Sunday, May 29, 2011


I was at youth group a few nights ago, and something awful happened.

I was playing Wii Sports with one of my mates, and meanwhile, one of the girls was doing a singing performance in front of others who were there. When this girl was halfway through her song, I turned my back on the TV for a second to listen to her, and when I turned back, I found that my mate had quit the game because I was winning. Actually, I wasn't winning. I was losing. But I had just scored a point.

And so, naturally, when I turned back to the TV, I had to say something in order to express my utter rage at my mate quitting. I can't exactly remember what I said, but it was something like, "That's so terrible." And, naturally, the girl singing thought that I was talking about her vocal ability, which is unfortunate, because she was actually very good. And she got quite upset.

It was a complete miscommunication. But it still hurt her, and made me very anxious. Take a look at these famous miscommunications (and then the picture, just for fun):

Through a miscommunication of orders, the Charge of the Light Brigade occurred. Approximately 670 horsemen began a headlong charge into a treeless valley with the objective of capturing some Russian field artillery at its end. Unknown to them, the valley was ringed on three sides by some 20 battalions of Russian infantry and artillery. The mistake happened when an enthusiastic Captain informed the Light Brigade to where they were going to attack, but in his excitement, he misstated the exact orders.  No one knows for sure what was said, because he was killed in the charge.

History’s worst aviation disaster occurred in 1977 at foggy Tenerife in the Canary islands. The captain of a KLM flight thought the air traffic controller had cleared him to take off. But the controller intended only to give departure instructions. Although the language spoken between the Dutch KLM captain and the Spanish controller was English, confusion was created by heavy accents and improper terminology. The KLM Boeing 747 hit a Pan Am 747 at full throttle on the runway, killing 583 people.

There's a theory that days before Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, they sent a diplomat to Washington DC to deliver a formal declaration of war. However, the declaration was written in Japanese, and there wasn't anyone available to translate the declaration. As a result, Pearl Harbor became a unprovoked act of war, and became a rallying cry for Americans as they entered the war against both Germany and Japan.

So, what's my point? Why do I bring these examples of miscommunications up?

Because writing is all about communicating. I'm not an artist, but I know that art is about communication, too. You look at a painting, and it's like stepping into the mind of the artist, where you can perceive the communication of ideas and thoughts and emotions and experiences through lines and colour. I'm not a musician, but music is the same. Same with sculpting. All art forms are about communication.

I believe it was Paul Auster who said: "Every novel is an equal collaboration between the writer and the read and it is the only place in the world where two strangers can meet on terms of absolute intimacy." In other words, when you write, you are providing someone with a pathway to your mind. You are showing them something that has only ever existed in your mind.

And to show them, you must communicate. The best writing does this well. It nails descriptions on the head, and captures ideas or emotions in such a way that could not be achieved easily. And when you try to describe the thought or emotion in your own words, you can't.

For example, last year when I was plotting out some backstory for my novel, I had to work out why a certain character doesn't tell another certain character about a certain something, even though if they were to tell the other person, there would be a lot less pain and negativity. Now, I'm writing a fantasy, so I could have made that reason anything.

(Example: Person A could not tell Person B about Situation X because Person A was bound by magic.)

But no, I struggled with this question for hours, until I finally had a stroke of genius and decided to make the reason emotional. Awesome. My day had just got a hundred times better.

And then I tried to write this emotion down. I couldn't. I tried again. I couldn't. I spent the rest of the afternoon, three pages of refill and two pages of my writing notebook, just trying to write down this emotion. Because I knew that if I didn't nail it, the story would become highly unbelievable and unsatisfying.

So, avoid miscommunications in your writing. Avoid anything less than perfect communication in your writing. And in real life, too. Save everyone some awkwardness.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Keep Learning, Keep Growing, Keep Writing

I follow the blog of a writer named JM Tohline. He posts every Friday, and always has something interesting to say. I found his last post really quite funny, and I thought you might like it too. So, if you are up for a laugh, or if you feel like taking the advice of a drunk guy (which is the second part of the post - on highs and lows), then I recommend checking out this post. Maybe you'd even like to follow him.

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In ten days I will be fifteen years of age, and I want to buy myself a birthday present. It's a tradition I started last year - and I also bought myself something for Christmas as well. What do I buy on these occasions? Books. Books on writing. So for the lat few weeks I've been avidly searching I could swear I've read the first five pages (the preview) of almost forty books now.

So as I was thinking of what to write for today's blog post, I was reminded of a particular conversation I had with one of my mates at the start of this year (this was just after receiving my Christmas books). She and I don't see each other very much, but we used to text each other heaps - before my phone was stolen.
The conversation ran a little like this:

Her: What are you up to today?
Me: Well I have a writing book to read.
Her: What? Why do you have a writing book?
Me: I have six.
Her: But why? You're already a good writer!

Her confusion intrigued me. Because to me the answer is obvious: I don't want to be a good writer, I want to be an amazing writer. And that's what I told her.

There is a debate in the industry over whether writers are born or made. Another slight variation is whether it can be taught. And I won't lie, I have been good at writing (for my age) since I was quite young, and I've always loved it.
However, talent alone is not nearly enough to get by on. I buy books on writing because I want to learn, and I want to get better at and master my craft. And there is so much that I've already learned. If I had never researched writing, then I would be so far behind where I am now. Learning is important.

Don't miss out on catalysts for success. It's there, everything is available to you - you just have to look for it.

So keep learning.
Keep growing.
Keep writing.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Ashed, And Why We Write

I haven't written a post for ages - and the reason is not that I forgot, or that I've been too busy, the reason is that I've been putting it off. I've been putting it off because over the last few weeks I've had to make a decision, and it's one that I know a lot of you won't like. ...

... I've decided to stop writing Ashed.

Please refrain from getting out your rotten tomatoes yet. To help explain, I'd like to show you the single best guide to writing a novel that I have ever come across. While this video is titled How to Write a Book, it also gives insight into why to write a book. It doesn't contain any practical tips, but it's truthful and inspiring. Just watch:

The main message of this video is that to write a novel you must simply fall in love with a story - because if you do that, then you'll be willing to learn the skills, develop the talent, and persevere until you have a finished novel. In Kaleb Nation's words, if you love the story, you'll "do whatever it takes to make it work, and turn that idea into a book." If that involves years and years of work and of learning how to master your craft, then so be it. 

So here's how Kaleb hits two birds with one stone, without even trying:
  • How do you write a novel? You fall in love with the story.
  • Why do you write a novel? Because you love the story.
And when writing Ashed started to become a chore a few weeks ago, when I was feeling less interested in or motivated to write the story, I remembered this video. I asked myself why I was writing Ashed.

And everything became suddenly clear. I wasn't writing Ashed because it was the story I had fallen in love with. I was writing it to get more followers on my blog. And while I'm confident that it would have brought in new followers, it's more important that I write for the right reasons.

And I'm not saying I don't like the story - I just don't love it. I think it has a great premise, and I had an amazing idea for the ending in mind. But while I was writing about Lexus, I found myself often dreaming about Zeth, and longing to write about him instead. For those of you who don't know who Zeth is, he's the hero of the novel I write in that sheltered writing room away from the rest of the world. He's the hero of the story most people don't hear very much about. But he's also the hero of the story I love, and the story I'm willing to put years and years of effort into.

And as long as I'm writing Ashed, both it and my main novel will be half-hearted efforts.

So I made a tough decision. I may yet finish Ashed. But don't count on it. For now, I'm focussing all my attention back on Zeth's story.

Remember, write because you love to write. Write stories because you love those stories. Make those your only reasons. I guarantee you'll regret it otherwise.
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