The Writer's Mailbag: Installment 275
Learning From My Brilliantly Creative Dogs
As many of you know, Bev and I have two dogs, a brother and a sister, Tobias and Maggie, and it is my “job” to take them both on walks each afternoon. I say “job” like it’s a real task when in truth, I look forward to our little jaunts.
Maggie and I drive out to the country for our walks so that she doesn’t have to be on a leash. She runs free and has all manner of fun. Her brother has not learned his manners yet. He loves to harass the chickens out at the farm, so his walks are still limited to our neighborhood, on a leash.
While on our walks, I often observe the dogs observing life, and I learn from them. It is not hard to imagine all of their senses being on high alert throughout each walk. They see, hear, smell, feel, and taste everything, and it seems like they do it all constantly. They are four-legged sponges, absorbing everything around them, and they have taught me to be more aware of life going on all around me.
Writers and observation . . . that is what we do! Our ideas, our anecdotes, our inferences, dare I say our creativity, come from our ability to observe life.
Come join Maggie and me on one of our walks sometimes and I’ll show you what I’m talking about. In the meantime, let’s empty this Mailbag and see what’s inside.
More on Audiobooks
From William: “I never thought about audio books before. I wouldn't feel comfortable doing that. Is there a way around it? And how much difference do you think it would make in sales?”
William, your first question has me stumped. Is there a way around it? Sure, don’t do it! Or you can hire someone to provide the voice for you if you are not comfortable recording your own voice. And you may not have a good, clear voice for recording, in which case finding someone else would be advisable.
The actual recording process, on a very basic level, is not difficult. Anyone can sign on to Audacity and record something. Having said that, recording a book, at a competent level, takes quite a bit of practice, and a fair amount of tech skill.
How much difference will it make in sales? Realistically, for you? Probably not that much, but let me explain my thoughts on doing an audio book.
If you are James Patterson, and you sell millions of books, and you have a ridiculously loyal following worldwide, then recording an audio book will net quite a few more sales. If you are an average guy, like you and I, and our sales can be totaled by counting our fingers, recording an audio book might net us one or two more sales of that book. Is it worth it? In my mind it is just one more arrow in your quiver. It is one more way for you to reach the public. I see absolutely no negative in recording an audio book . . . if you have the time to do it well.
I hope that helps!
From Dora: “Bill, I get start-up ideas like the hitchhiker's would-be story, but about halfway to the finish line, the story loses its appeal. Details tire me. Is it okay to write for a lifetime but never publish a lengthy work? Should I just label myself incapable?”
Dora, I only have one question for you: do you enjoy writing? If the answer is yes, then it doesn’t make any difference whether you publish or don’t publish. And if you don’t enjoy writing, well, what the heck are you doing it for? LOL
Seriously, Dora, the finish line does not designate a person as a writer, capable or incapable. Only the act of writing does that. Write for yourself because you like to write, just like I like to sing in the shower. I will never, and I mean never, record a song while singing in the shower. That fact does not detract from my love of music.
From Elise: “Do you think creativity can be taught? If so, how do I go about doing that for my two small children? I know you were once a teacher and I was just wondering if you had any thoughts/ideas.”
Elise, this is such a fascinating question. I’m actually reading a book about this at this very moment, and it is a question I was asked by quite a few parents when I was teaching. Here are my thoughts.
Our education system was developed about 200 years ago (think Industrial Revolution), and the whole purpose of that system was to create productive workers in society. The education of the American youth involved reading, lectures, and memorization in a structured setting. In other words, the exact opposite of creativity. Today we see school systems struggling with budgets and oftentimes dropping the Arts from curriculums. We see more emphasis on standardized testing so that schools can qualify for Federal funding. Creativity is smothered and in many school districts it has been pronounced dead.
Hundreds of tests have been conducted about this question, and the results all point to one important conclusion: creativity cannot be taught, per se, but it can be fostered in a supportive environment. Today’s educational system is not a supportive environment. In order to be creative, kids need to be allowed to be wrong. They need the freedom to be silly. Put any kid in an improv class and tell them that the class isn’t being graded, and you will see creativity flow like honey.
Put another way, I can’t teach you to be creative, but I can allow you to be.
Beginning and Ending
From Thomas: “Is it necessary to know the ending of a novel when you first start writing one? I’m in the process of writing my first, and I’m ten-thousand words into it, and I don’t know how it will end yet.”
Thomas, take a deep breath and relax. I’m that way with every single book I write. Seriously! I have no clue where a book is going when I first start, and I’ve talked to quite a few writers who say the same thing. It’s no big deal.
As weird as it may sound, I let the characters tell the story, with a little help from my muse. I know that sounds abstract, but it’s the best way I can describe my process. My characters will say something in a dialogue, and somehow direction comes from their dialogue, and at some point my muse whispers the ending to me. It’s the classic “AH HAH” moment. Or is that “AHA?” Anyway, you get the point. Keep writing and just let it happen, or follow that famous line from “Field of Dreams” . . . “build it and they will come.”
Wrapping It Up
Do you have a dog? If so, take it for a walk today and observe it observing life. You just might learn the first lesson in creativity. Dogs do not need permission to be silly and playful. They do not need permission to be observant. They simply are. They simply absorb.
Become one with your surroundings and welcome the flow. How’s that for some New Age b.s.? LOL
Wishing you all a very creative week ahead.
2019 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)
“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”