Third Degree #1. “How do you do it?”

I have toyed with the idea of having a weekly question column here on the site.  Readers could ask questions of me, or any of the other Team members, and have it answered right here on the blog.  However, I didn’t want to look like an idea thief (because “Ask Chris” is a fantastic column).  Then fate entered in and someone who I respect asked me a question.  Its out of my hands now!  Its time to be asked lots of questions and respond to them in intelligent and witty ways.  Its time for the Third Degree!

Recently my good friend Cori sent me this message over Facebook:

Hey I have a question, all of this writing that you do…. Do you just sit in front of the computer and it spills out or do you have trouble deciding what you want to write?   I’ve been writing more and my clan read some of my new stuff and asked me to be a clan writer but I am having a complete block.  I cant think of one word to write… What do I dooooooooo?!   How do you do it?

First of all it pleases me to no end that someone is looking to me for writing advice.  I’m re-reading David Scalzi’s book on writing and every couple pages has me wanting to be a better writer.  I thank Cori and everyone else who has read and enjoyed anything that I’ve produced.

I’m lucky, it does just come to me.  Sometimes I’m not in the mood, or too tired, or annoyed, or any of 100 other things that happen in this thing called life.  But I’ve never had nothing to say.  Hate me if you wish for that fact.

That’s not why we’re here though is it?  The point is to explain my writing process.  There are two parts of my writing and each part has its own path from concept to print (yes, its online, just go with the word “print” for simplicity): reviews/commentary and stories.

Reviews, opinions, essays, commentary or any other similar word comes easy to me.  These pieces are part of the longest comic book store conversation in the world.  While Team Hellions existed before I moved 2 1/2 years ago, it was not this large nor did it have anywhere near the same level of content, reviews, or any other parts of the site.  When I moved it was just myself and Ms Hellions.  Amazing geek girl that she is, there isn’t enough time in our disparate work schedules to consume what we each want, what the other one wants, and have the time to talk all about it.  With my partner out of the conversation the conversation was over.  Sure, the monologue still grew in my brain but without anyone to hear the monologue, what is the point?  An outlet was needed and the website provided one.

Cori is the best gamer I know, and thus her blogs will cover games.  (I’m guessing.)  Treat your column as the conversation you want to have.  Instead of turning to your husband, or a gaming friend and saying “you know what I like/hate about this game?” write it.  Write every stupid thought about it, good or bad.  Don’t worry if it sounds like an 8 year old talking about the school day (“and then…and then… and then…) nor worry it may sound like an old senile man (we used to play other games when I was young back then we rode our bicycles everywhere of course we didn’t have any where to ride them to there wasn’t a mall back then I remember the first mall I ever went to it was in Pennsylvania we should go through Amish country again my how I love home baked bread).  This is why editing exists.  But you cant edit any of it until it is created!

Its like this (and like that and like this and uh):  think of a good cut of steak.  (Vegetarians, sorry.)  The butcher receives a huge slab of meat (giggidy) he then cuts that up into various choice cuts and then the waste gets ground up and put into McDonalds burgers.  What will become your choice steak is still in a chunk along with other pieces.  More trimming and cutting takes place until what will become your mouth watering dinner is primed and ready for sale.  That steak is your end piece, your edited and re-written post.  That steak would not have existed without the original cow.  Write write write, write all the crap.  Then when all of your thoughts are down, worry about cleaning it up.

Stories are a different matter, and require different thinking.  The way that works for me is to take my mind to the weirdest points the train of thought takes me.  Do this with everything.  Every day something happens that is contrary to what you thought would happen. Take that other path of events and create a story around it.  Quick example from work.  A massive HVAC unit hangs from the ceiling.  When it kicked on tonight a large “THUD” came out and I backed away for fear of being underneath it.  Take this thought and run with it. The HVAC unit collapses along with most of the ceiling.  People are trapped inside.  There is some food sold in the store, but not enough without rationing.  Guns and ammo are sold as well.  People may turn on each other, weapons may be fired, its a tale of survival inside of a store in which one thing went wrong and then a chain reaction takes place descending those inside down the path of madness.  This is a short story, screenplay, novel, etc.  Its also five minutes of unrestrained thought.  Let your mind wander.  I’ve sat in a chair and zoned out, then noticed strange patterns in the carpet or tile.  These patterns have become monsters, dragons, weapons, and other assorted images that inspired stories to explain them.

The easiest way to get started though is to take something you hate and do it better.  Take that novel, that movie, the thing that you finished and said, “well that sucked” and make it better.  Why did it suck?  What would you have done differently?  You know what, Twilight sucks.  What would I do with that material?  Bella is no longer the central character.  Lets hear about vampires forced to attend dozens of high schools.  They must all have 4.0s.  Probably a lot of academic scholarships, athletic ones too with those gifts.  If they all attend colleges then these gifts will lead to high paying jobs, PhDs, professional sports.  These vampires should be controlling the world, not stuck in a backwoods town whining over some rabbit toothed girl.

And that Cori, is how I write.  An unrestrained mind.  When I sat down the thoughts of steak or Twilight were not in my head.  I had no idea they would appear here.  Yet, look before this and there they are.  Write your reviews like you’re talking to your best friend.  Write fiction like you have the most fucked up mind in the world and the only way to keep it under control is to let it go outside for a little while.

I hope this helped.

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