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How I Write - 500 Words

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  #1  
Old 02-05-2011, 05:46 PM
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Default How I Write - 500 Words


This is my advice to all aspiring writers out there. You could call it my methodology of how to write. These aren't rules but personal guidelines I undertake - if you want me to go into more detail in a specific area, please ask. I've been purposely general on the topic to keep it a light read and the word count down but I'll be happy to discuss anything. If you don't like my advice, feel free to open a discussion on that as well.

For me, writing is very methodical.

It'll start with a feeling that’ll gradually develop into a phrase or word – this is the easiest bit of writing.

An impetus is then needed to explore that feeling and give my poem or prose shape. The best way to do this is through research. You can research news, obscure historical locations, car engine specifications or anything you want. The most effective thing, in my opinion, is to research around you - things you see every day. This gives a huge degree of authenticity to your piece – you’ve experienced those things like no one else and this personal angle always shows best.

All this concrete and physical research you've undertaken can be used metaphorically to reflect upon that original feeling. As a result, your poem won't just be a vague recollection of vague memories but something palpable.

Then it's the hard part - writing your piece. There's only two ways to improve as a writer. Reading as a writer and writing as often as you can. Firstly, read a lot but when you read, think of what the author has put in - what works and what doesn't? Steal these techniques for your own work. Secondly, writing is an art and, simply put, practice makes perfect. To run a marathon, you need to rigorously train every day - to write a good novel, the same applies.

Personally, I don't think there's a specific way to actually write. Just like painting, everyone has their own individual style. However it is clear what works and what doesn't, regardless of the boundaries being stretched in the modern arts. Metaphors can be extended too far, images can be too clichéd, syntax can end up being screwed, show and don’t tell etc. etc.

When you've finished your intricately crafted piece, the most important thing to do is to edit it. Rip it apart. Take away all those abstract images and any unnecessary adjectives. Sort out the syntax. Lay waste to unwarranted clichés. Ravage the rhyme and ransack the rhythm. However, always feel free to experiment - it's your poem or prose. It's not until after you've experimented that you can see whether your idea works or not. Just don't forget to save each draft as you go along. I'd recommend about 10-15 revisions of the original piece.

And when you're writing your piece, always remember to show other people. They can offer you a different perspective and point out details you've missed. Always be open to criticism - no matter how much it might offend you. As long as it's genuine and justified with evidence, it can probably help you.

Eventually, you'll end up with something resembling literature. It might be good, it might be the next New York Times Bestseller or it’s probably absolute trash. Regardless, the best thing to do is to keep practising - when learning to ride a bike without stabilizers, we all had some falls. Hone your technique and keep on writing! Good luck.

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Old 02-06-2011, 03:07 AM
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First of all, Man City fan? Welcome to the forum anyways even if it's a bit late. There are two parts of your post I want to touch on:

writing is an art

Personally, I don't think there's a specific way to actually write. Just like painting, everyone has their own individual style.

Right, writing is an art? Fully agreed.

The second point, there's no specific way to write? Again, agreed. Everyone has their own particular way of writing. This leads me onto the third point, where I believe there's a third way to improve your writing:

It's all very well sticking to writing in one genre or in one style, but I personally think a lot of growth can be obtained via experimenting and going against what's recommended at times. This leads me onto the art bit again and the whole rule/guidelines thing. There are really no rules in writing, apart from writing something that people can find enjoyment in and if not that, at least find some merit in it (i.e. depending on aims, it could be intellectually stimulating). If you read something online, always take it as a guideline and not a rule. Always feel free to experiment and don't feel as though you can't do something because someone else says you can't.

That's all.
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Old 02-06-2011, 10:20 AM
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Originally Posted by MoltenLight View Post
This is my advice to all aspiring writers out there.
You're nineteeen and studying journalism/creative writing at university. I'm curious as to what makes you think you're in a position to give advice?
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Old 02-06-2011, 11:48 AM
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Actually, I had a re-read due to what CandraH mentioned. So, something else I wanted to touch on.

I'd recommend about 10-15 revisions of the original piece.

