Friday, April 19, 2013

Voice Under Construction

Most writing advice runs something like this:

1. Read a lot.
2. Write a lot.
3. Iterate.

Somewhere in that process, you build a voice. So they say.


1. Read a lot.

I've been on a book-acquiring streak the past two days:

Free books from my school library:
  • Fahrenheit 451 (Ray Bradbury)
  • The Prince (Niccolo' Machiavelli)
  • Flatland (Edwin A. Abbott)

Cheap books from my public library ($3.50 for the lot):
  • Essays in Science (Albert Einstein)
  • The Joy of Mathematics (Theoni Pappas)
  • Miss Marple Short Stories (Agatha Christie)
  • Palladio (Desmond Guinness and Julius Trousdale Sadler, Jr.)
Yes, I do have too much stuff. But books are easily curated and in every choice of which book to keep on your shelves or banish to the negative space in your room, you make a decision of what kind of person you are, even if in a minor way.

So I'm going to read these books and in the reading will adopt or discard the aspects that do/not resonate with me. Here's a justification for reading lots of books v. only Literature: increasing the amount of material you have to work with increases your exposure to things in books (I'm deliberately using a vague term because those "things" might be character types, plot structures, a phrase, a setting) that you might want to use in your own writing.


2. Write a lot.

"I have not so much thought my way through life as done things and found what it was and who I was after the doing. Each tale was a way of finding selves. Each self found each day slightly different from the one found twenty-four hours earlier."
-Ray Bradbury, Zen in the Art of Writing

Surprise yourself when you write. A lot of writers love to hate outlines, and while I (architect sympathizer that I am) appreciate a story with good bones, I do agree that constraining your writing too much will harm it. Not so much because writing done to outline is subpar, but because if you prune tangents mercilessly you miss out on the best plot turns and subconscious insights.

Writing a story is a little like sight-reading. You look over your sheet music (your outline), you maybe read about the history and style of the piece (your research), but you don't know what's going to happen until the instrument is on your face and the conductor gives the downbeat (you write).

Microexamples because you know how I love my ill-fitting metaphors: you see a sixteenth note run and you think "eh, that looks chromatic, I can handle it" and then when you get to it the accidentals are all wrong and you start freaking out just a tad (you figure "they'll travel through the desert for two months, standard fare, right?" and then you realize that they'll run out of money by the third day out). You miss seeing a key change (you send your characters off hunting giants and realize a little too late that you have no idea how that kind of thing works).

--> To return to the argument. Writing a lot is also a way of discovering your voice as a writer/your identity as a human being because people are all multi-faceted and no one story can encompass everything. That was probably the main reason I wrote several short pieces after finishing revisions on The Utopia Project - because (I'm about to sound arrogant and self-absorbed, get ready) I felt immense regions of my mind laying unmapped and I wanted to explore.

In short: writing a lot and freely helps you explore the potentials both of your WIP and of your mind.


3. Iterate

Redundant, as the first two instructions do have "a lot" in them. Though perhaps not so redundant: read a lot, write a lot (and what you write will probably be influenced by what you read). Follow different paths, which you may not have considered before. Read based on what things call to you the most. Write more (incorporating the new influences).

Calibrate. I feel as though I'm encouraging limitation, but really, what I'm advocating is forming a coherent body of work that will always contain room to change. (I approached this in (C)o(r)pus, from August of last year.)

Trees are always growing, yes? Further, trees are varied, and they are beautiful. Make like a tree, and photosynthesize. And no, I did not quite break the title's metaphor: trees like bricks are matter, and so does what you say.


Music for this week:

Alone Not Lonely - Evans Blue

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