When you learn how to write

When learning how to write, I didn’t do it the right way. I started with flowery words and I just wrote from the heart without knowing what made a story.
Though, honestly, that’s probably the only way to start because the basics are boring. It would be like school all over again and you’d drop the pen as fast as you picked it up because there’s no teacher yelling at your back.
In any case, because I lacked the basics I abandoned my stories because something stopped me from finishing, my heart wasn’t enough. I wrote several unfinished novels until I decided ‘enough was enough’ and I would finish a project no matter the outcome.
I did pretty good like this, I wrote a couple of bad short stories and I didn’t fret too much that they were bad because at least they were fun to write. And I would never return to them and ‘fix’ them because they are part of my journey and I wouldn’t want to hide it.
But, as I turn towards the basics of storytelling, I feel like my writing has become dull. I wrote simply, very simply, almost barebones, just so that I could finish something. Finishing rather than abandoning, until I understood the medium and my way of doing things.
I’ll continue to crank out bad stories until I have the confidence to write like I did before, without guides or rules, completely trusting myself and my abilities.
Ignorance is bliss, but unfortunately, I’m not ignorant anymore!

I’m lazy, and so are you! Probably…

When writing, I’d much rather ignore a problem, hoping that it would solve itself, rather than tackle it head on. That is not to say I won’t do it eventually, but I’ve found it better to do it sooner rather than later…

For instance, if I write a story, I must always ask the question why; why did this happen? How does this affect the rest of the story?

When I try to answer these questions I discover new things about the plot, interesting and cool things that I would otherwise glance over. It’s not hard to spot these problems either, because you would FEEL that something is wrong, that something is missing. That’s why I believe stories exist independent from us and that we are just here to find them, I mean, otherwise you wouldn’t feel bad about skipping.

That’s why I think it’s important to be very selective when you pick what you want to work with, because when the story is vague in your head, there will be A LOT of work to find the missing pieces. But then again, therein lies the charm, the less you know the more there is to discover and I love to discover new shit.

Maybe if I sharpen my tools a bit it won’t be so difficult.

Kill your Darlings… Ain’t that the truth…

Why is it so hard narrowing down your ideas into a cohesive story?

If you are anything like me, your mind is bombarded with ideas all the time, which is no exception when you write. You want to explore everything; everything is interesting, until you have material for three or four separate stories which has nothing to do with each other but you try to make them into one anyway.

This is my struggle.

On top of that, I’m very arrogant. I believe I can make a story from virtually nothing. You have one of those very vague but cool ideas, you know, which you try to make into something. I didn’t really have to be persistent with this idea because I have plenty where the plot is very clear and I have a clear message which I want to convey… Not this one. I don’t know what’s it’s about or what I’m trying to say, it’s just a cool idea I want to make into something.

I still believe I can make something out of this because I am still arrogant, but it will take a lot of work and I have done too much already to give up now…

Learn to discard ideas, kill your darlings, as they say, which I never believed in but is truer to me now more than ever.

Tell the Truth!

I’ve read many sorts of books and I’ve come to realise that in the English speaking world, it is very common to have stories with themes. A red line that ties the story together. I’ve read a couple of the classics from my own country and I find that we have a very different tradition. Most stories are very “mundane” for the lack of a better word. There is drama, but the characters don’t act as if something of significance has happened. It doesn’t have an epic scale or world shattering consequences, it’s just real life, and in real life, everything doesn’t tie up as neatly or matter that much.

I don’t pretend to be an expert on literature, this is my own interpretation, but I find this way of writing very appealing. What do I care if the ending might be unsatisfying to the reader? All I can do is to find the truth of the story. The most important thing a writer can do is to make sure that the motivations of the characters make sense, just like a real person.

Don’t make the story into something it’s not.

As Hemingway would say, you can write about any subject matter as long as you write truthfully. He also said that you should write living people, not characters, so…

I write from the gut, meaning I plan little ahead, preferably not at all. This might backfire and I write myself into a corner, but this is only true if you try to manage your story, instead of letting it lead you; find the truth. I don’t want to fight the story because of a preconceived notion of what a good story is.

My first story was a 400-page fantasy which I wrote in 6 months. That was 3 years ago and I have not finished a book since. I believe that because I knew so little about writing it allowed me to finish the book. There were no perfectionism or expectations that stood in my way. I’m not saying don’t learn the craft, but don’t take other’s successes as your roadmap – find your own.

Remember, writing is supposed to be fun. Have fun!


© Christopher Stamfors

Writer’s Advice is Useless…

… is what I’ve come to realise after reading through mountains of writer’s advice blogs and articles: don’t read them. They will discourage you, if anything else. Now, I realise this might be considered writer’s advice as well, but I believe there are exceptions. (1) listen to criticism. It’s a no brainer, and granted, every writer’s advice article will tell this but I believe it’s crucial for any artist and is worth reiterating.

But in the end, the most important advice anyone can give you is, (2) Write what you’d like to read; when you do this, everything else will fall into place because you will sense if something is wrong, if the tone of the scene is out of place or if the characters act strangely because you are intimately close with your story. If anyone tells you How To Write a Story, don’t listen. They can only tell you How THEY Write a Story and is in reality only giving advice to their younger selves, not to you.