The generally accepted amount of revisions (though it's in no way set in stone and varies from person to person) is about 3 - 5, correct? I.e., what's considered the norm.

Edit: Something else as well is that showing your work too much and too often can lead to little progress being made, as you could naturally want to go back and make recommended changes. Best bet in my opinion, at least when you're not learning anymore, is to show the work when it's nearing completion. (Another thing is track changes works wonders on the editing front as well, when using MS Word.)
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Old 02-06-2011, 11:57 AM
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Seconded about the oddly high number of revisions you're advocatiing, Moltenlight. I actually forgot about that, David. Cheers for pointing it out.

I'm no expert but I've never done more than maybe five or six revisions of my work, and only that number because I start out handwriting my work before typing it into the computer, so it gets that extra initlai edit. But yeah, 10-15 seems a bit much.
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Old 02-06-2011, 01:33 PM
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I'm an editing fanatic, and I can clock up seven revisions max. I imagine by the fifteenth revision I'd hate the piece too much to want to submit it!

While I don't agree him being nineteen automatically makes him any less qualified to give advice than someone double his age, I'd be interested to know what what does motivate him to give advice.

it’s probably absolute trash.
Really?
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Old 02-06-2011, 03:32 PM
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The generally accepted amount of revisions (though it's in no way set in stone and varies from person to person) is about 3 - 5, correct? I.e., what's considered the norm.
Unless you're a perfectionist, then the revisions can be never ending because one's never satisfied.

Playing devil's advocate here: Why couldn't it take 10-15 revisions worth for a piece to come close to near perfect? For some people (the more experienced ones) it can take as little as 3-5. For those still learning/practicing the craft, as many as eight or nine, and if you're a perfectionist, well . . .
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Old 02-07-2011, 02:17 AM
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Personally, I think some of these comments are slightly out of order. I am 18 years old and I've been writing for ten years, more time than I would say most adults have been writing. If someone told me I was too young to give advice they wouldn't be worth my time. All writers want to improve and the fact Molten is studying it (as am I) at Uni, I think that qualifies us having enough experience to give advice we have gotten from published poets and authors. I think that point has nothing to do with writing skill...

On drafts, for poetry I would recommend 15-20 or more drafts. If you feel you will end up hating the piece then you aren't taking a backseat to it like you should be. Being emotionally attached too much to the piece will hinder your edits. Prose however, depends how long the piece is. I write novels and I tend to revise each chapter about 5-6 times and then review the novel as a whole around 5 times. It has to be professional standard, every fact checked.
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Old 02-07-2011, 02:39 AM
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I am 18 years old and I've been writing for ten years,
Idiotic statements like this are the reason 'young writer' is mistaken for 'bad writer' so often.
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Old 02-07-2011, 02:55 AM
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No worries Devon and Desert. There was a reason I phrased it as a question.

From a personal standpoint, Desert, I'd like to comment on what you said but I have no interest in getting into arguments.

So, I came onto writing forums for the first time when I was 18/19 I think and I'd been writing for several years before that (more doodling I guess, never serious). At that time, I thought my writing was good but the first critiques set that right, as the only feedback I'd have previously was from family. It took me quite a few years to grasp quite a bit of writing. I'm 25 now so... And I can hardly say I know a tonne about writing, compared to others at any rate. In fact, I was looking at my first piece shown here the other day and it was nice to look back on.

Basically, I'm not saying you're unqualified to give advice. What I am saying is that at 18, you may not know as much as you think you do, though I don't mean that applies to everyone at that age. So really, I'm speaking more generally here rather than to anyone in the thread.
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Old 02-07-2011, 03:10 AM
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On the topic of writing, Stephen King said: "Read and write four to six hours a day. If you cannot find the time for that, you can't expect to become a good writer." Writing 2000 words a day, do you consider King to not draft at all? I find it unlikely that in his experience he only drafts 3-5 times.

Gustave Flaubert, author of Madame Bovary, often dedicated a whole week to one page in his book looking for "le mot juste" - the right word.

