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50 Thoughts on Writing: Part 4

Updated on January 8, 2015
50 Thoughts on Writing
50 Thoughts on Writing | Source

31. Never, never, never give up. -Winston Churchill

If you feel that it, deep down in your soul, that you have been given the gift of writing—of communicating effectively—of transporting an audience into the great transcendence of time and space—then you also know that your gift is yours, and yours to bear. You must do it, or it will haunt you all your days. You have something special—something that no one can take from you.

Failure will come, it's what you do with it that counts. Consider these Winston Churchill quotes:

"“Never give up on something that you can't go a day without thinking about."

“If you're going through hell, keep going.”

“Success is not final...Failure is not fatal...it's the courage to continue that counts”

"Success is the ability to go from failure to failure without losing your enthusiasm."

32. Keep building your castles.

Anne Lamott Quote
Anne Lamott Quote | Source

33. Failure means you're doing it right.

You feel the fire in your soul—you get that high when all of the words coming pouring into your fingertips. The world stops and you're caught up in an existential euphoria. Your heart beats faster, your thoughts come pouring in like a torrential rain, your whole body feel weightless in suspended animation. You have something to say, but your mind is moving father than your fingers. You start to sweat and think "what if I forget something? No, I can't stop now, I will forget. Must keep typing." And so that cruel mistress of words keeps you slaving away at your keyboard into the wee hours of the morning.

If the above is you, keep reading.

So if you have it—that sacred thing that no writer can adequately express in mortal words, you must continue at all costs. But, there will be failures and I do not mean that in a negative way.

Failure is a sign that you're doing something right.

“Develop success from failures. Discouragement and failure are two of the surest stepping stones to success.” -Dale Carnegie

I think that there are two reasons for failure:

1. You are not ready on a personal level.

Sometimes you might not be ready for it, and sometimes it's not ready for you. It's a divine way of making sure that you enter stage left at the right time.

Having had some recent success in screenwriting, I now look back on the person I was when I graduated college—when I wanted nothing more than to work in the film industry. I look back on my writing and see how much improvement has happened in 5 years. I can honestly say that I am a much better writer and screenwriter because of the time in between. On a personal level, life experience has given me thicker skin and a healthy perspective on the weird industry that is Hollywood.

2. You need to be refined by it.

Failure makes you better. Period. If you fail hundreds of times, you learn a couple hundred new lessons on how to get it right. It's like shooting a target with bird shot vs a slug: out of the hundreds of little balls of lead, a couple are bound to hit the bull's eye, even if you're no Annie Oakley. Think of it as: every time you fail you are increasing your chances of winning. If you are indeed a solid writer with a solid product eventually a fish will bite.

Your Turn

Do you have it--that thing we writer's can't explain--that obsessive drive to write?

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35. Time is your enemy.

S. Kelley Harrell Quote
S. Kelley Harrell Quote | Source

36. As a writer you are not preaching a sermon, you are entering a conversation. (Buckle up, this one is as long as a sermon).

You may have become a writer because you feel like you have something to say, which is one of the most important parts of being a writer—you have to be opinionated. However, you can be so passionate and zealous for your cause that you turn readers off because they can't relate to you.

You have to stand for something.

All art is a reflection of the human experience and your experience is unique and it matters. Writing is one facet of the Freedom of Speech that we hold so dear—and yes it is OK to take sides on a matter. After all. you may be the voice that stands for someone who can't speak for themselves.

Let's look at it from another angle: your triumph is a threat to the other side. By standing for something, you create an enemy who sees your work as an affront to their cause. This is where it takes discernment to tread lightly where you must and shout from the rooftops where you should.

I have always found it more profitable to enter a conversation than preach a sermon. This is done by engaging all sides in a dialogue. Maybe the other side has never looked at it through the same lens as you—maybe you've never looked through theirs. Your job is to tireless seek the truth, but be humble enough to realize that you could be wrong.

If You are Writing an Article

If you are writing an article on a charged topic, be sure to look at the topic from all angles. If possible, interview someone on the other side and try to figure out why they believe the polar opposite. They might even have a perfectly legitimate reason for thinking the way they do, even if its not one you agree with.

I think a good approach to take is to educate, not argue. Lay your ego aside and engage the other side without being dehumanizing. Respect them and respect their opinion, even if you disagree. Kill them with kindness and intellectual prowess. Pretend you are taking the other side out for a cup of tea and you merely want to discuss a topic because you want to understand it.

An Example

Some people believe that housing developments should have strict guidelines on exterior paint choices (let's call them the Neutrals). Others feel that their freedom is being trampled on and they want the ability to express themselves (the Colorfuls).

I truly don't have an opinion, but let's just say that I was passionate about being a Neutral. Here we go: my house has only ever been 12 shades of beige, I'm president of the homeowners association, and I feel that a development that has a similar look increases property values, makes the development look clean, pristine and uniform, and gives the development a sense of community. The Colorfuls are a threat to the value of my home and the feeling of neighborly community.

