“If you have an hour to kill, go walk. You’d be amazed at how much material I’ve come up with by disconnecting from my internet, my house, my phone and my family and just going for a quiet walk. I know writers who call them “plot walks” because they have a tendency to solve difficult plot issues on their walks. Get out. Walk. Talk to yourself.” — Aaron Mahnke
Steven Silberman has an interesting post today, entitled “Practical Tips on Writing a Book from 23 Brilliant Authors.” The authors are responding to Silberman’s prompt, “What do you wish you’d known about the process of writing a book that you didn’t know before you did it?”
While each author has their own great tips, here are the ones I liked best:
- Be ready to amputate entire chapters. It will be painful. – Carl Zimmer
- There’s no such thing as too many drafts. There’s no such thing as too much time spent. – David Shenk
- Obsessive-compulsive organizational habits are your bestfriend. – Geoff Manaugh
- Develop a very serious plan for dealing with internet distractions. – Ben Casnocha
- Develop a very, very, very serious plan for dealing with internet distractions. – Ben Casnocha
- This is your time to be completely and justifiably obsessed. So go ahead – bask in the madness. – Peter Conners
- Just start working and you keep working til it’s done. That’s all there is to it; no mystery. – Nancy Cooper
- Take the due date for the first draft EXTREMELY seriously, like everything depends on that day. – Sylvia Boorstein
- Have the courage to write badly. – Josh Shenk
- Be good to your spouse/partner and protect time for them. They’re in this with you, but unlike you, they didn’t choose it. – Maryn McKenna
You can read all of the tips (and get links to books by all these authors) on Steve’s original post. Find it here.
“Novelists tell that piece of truth hidden at the bottom of every lie. To a psychoanalyst it is not so important whether you tell the truth or a lie because lies are as interesting, eloquent, and revealing as any claimed truth.” — Italo Calvino
“I’m concerned about the slow and subtle shift in attitude that constant marketing may effect in writers. Once you are in charge of your own promotion and sales, you cannot but help think of your audience as a market, and a market must be pleased. Art is not just a product like any other.” — Russell Smith
“No-one’s going to buy a half-written novel. No-one’s going to read a blog post that stops short after two paragraphs. So whether your writing aspirations involve hitting the New York Times bestseller list or living from the passive income from your ebooks, you need to finish what you start.” — Ali Luke
“Any writer who is not interested in what we are now calling “video games” is a bystander to one of the most important conceptual shifts between story and storyteller in a hundred years.” — Tom Bissell
I am not an electronic artist. I can’t construct a poem that both comments on and is presented through the tyranny of the computer screen, as Justin Katko does with “Up Against the Screen Mother Fuckers,” nor can I build a Google Map to tell the story of gentrifaction, as J.R. Carpenter does with “In Absentia,” nor construct an immersive document that investigates the risks of reading, as Stuart Moulthrop does in “Deep Surface.”
What I can do is say that I have yet to be moved by any of my experiences with hypertext literature (or more generally, electronic literature).
But I want to be. I desperately want to be.
We live in amazing times. As a man in his mid-thirties, I’ve lived through the birth and development of the digital revolution. And as a creative writer, I’ve yearned to explore the openings created by that revolution.
A vast, but limited, tool chest indeed.
My experience with creating electronic fiction does not go beyond the shallow waters of the hyperlink, and I struggle with the desire to create something more engaging than a glorified choose-your-own-adventure story.
The difficulty of hypertext fiction is similar to the difficulty of narrative storytelling in video games (and to be sure, hypertext fiction can be considered a form of the video game). In his recent book, Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter, Tom Bissel explains the root of that difficulty:
Games with any kind of narrative structure usually employ two kinds of storytelling. One is the framed narrative of the game itself, set in the fictional “present” and traditionally doled out in what are called cut scenes or cinematics, which in most cases take control away from the gamer, who is forced to watch the scene unfold. The other, which some game designers and theoreticians refer to as the “ludonarrative,” is unscripted and gamer-determined — the “fun” portions of the “played” game — and usually amounts to some frenetic conception of getting from point A to point B. The differences between the framed narrative and ludonarrative are what make story in games so unmanageable: One is fixed, the other is fluid, and yet they are intended, however notionally, to work together.
To some extent, what Bissel is talking about here is authorial control. The game designers maintain authorial control over the framed narrative, but they give up much of that control during the ludonarrative. Quoting Clint Hocking, a famous game designer, Bissel writes:
The very nature of drama, as we understand it, is authored. Period. The problem is, once you give up control of that to a player, authorial control gets broken. Things like pacing and flow and rhythm — all these things that are important to maintaining the emotional impact of narrative — go all will-nilly.
As in video games, hypertext fiction gives the readers control over what words they’ll read next, what information they’ll find next, what scenes they’ll enjoy next (of course, writers can always reduce their use of the hyperlink to glorified footnotes or page turns, but that’s not exactly hypertext fiction; that’s just fiction being printed in hypertext).
The trick to maintaining the necessary narrative momentum, as in video games, is constraining the possibilities of reader control without the reader feeling as if she’s being constrained.
That’s a trick I haven’t mastered yet. But if you’re going to be a creative writer in the twenty-first century, it’s a trick worth learning.