It's fine if less revisions works for you, but I find it unlikely that a truly professional standard will be met with as few as eight revisions. I consider a revision/edit to be quite radical, altering whole aspects of the poem, experimenting etc. Not just checking the spelling.

To judge one's writing skill or the validity of points they make on the basis of their age is ignorant. Matthew Lewis wrote the Gothic horror novel, The Monk, when he was 20. S.E Hinton started writing The Outsiders when she was 15 eventually getting it published at the age of 18. How old was Michael Jackson when in the Jackson 5?

I am taught by professional authors and poets on my course - a lot of the advice I gain from them is in my 'methodology'. Like I said in the introduction, don't take my advice as absolute canon - they're only guidelines and they work for me.

Before attacking me and my advice, please read my other work. I have two pieces up on this site and many reviews of other people's work. If you categorically disagree with or dislike them, please say in that thread.
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Old 02-07-2011, 03:10 AM
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Originally Posted by ! Andy View Post
Idiotic statements like this are the reason 'young writer' is mistaken for 'bad writer' so often.
So what published experience do you have that could enlighten my 'novice' writing? I don't get how you could label my age with such a derogatory statement and have non apparent 'experience' to back it up.

Honestly, I am quite shocked our age is being used against us and it being a label for a 'bad writer'. There have been numerous young famous writers over the years. I have never said I know everything but neither can anyone at any age. A writer is alway learning and more importantly is willing to learn. You could learn from what we 'young' writers know just as well as we could learn from what you know. Seriously, this community is designed to help all kinds of writers so why are our points being dismissed for an attack on our age?
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Old 02-07-2011, 03:17 AM
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Molten (regarding On Writing):

Didn't King say he basically wrote something and then popped it away in a draw and then pulled it out to redraft? Then it was done. Can't remember the specifics, but I remember it being something along those lines at least.

Anyways, wasn't attacking you Molten. I did actually agree with much of what you said.
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Old 02-07-2011, 03:22 AM
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Idiotic statements like this are the reason 'young writer' is mistaken for 'bad writer' so often.
Notice the underlined.

Meaning you do more harm than good when you defend yourself by saying you've been writing since you were eight. If you're going to dive into the way of Molten's non-existent bullet and defend 'young' writers (and you'll notice I spoke about this in my first post), don't do so with such a ridiculous statement as "I've been writing since I was eight" when there are plenty of valid arguments you could use instead.
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Old 02-07-2011, 03:27 AM
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Originally Posted by DavidGil View Post
Molten (regarding On Writing):

Didn't King say he basically wrote something and then popped it away in a draw and then pulled it out to redraft? Then it was done.
Pretty much.
"For me, the answer has always been two drafts and a polish."
He goes on to say his polish has become more of a third draft with the advent of word-processing, and emphasises that everyone's edit count is different.
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Old 02-07-2011, 03:34 AM
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I'm not sure about the need for so many revisions. One thing that works for me is to write something, revise it, polish it a little and then leave it for a week. I'll go write something else, jot down a few dozen ideas, I might even read something.

After a week, pick up the story again and read it with slightly fresher eyes. It isn't easy to see your own mistakes. After all you didn't intend to make them. After a week (or whatever arbitrary rest period you decide) you have to actually read what you've written and it is easier to spot where you've gone wrong. Given that I'm always making mistakes it is terribly disappointing for me to find something I've written that is free of error.
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Old 02-07-2011, 03:38 AM
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Cheers for the clarification, Andy. I should have reworked that sentence as well to say he normally left the drafts in a draw for about six months. Just remembered that was the time frame he gave (around that at least as far as I remember).

Anyways, as this talk about drafts is pulling the thread off-topic, this'll be my last post on the matter. Apologies as well.

What was mentioned about editing counts varying from person to person by Andy is also what I was getting at with the whole 3-5 draft thing.
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Old 02-07-2011, 05:02 AM
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One thing that works for me is to write something, revise it, polish it a little and then leave it for a week. I'll go write something else, jot down a few dozen ideas, I might even read something.