Which I’m doing too, ironically.

I believe it can be downright damaging to read such articles because they will often only tell you what you can’t write and that is bullshit. Writing is an artform and you should avoid learning the rules for as long as you can. Come to think of it, there’s actually a third advice: (3) Read, for god sake read as much as you can! Read lot’s of different stories, different genres, fiction, nonfiction, it will all mold you into what kind of writer you’ll become. You’ll absorb styles, the words they use and their voices until your own work become indistinguishable from theirs and thus become your own.

Artists steal, that’s the truth of it, and the reason we have such great fiction today is because there’s a lot of it. There are a lot of inspiration to be had and more means different and your goal is to become different, which is yourself.

Don’t write what is popular or what you think will sell, at least not for the sake of it. Make good art, as Neil Gaiman would put it.

That said, what is different from Writer’s Advice is listening to what other authors do, which has merit, because while we write, we try to find the process that works for us and they can give you some idea to what works for you. So, in the end, what I’m trying to say is, listen to yourself first and others second, only you know what kind of writer you want to be.


© Christopher Stamfors

A Writer’s Illusion – Poem

A writer is mad for the stories he tell

Worlds and people he conjure up,

What else can one say?

They go through life,

Looking dimly into the unknown

What do they find,

That no one else is shown?


© Christopher Stamfors

Rejected by Society – Poem

 

Interests should be few and far between

Society demands

But the world cannot be understood

From one school of thought

Or a single study

But a multitude of ideas

Shared and expressed through time

In essence,

We see the world through the eyes of the few

Yet, experiences it through the eyes of the many

Thoughts made by those free of conflict

We want to be remembered

 

When the things you touched turned to garbage

It’s a happy time, and a difficult time, when the things you’ve written all turn to garbage. It means that you have leveled up. You see now what your critics has been talking about and it is time for you to become better.
You are not yet there, though. You see your flaws but you don’t know how to fix them. You need to accept that what you once were was nothing more than a stepping stone and you’ll have to power your way through your “garbage pile” to make it better.
Because of this, it is also a sad time. All your efforts seem wasted. All the carefully crafted sentences that you made with the best of your abilities seem pointless when they’ll soon be changed to something better.
But what is most difficult to swallow is the realisation that your book is further away from a finished product than you realised. Making you wonder if you’ll ever catch up to your own worst critic –  if it will ever be good enough to publish.

Listen To Your Masters

I have one rule. Invariably, at the end of each working day, I stop at a point at which I know exactly what is going to happen next. I have the lines ready in my head, I simply don’t write them down. So the following day, when I sit down at my desk, there they are, still waiting for me.

Henrik Ibsen From “Ibsen’s Ghosts (Playwright)

I find these words remarkably similar to the process of Hemingway where he too never spent all his creatives juices in one day and left some to be refilled the next day. Perhaps it is a common secret among artists that are no secret at all. They know how the creative mind works. They’ve worked it out from years of effort. However, I find myself not able to truly comprehend this advice, like whenever you are given any advice, you are not receptive to listen, until one day the words make sense, when you have experienced it yourself and come to the same conclusion.

I would be terrified to not finish what I started, to have ideas and dialogue not written down before I go to bed. It is utterly incomprehensible to me that one can store such thoughts confidently and continue on it the next day. But as the title of the blog suggest, perhaps I should try? Put my trust in my seniors?

For what are advice but a confirmation that the one giving said advice was right? To prove that he cared when giving it to you? It’s similar to the relationship between parents and children. Parents only share their experience in the hopes that they would not make the same mistakes. But children often don’t listen to their advice for they think they are different, or don’t believe that their parents understand.

Creatives are much the same way, the advice from our masters might not make sense, but we have no choice but to trust them. To believe that they are right and we are not. It’s both a confirmation that the master was right and a clue that the apprentice is on the right path.

The material first, then the theme. Never the other way around. I mull over the material for a long time before I set pen to paper.

I take long walks alone. Going over in my thoughts, some experience from the past that I have not merely known but lived through. Do you see the difference? Not merely experienced but lived through and put behind me. Only when it is absolutely clear to me, when the central problem have been digested in this fashion and becomes an abstract formulation, only then do I begin the process of committing myself to a paper.

I write a draft. Very Crude. Very rough. Then I work on it. Changing it. Adapting it. Distancing it from the original, personal events and transforming it into a generally applicable experience.

Henrik Ibsen From “Ibsen’s Ghosts (Playwright)

Paths Uncertain – Poem

Striving for your betterment

Without a goal in mind

Is that a sane thing to do?

To live by the moment

And not lookahead

Will my life come through?

*

What compels such a man?

When there is nothing over the horizon,

Only the next step after the other?

A true instinctual type,

Who makes no decisions on his own

And instead follows a path given to him

As if it was destined to be

*

I concede to the universe

And I accept whatever may come with a smile on my face

Such is the way of the universe

Offer it a smile and the universe smiles back.