If I took the time to hear the other side out, I might discover this: the Colorfuls value freedom and originality; they want their house to stand out; they want their development to offer them amenities but not look exclusive; they want to be part of a city, not a development; they feel that because they own the land, that they should be able to decide what color they paint their house; they believe that it is no one's business what the outside of their home looks like; they don't like it that a select group of homeowners get to decide which color pallets are acceptable to the masses; they think that houses that look too similar are harder to sell because it's harder to stand out from the competition.

I can now write a well informed article on why I think Neutrals are morally and intellectually correct. A part of me empathizes with the Colorfuls, and the Colorfuls can sense it when they read my work. We both realize that we have differing objectives and values, but in our open dialogue, we have learned how to better understand, and possibly accommodate one another. We can walk away from a cup of tea with differing opinions but not feel like we're at war.

The truth is, hardly anything I say will likely convince the other side of my opinion. As a writer, what I can do, is respectfully present the facts, and see if any of the fish bite.

If You Are Writing a Story

Nothing turns off a reader more than when a fictional story feels like one long sermon. Believe me, audiences can sense when you are trying to shove propaganda down their throats. It's OK if your character is opinionated—it might even be an important character trait. However, don't use a character as a mouthpiece for your opinions. It needs to feel organic.

Your character shouldn't open his mouth and spout out an essay. Remember the show don't tell principle? Show your character's values by what they do. This is a little trickier when a story is in 1st person—if that's the case, then make sure that the reader doesn't feel that the author is speaking through the character.

It's OK to Write a Character With an Opinion that is Not Your Own.

In fact I highly recommend it. For one, all of your stories won't come off as too similar. You want your reader to keep guessing what the character will do next; you don't want your writing to become formulaic and predictable. You don't want your readers to have a "read one, read them all" feeling.

As a writer you stretch yourself when you write a character that you disagree with. This is especially profitable when writing an Antagonist. All Antagonists have a rational reason for doing what they do. It might not be moral, but it will always be grounded in a hint of truth.

One of the most fascinating examples of this is in the movie Skyfall, where the Antagonist is attempting to unleash mayhem on Britain because M had abandoned him to die years prior. He was a patriot to his country but became a terrorist because of feeling betrayed. It's actually kind of rational—and that's what makes it so frightening.

An example from my upcoming novel The Takeover; apologies for redundancy from Part 3, but I feel that this scene illustrates the point of not preaching but entering the conversation. One of these characters I highly disagree with, and I think I was effective if it's not apparently obvious.

Clint shoved a piece of white cloth down the barrel of his USP. It came out black. He repeated this process until, finally, the cloth came out white on the other end. He dabbed a little bit of oil on the end of the clean cloth and ran it through again.

Jules watched Clint’s intense focus as he tried to wipe away every morsel of burnt powder and grime off his gun. From Stan’s balcony, she had an unimpeded view of the ocean, but her gaze was transfixed on Clint’s strange pastime. He treated the gun with respect and cleaned it as if he were conducting an intimate ritual.

“Do you always spend an hour cleaning your gun?” she asked.

Without looking up from his work he said, “I guess I enjoy it. It’s relaxing.” He put a few drops of solvent on the metal slide and set it down. “Leftovers from my time in the military. They were pretty strict on cleanliness. It’s like diving, you take care of your gear, and it takes care of you. Your life depends on it.”

“I never thought of it like that.” She took a sip of her lemonade. “Have you ever killed someone, with a gun?” His silence, made her uneasy. “I hope that’s not too personal.”

Clint looked up at her. Her face was shy and innocent and he wanted to keep it that way. It was a personal question, but for him it was not a yes or no answer; it was more complicated than that. “Would you think any different of me, either way?”

“I don’t know.” She said. She looked out at the ocean, trying to bring light into the darkness of her memory. “I watched Tom shoot a man and then…” her voice went very quiet. “I watched Tom get shot. Then those men, they held a gun to my head. I have never felt so powerless.” Her eyes became watery and she wiped a tear from her cheek.

He picked up the polymer body of his gun and, taking a little brush, began gently brushing the grit off of the spring. “Did you think differently of Tom, after he shot the man?” he asked.

In the above story did you feel preached at?

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37. Leave them satisfied with being unsatisfied.

I don't want to think that stories are finite; I want to believe that they can go on forever.
I don't want to think that stories are finite; I want to believe that they can go on forever. | Source

38. Ambiguity can be extremely effective.

I confess that I am a Chrisopher Nolan junkie. Seriously, it's borderline manic to stay up until 3 am every night for a week trying to figure out the hidden symbolism in his films. No really, I think I need a support group.

His latest film Interstellar has thrown me for a loop because I have come to realize that Nolan has a genius way of putting two different levels to his films: the obvious one you're shown, and the one you have to dissect.

In a recent interview with The Daily Beast, he is asked to interpret the ending to his film, to which he replies:

“No way, man! You’re just going to have to go back and see it again. It’s there for you to make what you make of it. People do always have radically different interpretations of things I put in there, but I know what I think and I don’t like it to have any more validity than the experience you have watching it.”

When you walk out of Batman and you have absolutely no idea if Batman would have voted for Obama—then the writer has done his job.