After a week, pick up the story again and read it with slightly fresher eyes. It isn't easy to see your own mistakes. After all you didn't intend to make them. After a week (or whatever arbitrary rest period you decide) you have to actually read what you've written and it is easier to spot where you've gone wrong.
Agreed. And with each revision, not only do the mechanics tighten, but the plot takes better shape. Connections are made, scenes are added, description refined; things become clearer, cleaner gradually until a solid core plot line forms that holds firm the reader's suspension of disbelief, and the characters and setting practically jump off the page, however many revisions this takes. The point is to entertain the reader, wrap them into a world unlike any other, let them "see" problems worse than their own . . . and if it takes 10-15 revisions and years of rework, so be it.

Sorry, can't say anything about poetry. Couldn't scratch out a poem to save my skin.
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Last edited by Devon; 02-07-2011 at 05:06 AM..
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Old 02-07-2011, 05:34 AM
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Originally Posted by MoltenLight View Post
To judge one's writing skill or the validity of points they make on the basis of their age is ignorant.
Not at all. Thats just your interpretation and by it, you and Desertrosefalle show how defensive you are about your position as writers, and yourself about giving advice.

I didn't say your age makes you a bad writer, or even assume that. I simply observed from your profile that you're nineteen and studying creative writing at university. That makes you a student not a teacher and I was curious as to what made you think you're in a position to tell others about writing. No big deal.

If you want to impart what you're learning to others, thats great. But rather than saying -

This is my advice to all aspiring writers out there.
perhaps just say "this is what I have learned and take from it what you want". Thats the difference between claiming to "know" something others need to be told about and not claiming to "know" anything but to be learning interesting things that you want to share with other writers. Do you see the difference?
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Old 02-07-2011, 10:17 AM
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Candra, I understand the point you are making at the end but it's slightly pedantic to call the preface to my advice into question. In no way is it directly affiliated with the advice I wish to impart so therefore it should not be discussed. It would be more beneficial to everyone to discuss what I have actually written in the main body of my post.

Originally Posted by CandraH View Post
Not at all. Thats just your interpretation and by it, you and Desertrosefalle show how defensive you are about your position as writers, and yourself about giving advice.
In response to this, you have generalised our reaction - warranted or not. Simply because we've been defensive about our age being used against us does not relate to how we feel about ourselves as writers. I'd like to point out how rude it is to, through implication, attack us in this way.

Of course, I might be interpreting your statement incorrectly (as I supposedly have done before). When writing, whether it's a story, poem or argument, it is important to be specific with what you are saying. If the reader is at chance of misunderstanding something, it's best to probably change that sentence.
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Old 02-07-2011, 11:08 AM
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Originally Posted by ! Andy View Post
Notice the underlined.

Meaning you do more harm than good when you defend yourself by saying you've been writing since you were eight. If you're going to dive into the way of Molten's non-existent bullet and defend 'young' writers (and you'll notice I spoke about this in my first post), don't do so with such a ridiculous statement as "I've been writing since I was eight" when there are plenty of valid arguments you could use instead.
Okay, I admit, it was a poor argument. It wasn't my best point to show that I do have experience. I was just using my age as an example. You do have a very good point and I acknowledge and respect that.

On the matter of my age and experience: despite being eighteen, I've been approached by publishers. However, there is no way I'm going to allow a piece of fiction of mine to be out there on the market that isn't up to the standards I want. Possibly people would say I should have taken up the chance to have a work 'published' but despite my 'young age' I have enough respect as a writer to not publish something I'm not happy with. That is why I'm on here, and on a writing course. I want to improve and to help people who are in the same boat as myself. However, people have to be willing to take critique from people of all ages and advice.

Molten has very good points. If you don't read, you can't write well. You also are oblivious to what sells. It's a way of knowing what publishers want now. Research is highly important, I spend more time researching than I do writing with my novels. What I can add, as I do specialise in prose are these points:
- Knowing your character is vital. Personally, I use a two page character sheet when planning my character, down to what they like doing in their spare time. Any details. Even if I know they won't be used. This character has to be three dimensional.
- Avoid cliche plots. We've had it all. The Twilight phase... Vampires will no doubt fade out soon enough; it's a fad. Publishers are seeking originality and more contemporary fiction.
- Research the market. Highly important. The Writer's and Artist's Yearbook is every aspiring writer's holy book. It's the in's-and-out's of the markets, agents, publishers and what they are looking for and all the stuff in between.
- Don't fall into the trap of thinking words are quantity not quality. Never stretch your work into ridiculous amounts so the plot gets lost. Eg, getting to the 96,000 word point and stretching it to reach the 100,000 mark. It's useless and when revising, you should be cutting and adding parts anyway.

