay creditors, make sure you get paid and deal with taxes. Work has to be done on time and to specification. Your business reputation will help you get work — or will make sure you don’t get any more. This is your job. This is your business.”
Unasked-For Advice to New Writers About Money by John Scalzi

Traditional writers (or traditionally minded writers) might be less inclined to treat their art as a business. This might be because it is the job of the agent, the editor, and the publisher to take care of the business side of things.

The world of self-publishing, on the other hand, is very driven by authors that spend as much energy in writing as they do promoting. Many of those independent authors plan the business side of writing, even before they write the first sentence of their books.

In summary, act like a pro, if you want to be one.

John Scalzi

On the importance of handwriting, or why do I carry a notebook everywhere I go

It happens to me quite frequently. Every now and then, specially around new people, I get the strange look and the question: “Why are you carrying a pen around?”

I have built this habit over the last few years and now I feel naked if I don’t carry a notebook to write on and a pen I like to write with. I stuff it all in my back pocket and move a long with my day. This habit is so ingrained by now that I’m always surprised when somebody points it out how unusual of a habit it is.

On the importance of handwriting, or why do I carry a notebook everywhere I go

We all carry cellphones that we can take notes with, doodle, do research, etc. Phones are amazing tools, but not a replacement for a notebook. When you take out a notebook, you are not distracting yourself with notifications, news, social media, etc. With a notebook you are focused. Handwriting is also quick. I can write a sentence in my notebook quicker than I could unlock my phone.

Don’t get me wrong. Phones are amazing, and I have my favorite app to write things down on the go. But the thing is, the act of writing by hand can’t be replicated by a phone. Handwriting gives ideas another dimension, you can doodle, underline, write in the margins, etc. 

Above it all, handwriting—like painting and drawing—connects our mind and our body in a way that no digital device can’t (yet).

Write even when it feels uncomfortable, specially when it does

Here is a quote attributed 1 to the Russian film director Andrei Tarkovsky (“Solaris”, “Stalker”, “The Mirror”):

“An artist will never, ever have ideal conditions to create, so don’t ever expect them.”

Andrei Tarkovsky

Do you believe that you need ideal conditions to create?

I know I fall victim of that fallacy every now and then. Surprisingly, I also realized that the times when I feel less inspired, or less motivated to write, I end up with some really good ideas if I only force myself to just write.

By forcing yourself to write when it feels most uncomfortable, you will push against those barriers in your minds that block your progress. Use that resistance as creative juice and push forward.

Here is Tarkovsky’s full quote extracted from the documentary “A Poet in Cinema”:

“An artist never works under ideal conditions. If they existed, his work wouldn’t exist, for the artist doesn’t live in a vacuum. Some sort of pressure must exist. The artist exists because the world is not perfect. Art would be useless if the world were perfect, as man wouldn’t look for harmony but simply live in it. Art is born out of an ill-designed world.”
Andrei Tarkovsky

  1. via Simon Van Booy’s TED talk How To Write Your Novel In Under 20 minutes 

To find your motivation answer this question: Why do you write?

As I write my first book and look at all the work ahead, it can be easy to feel overwhelmed. When my motivation goes down, what works best for me is to answer the question: Why do I want to write?

In my case there are two clear reasons:

  • To express my voice: the right and duty to expression oneself had always been a deeply rooted belief of mine. The world advances the way it does because of the influence of those who speak their minds. We need to encourage more opinions to be voiced. This is the only way to move away from the herd mentality.

  • To make money: it sounds materialistic because it is. I have made a clear decision that I want to write professionally and this involves making money out of my art. If money wasn’t a goal I wouldn’t force myself to accomplish specific goals such as publishing dates and word count.

So that’s it in a nutshell for me. When I’m low in motivation I remind myself that I have to work like as pro if I want to be a pro, and that there is value in sharing my ideas and experiences.

So, what is you’re motivation? What is the driving force for your work? What is at the core of your desire to write and create? If you know it, congratulations. If you don’t, think about it, write it down and come back to it whenever you need that extra push to keep you going.

Book Review: Advanced Screenwriting

This is the first book I read about screenwriting. You would think that an advanced book is probably not the best place to start but this one book was very accessible. You don’t always get your first choice when shopping in used bookstores, but sometimes you discover gems you weren’t expecting.

Advanced Screenwriting is a book for experienced writers as well as novices. It skips over the very basics and covers topics that are specific to screenwriting. Most of the ideas are covered in short chapters and require little background. Despite not having read other books on the topic I was able to follow along everything. It probably helps that I have read other writing books, specially on the topic of the hero’s journey.

Advanced Screenwriting

Screenwriting books focus strongly on structure and plot, character development, not so much on writing style. After all only dialog may survive rewrites during filming. Structure is one of my main tools as a way of communicating ideas. My favorite topics covered theme (one of the things I found most attractive about writing), opening scenes, sensory references, etc.

This book is great about discussing ideas and showing examples. Moreover, since the examples are movies as opposed to books, they can be covered more quickly, they are more universally known by most audiences and are easy/quick to research if one needs a refresher.

I’m fully convinced that learning screenwriting will be a great way to expand my knowledge of writing by focusing on the areas I know I am stronger at (themes, plotting, symbolism, ideas, etc)

Just to finalize, one other highlight of this book (and likely of many screenwriting manuals) is the focus on writing a story that’s accessible and that pulls the reader along. If your story doesn’t generate interest in the audience, they won’t follow along. Successful writing is not about Art, it’s about Storytelling.

More On Printed Books And The Future Of Traditional Publishers

Gene Doucette on publishers marketing their dwindling ebook sales—caused by their prizing strategies—as a positive sign:

It should come as very little surprise to you that after jacking up the prices of their ebooks at the start of 2015, the Big 5 sold fewer ebooks.

Now here’s the fun part, the part that just makes me shake my head and giggle and wonder how I can live in such extraordinary times. After six months of depressed ebook sales, the Big 5 announced that the ebook market was slowing down.

Not: “we priced ourselves out of the market and stopped selling as many books”. No no no. The ebook market! Is slowing down!

This was celebrated!

The collective madness of the publishing industry

On Punctuation

An different look at novels that highlights their particular composition (eg: dialog vs exposition):

Here is a comparison of some other books — notice how large a break A Farewell To Arms was from the past. There almost no commas, just sentences, dialogue. How refreshing and wild that must have been! Look at how spartan Blood Meridian is compared to everything. Pay attention to the semicolons which seem to have disappeared from writing.

Punctuation In Novels

Punctuation in novels