Origins: the Problem of Inspiration and the Question "Why?"
Sometimes it shames me to say this out loud: I read Twilight. And not just the first book, but the entire series. And I watched the movies, too. They were too unintentionally funny to resist, even if they were a complete and total waste of my time. Or so I thought.
To get all of my frustration with it out of my system, I wrote a rant sort of essay on everything I thought was wrong with it. Since about half my friends were Anti-Twilight, I sent it to them. They thought it was hilarious and I posted it online, where it was well-received. Then I took it off because I thought "How mean, publicly tearing apart someone's work like that." After I did that, one of my biggest fans was rather disappointed because she learned stuff about writing from it. That's when I realized that I could teach people how to improve their work. Alas, I have a purpose!
After that realization and noticing that a lot of Fictionpressers had the same flaws in writing, I wrote the original version of Pet Peeves of a Critic. I did get reviews from people thanking me for my advice, but after a review that politely told me I should follow my own advice before I give it to other people, I took it down because I figured she was right.
After I took down the original version, I stumbled across the profile of a writer who reviewed one of my old stories. She's far more of a critic than I am, (I actually cried when I'd gotten her review, probably because I knew she was right). Since she's usually right and I've seen her give constructive criticism, I respect her very much as a writer and as an editor. Imagine my surprise when I read through her profile and saw that she had posted the link to my Pet Peeves of a Critic there, basically saying I'd written a useful essay on creating well-written fiction and that people should check it out. In sheer joy and disbelief, I just laughed. Seeing a critic approve my work gave me the motivation I needed to pick up my old guide and finish the job I started.
So that is how this new and improved version of Pet Peeves came to be. Unfortunately, I can't promise that this will be perfect; I am only human. I give excellent advice, but I forget to follow it occasionally and no matter how many times I proofread my work, I still miss little details that aren't caught by Spellcheck. However, I do believe that what I have to say is beneficial to you as a writer, so please listen and don't automatically assume that you're the exception to every rule I give you.
What exactly is the point of this guide? I simply wish to help improve your writing by giving you useful tips and asking you questions, making you think. This should be able to help you whether you're beginning a story, ending it, editing it, revising it, or even while you're still figuring out what exactly you're writing about. If you're just starting out as a writer, this should be very useful to you. If you're more advanced then you should still be able to pick up a few useful bits. If you're way better than me, you can give me tips on how to improve my writing.
Now that we've gotten past all that introduction stuff, let's begin by looking for inspiration and figuring out why we write.
There are two ways to start a fire: that tedious method using friction, or a match. Writing is the same way; you can force yourself to write, but it's a whole lot easier and enjoyable when you have your magic match of inspiration.
From my experience, inspiration is largely people-oriented. Sometimes it's an object or a setting that is your muse, but I suggest regularly spending time around people, even if they're only fictional people in books, because people make things happen. It's impossible to tell a story without some sort of characters being involved. Even just talking to a friend, reading a book, or listening to music helps.
Chances are, if you enjoy writing, you also enjoy reading. Take note of your favourite authors and pinpoint what exactly you like about their writing. If you haven't discovered your own writing style yet, it does help to emulate the style of a writer you admire and learn from her. I'm not saying to just copy any author you like, though that's often how young writers start out; I'm saying to take notes on what they did right to help you develop your own writing style. For example, I prefer to write in first-person while J.K. Rowling writes Harry Potter in third, but I like the words she chooses to narrate with and take note of them.
If you go to school, try paying attention in class. Not only will you get better grades, but you'll also discover pearls of information to decorate your story with. English teaches you proper spelling and grammar as well as showing you how to analyze data. Taking a Writing course obviously teaches you about writing. Psychology is all about human behaviour and how our minds work. History shows us how people react to different situations and can inspire entire worlds for a fantasy author; it also has interesting plots. If you're writing sci-fi, try to understand the basic laws of physics because you may need to explain why your cars can fly without wings or gas. A mystery or crime story would benefit from a Law course. Medical dramas and any story involving a disease would require a basic understanding of Biology. Fantasy writers, that boring French class you have to take to get into your dream university can be used to show you how a language works so you can create your own. Philosophy is great for character development because it gives you a window into people's personal beliefs. As for math, I don't understand how it relates to anything, but regardless of what class you're in, observe! You can listen to what's being taught, but you're also surrounded by different people with unique characteristics that you might want to use in your story, so pay attention to your classmates. Take advantage of your resources!
If you have a job, apply some of your skills to your story. Notice people and how they interact with you. Notice how you interact with people, what kind of thoughts run through your head, how certain behaviours make you feel and how you respond to them.
Once you've found your inspiration, find a way to remember it. For me, I remember all my story ideas, but I need to record details, such as names I invented and pieces of dialogue and original song lyrics. For the things I won't risk forgetting, I enter them into my cell phone and then type it on my computer. Some people like carrying a notebook with them. If you need to, bring a pen with you everywhere you go and write anything that sparks your interests on your arm. Or repeat it under your breath a few times.
Inspiration can pump out a few chapters of our stories, but most of us wind up facing writer's block at some point. For me, I get about halfway through the story and then I sit back and go, "Now what?" Even if I know what events I want happening through the rest of the plot, I still find myself unable to write at my usual standard.
One way to beat writer's block is to take a break from your story and work on something else. That's what I'm doing right now: I find myself unable to finish my story so I tell you guys how to write instead. You can try working on another story, whether it's a one-shot or a novel, or you can try writing poetry or a song. Or you can write guides instructing people how to be better writers than you.
You could just take a break, period. Forget writing; "a watched pot never boils" is an idiom with truth. Relax, have fun. Wait for fickle inspiration to come running back to you. Unfortunately, sometimes you have to run out and catch her. That's when you use the next method, which is called…
Sit your butt down and write! Get out a notebook and just write, even if it turns out to be mostly gibberish that you end up cutting from your story. Type on your computer and resist your urge to hold down the backspace button. The point of this is to get your creative juices flowing again.
I know I've been telling you "Be around people!" for a portion of this chapter, but solitude is also needed. I never write in front of people; I feel like they're watching over my shoulder and they distract me from writing. Having people around for the inspiration works well, but I find that actually writing it works best when you're alone.
You might want to have it quiet or you might want to listen to music while you write. Movie soundtracks and the Piano Guys (they're on Youtube) are usually the stuff I listen to while writing. Howard Shore and James Horner are personal favourites. Anyway, just craft an environment that helps you write. That's what's important.
Why do we write?
That's one question I keep asking myself as I write. Most times, I don't actually have an answer. In this case, it's because I want to help and because I can't leave things unfinished. Abandoned projects make me itch.
Some people write with a message in mind. If you're writing an essay, you're trying to get people to think from your perspective. Oftentimes you're making an argument. While writing a story with a certain theme or message, you use your characters and the events in your story to get your point across (but don't think that you have the right to preach it at your readers. Subtlety is key).
Mostly, I think we write just because we're human. We humans are very story-oriented: we tell stories while we talk to our friends, when we write songs and music. Stories are incorporated into pretty much every aspect of our lives. It's just what we do. And because we're human, we have emotions. We write to let out our emotions, to relieve the pain. We write to feel connected to the people around us, to feel like we're not alone.
You might not know exactly why you're writing. That's okay. But I do find knowing why gives me more purpose and determination to keep up the writing. And this is the end of our first chapter. Moving on…