I hoped this helped somewhat and added to Molten's valid points about writing.
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Old 02-07-2011, 12:00 PM
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Actually, Desert, I'd say that it'd be more fair to say that publishers are looking for novels that'll sell, rather than ones that are original. I'm no expert in this field regardless and to be frank, someone else is probably best advising on this front but that's what makes sense to me. I don't have the experience to back this up because I'm like you, I only want to send the piece that's 'right' off.

Granted, I always seek originality when I can with my own writing, so I do actually agree with the sentiment that originality is good. But it's just that I doubt it's the deciding factor when it comes to publishers. It's more an added bonus I'd wager.
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Old 02-08-2011, 07:11 AM
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Originally Posted by MoltenLight View Post
Candra, I understand the point you are making at the end but it's slightly pedantic to call the preface to my advice into question. In no way is it directly affiliated with the advice I wish to impart so therefore it should not be discussed. It would be more beneficial to everyone to discuss what I have actually written in the main body of my post.
But thats the thing. It's not your post I'm calling into question but your intent. What credentials do you have that put you in a position to give advice when you are still learning yourself?

You see, you assume you are in a position to advise, i.e. tell others what to do, rather than share what you are currently learning. For me, a person only becomes capable of giving advice when they have extensive experience in all aspects of their chosen field. If the chosen field is writing, that means knowledge of all aspects of the writing game, and said person has applied those techniques successfully in their work and also has extensive experience of the publishing side of writing which would then tell me their application of their accumulated knowledge has worked.

Thats not to say I wont accept and appreciate feedback on my own writing from other inexperienced novices, it's just that when said novices put across their learnings as a teaching for others, it strikes me as arrogant.

In response to this, you have generalised our reaction - warranted or not. Simply because we've been defensive about our age being used against us does not relate to how we feel about ourselves as writers. I'd like to point out how rude it is to, through implication, attack us in this way.

Of course, I might be interpreting your statement incorrectly (as I supposedly have done before). When writing, whether it's a story, poem or argument, it is important to be specific with what you are saying. If the reader is at chance of misunderstanding something, it's best to probably change that sentence.
You're entitled to be defensive about your age and I certainly wasnt attacking you, either in a straightforward manner or by implication. I'm just making observations based on your behaviour and responses. I'm interested as to why you feel you are being attacked? If you don't like my questions or the way I ask them, feel free to disagree and dispute them but don't just hide behind calling me rude or ignorant because you don't like what is being said to you. I've said elsewhere on this forum that I'm not here to be anyone's friend or to coddle anyone's feelings to protect their ego. If I have a question to ask, I'll ask it and I certainly wont sugarcoat it for anyone's benefit.
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Old 02-08-2011, 10:34 PM
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Four to six hours a day hunched over a keyboard staring at monitor? You might never become a writer that way but I am pretty sure you will acquire a plethora of strange and debilitating health problems. Stuff like eye strain that leads to migranes and stooped shoulders that eventually create back aches, and of course, roids. Then there's the isolationism that leads to anti-social behavior and a bizarre rampage in some fast food joint where you claim that fucking plastic clown out front of the building flipped you off while you were driving by. Yeah, it's a never ending downward spiral. Depression sets in and you begin to have suicidal thoughts. You hear voices. You see things that no one else sees, unless they are following that sage advice. Ten to fifteen revisions turn into fifty to seventy five and before long you can never get the thing just perfect. Sure mom likes it but that's her job to fill you with false hope. She knows better. She knows you took after the old man and look at what has happened to him. Against all odds you get your teaching degree and soon you are standing in front of a room full of ingrates telling them the same shit your professor told you. You get married with kids and a mortgage that would choke a giraffe and your hair starts falling out. Your kids hate you and your significant other has moved into the west wing of the house. Those seventeen unfinished novels just stare at you, mock you. You burn them cursing the day you set foot in your first creative writing class. One day, and mark my words this will happen, you and the family are on a scheduled summer vacation at some seaside resort trying to unwind and create that bond that over the years has turned to a silent seething hatred. Completely unexpected you look across the dining room and with a mouthful of seabass and melted butter you spot him. That's him. You almost choke as you recognize the writing professor from years back that ruined your life. He is sitting at a corner table with some co-ed half his age filling her head with the same shit he stuffed in yours. You get up and walk calmly over and ask him if he remembers you. He squints and claims he does not. You tell him your name and still it doesn't ring that bell of recognition. It's over. Next thing you know your in a padded cell for the criminally insane. They tell you that you stabbed that man forty two times with a filet knife. You have no recollection of it but you must have, otherwise why would you be there? Your kids visit but the significant other won't. No, they have moved on with their life. They have married another with a simple job and no delusions of writing the definitive masterpiece. You don't care. The meds have removed that burden. But all hope is not lost. By sheer repetition you find your true calling. You have become the best shuffleboard player on the fourth ward. You are unbeatable. You had to be good considering you practice shuffleboard four to six hours a day. Steve was right after all.
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Old 02-09-2011, 04:05 PM
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Hi MoltenLight,

