Thursday, September 5, 2019

Always Writing

Last week I spent a 5-day weekend at DragonCon, an event designed for sci-fi and fantasy fans – genres I don’t write but do enjoy. At one point someone asked me for writing advice and the first thing I always say is “Write every day?” Naturally, they asked if I was writing while I was at DragonCon.

“No,” I said. But then I thought about it. “I’m not at the keyboard but, yes I think I am writing every day.” Now that I’m back in the groove I realize that I do a lot of writing when I’m not staring at the screen.

DragonCon was a good example. Being in a new place, especially if it’s packed with people being different than they are day to day, is an overwhelming sensory experience. Not just new sights (How’d she get her costume to do that?) but new sounds (like fandom specific slang) new tastes (what’s in these jello shots??) and even new smells. Newness makes us really BE THERE and experience things. I think about how I react to things, and all those feelings will inform my story telling.

Part of that experience is talking to strangers. People at Cons are very open and friendly, and they are often very different from the people I see every day back home. I pick up new slang (As it turns out, what’s pricey in MD is spendy in Oregon.) Plus, those strangers have different pasts, different experiences, and different opinions. All of that ends up in characters I create. Sometimes it can spark a story idea.

Then I thought about all the other things I do when I’m not writing. For example, I read other people’s books. When I react emotionally to a good book, I want to know how the writer did that – How he or she made me laugh, cry, get angry or get scared. So I take it apart and dig into the “how” and then consider how I can use those techniques in my work.

Similarly, I’m writing when I watch television. Again, I’m looking at the storytelling techniques. Most of my favorites are written to a formula, one that requires a cliffhanger at the end of each of five acts and calls for a secondary plot woven into the lead storyline. I learn from watching how it’s done.

I can say something similar about listening to music, and even when I’m refinishing my deck which becomes kind of a zen activity, during which my mind plays with story ideas. My point is, if you’re a writer at heart, you are probably writing all the time, even when people think you’re just daydreaming.