Part 5 coming soon! Thank you everyone for your encouragement and support.

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    • FatBoyThin profile image

      Colin Garrow 2 years ago from Kinneff, Scotland

      I like your idea that writers need to be ready - I think that personally and professionally it can take a long time to reach a stage when you write what you really want/need to write, rather than what you think you should write. I did that for a long time and it's only the last few years I've felt I'm actually in the right place. Great hub, by the way.

    • profile image

      missirupp 2 years ago

      Great ideas. It's a good idea to remind writers when they're burned out writing to take this time for reading.

    • bravewarrior profile image

      Shauna L Bowling 2 years ago from Central Florida

      This part of the series went into quite a bit of detail. Useful detail. You address article writers as well as fiction writers. All very good points!

    • Perspycacious profile image

      Demas W Jasper 2 years ago from Today's America and The World Beyond

      Info to ponder and apply or reject. I chose to ponder. Thanks.

    • Iris Draak profile image

      Cristen Iris 2 years ago from Boise, Idaho

      Voted up again. This one was like eating a multi-course meal. I'm going to come back to it because there's a lot to be mined here.

    • profile image

      Ghaelach 2 years ago

      Afternoon Jen.

      I'm not saying I'm a bit slow, but there's so much info to digest I'll have to read this hub a couple of times to get it to sink in. Excellent hub Jen.

      Take care and have a great weekend.

      Ghaelach

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Sorry I missed this one, Jen. It slipped right by me somehow. Great suggestions and you give some superb examples. By the way, you are growing as a writer right before my very eyes, and I think that is so cool.

    • Availiasvision profile image
      Author

      Jennifer Arnett 2 years ago from California

      Colin, you are absolutely right! I'm glad that you've come to a place in your writing where you feel like you're in your zone. I'm just hitting mine and I think that I've barely scratched the surface. I think there are more ways I can stretch myself as a writer.

    • Availiasvision profile image
      Author

      Jennifer Arnett 2 years ago from California

      Ghaelach, I wish I could figure out a way to write so that I communicate with my European friends more clearly. I hope that it was dense because it was a lot of information.

    • Availiasvision profile image
      Author

      Jennifer Arnett 2 years ago from California

      Thanks Bill, back at ya! We're getting ready to leave the nest.

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 2 years ago from Queensland Australia

      Well Jen, you communicate with your Antipodean friends very well :) I love this series and there are so many valuable lessons here for all writers. I will bookmark these hubss o I can keep referring back to them. I think it is very important to have a voice that makes a difference and expresses your opinion on issues without preaching, whether fiction or non-fiction. I often find poetry is a good way to tackle controversial issues in that way. Voted up.

    • Availiasvision profile image
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      Jennifer Arnett 2 years ago from California

      Thanks John, I like Antipodeans and I'm glad that you've enjoyed the series. You do an excellent job of teaching without preaching. Your last poem--I couldn't tell where you stood on the issue until you wrote of it in the comments. That's a job well done!

    • profile image

      Ghaelach 2 years ago

      Morning again Jen.

      Although I've lived here in Germany since my job took me here in 1989 (26 years ago this month) I stayed, married and settled down. Naturally being a Brit my first language is and always will be English. In my part of Germany (between Cologne and Dusseldorf) we have a lot of foreigners, where English isn't their first language. But the great thing is that they try to learn and understand English as well as German, English being the world language.

      Don't you worry about not communicating with your friends over here in Europe. Believe me if they don't understand, they will go to a lot of trouble to find out what you mean. I get a lot of people coming to me and saying "Jimmy what does this or that mean." Then I'm in my element as I start to explain what it all means. One little problem that a lot of Europeans have is the way Am. Enlish and Brit. English is written. ex; nite - night. color - colour. or foto - photo. Words like this fox our European friends, but not for long.

      Don't forget about all the different accents and dialects that you have over there which effects the way things are written and the same goes for my folks in/on the British Isles. Scots, Irish, Welsh, English, not forgetting the so called Oxford and Queens English. It all adds to the confusion. So don't you be getting yourself get all worked-up about it. If your friends over here are like me, then what they don't know they'll sit down and find out.

      Take care Jen and have a nice weekend.

      Ghaelach

      PS: It started snowing in the night/nite leaving us with a North West German version of a white-out.

    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 2 years ago from SW England

      All sorts of great examples and suggestions. Great hub, as usual.

      I'm just catching up on this one; part 5 about to be read!

      I like ambiguity and different levels in a story.

      Ann

    • Availiasvision profile image
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      Jennifer Arnett 2 years ago from California

      Ghaelach, I hope you survived the white-out. We're in a drought over her in California, so be thankful that white stuff is falling from the ski. The ski industry has been utterly ruined which has put a huge hit in the economy.

      I knew you were a Brit, but I didn't know you were living in Germany. What a fun cultural experience. It looks like a beautiful country.

    • Availiasvision profile image
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      Jennifer Arnett 2 years ago from California

      Thanks Ann, yes ambiguity make you think and want more from the story.

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