Thanks for your post. It's interesting to see what methodologies work for some people and not for others. Personally, I don't really work in the same way that you do, but each to their own.

On the note of youngsters writing and giving advice (as I see much good-natured, friendly debate going on above), I don't see what the big problem is. You don't have to take anything anyone says as the one and only truth. I won a nationwide competition when I was 20 run by the family of my country's most (only) successful playwright. It took me a long time to top that success. I teach creative writing now and sure as hell wouldn't have had the resources to do so back then but that doesn't mean I was crap or unable to provide advice.

If we really want to show that we're better than other writers, don't pick age. Do the obvious thing and pick gender. Men are ten times better than women. Everyone knows this. Shakespeare wasn't Wilfred, you know what I'm saying?

Pete

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Old 02-10-2011, 09:44 AM
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Originally Posted by PeteMalicki View Post
If we really want to show that we're better than other writers, don't pick age.
Hum... But I'm picking attitude not age...
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Old 02-10-2011, 10:42 AM
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I'm picking skin colour. Every one knows that Chinua Achebe is the greatest writer who ever lived.

No, wait. Hat size. Hat size is the true mark of a literary genius.

It is definitely one or the other. Well that or actual writing talent. If words genuinely moves me, if they break through this sturdy facade and makes me laugh, cry, gasp in horror or curl my fist in rage then I will consider the writer to be "quite good". High praise indeed, I think that you'll agree.

To be honest I don't much care if you're 9 or 90, black, white or green, tall, thin, short, fat, male, female, gay or straight, political or not or even if you're boring. What counts are the words you write and the emotions you draw out of the reader.
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Old 02-10-2011, 10:53 AM
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Haha. But, and third time lucky maybe?, I'm not questioning Moltenlight's words or writing. I'm sure he's great though I havent been to the creative sections for a bit so have no actual proof of that...

It's his attitude I'm questioning.
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Old 02-10-2011, 10:56 AM
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Originally Posted by MoltenLight
I'd recommend about 10-15 revisions of the original piece.
If I revised a novel ten to fifteen times, I'd never finish a damn thing. That's preposterous. I write one draft, then I edit. After that, it's finished. Three to five seems a reasonable alternative. But ten or fifteen? Where'd you pull that number from?
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Old 02-10-2011, 11:13 AM
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I'm beginning to think Moltenlight was mostly talking about poetry but decided to make the 10-15 revisions recommendation relevant to prose also. Not sure if it's acceptable in poetry or not as I'm no expert but for prose it just seems over the top. Though, at the opposite end of the scale, one draft and one edit seems a bit little.
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