Why You Need To Speak, and Write, Well

I have an ongoing argument with an acquaintance about spelling and grammar. I am constantly, but (usually) gently, gently correcting her mistakes and she is constantly, and not so gently, calling me a Grammar Nazi and to back off. Her argument has been that, in this age of texting and 140 characters or less postings, “proper” English is no longer necessary. In fact, she believes that adhering to the rules bogs communication down.

Regardless where you stand in that argument for the majority of the population, if you are a writer of any kind you must be the best-spoken and written person that you absolutely can be. This is not a once learned and go process, either. It is part of your toolkit on which you must constantly work to improve.

Think of it this way: when you go to the clinic to get a check up, do you want a physician that doesn’t know what your humerus is? No. No, you don’t. Now, is it necessary for a physician to know the name of the bone of the upper arm? Probably not. A patient isn’t going to use it. Another doctor might, but as long as the physician in question knows what he needs to know about the arm, does the name really count?

For the love of all that’s holy, yes, he does! If that doctor is looking at my upper arm and trying to determine why it’s suddenly sprouting purple tentacles, I want him to know everything there is to know about that area of the body. You never know what will come in handy.

Similarly, being a writer means that you are the expert. Your most basic tool is the language in which you write, no matter if you write ad copy or multi-book epics. You must work on your spelling and grammar as often as you work on your storytelling. Without this skill, your writing lacks teeth.

The Writing Room

Stephen King isn’t the only one to say it. Virtually every writer understands the importance of having a special place to write. The trick is finding such a place.

Not all of us are afforded the luxury of a spare room in our homes. We imagine the day where we can retreat to our inner sanctum, surrounded by all of our reference books and inspiring flotsam. We think that if we can just get to that point, we will write non-stop.

Here’s the thing: you won’t get there until you’re already there.

If you do not have the discipline to find a place to write, no secret vault where you can shut yourself out from the world will help you. The important thing is to, right now, today, this very moment, find your place to write. This can be something simple as a corner in one room. It can be a bench in the nearby park that you haunt. It can be the Starbucks around the corner. The place only matters in that it affords you the area with which to write.

There are some caveats. First, your writing place must be easily accessible. It’s no use having your writing place at the park thirty miles away that you can only get to every second Tuesday. You need a place where you can go easily and quickly. Give yourself no excuse to not write.

Second, you absolutely should not have a phone in your writing place. Even if you are writing in the coffee shop or park or wherever, turn the blasted thing off. Let everyone know you’re unavailable for the hour (or however long) you are to write. Phones are distracting. Your time is precious.

Third, speaking of distraction, you should write in a place that provides no distraction. If you write in the Starbucks, find a corner, plug in to your MP3 player, and face the wall. If you write at home, don’t write in the same room in which there is a television. These things pull us away from our writing.

If you cannot find a place to write today, you haven’t yet committed to writing. You should dedicate at least an hour to writing* every day. If you cannot do that, you are not serious enough to write. I know a person who has to drive 90 minutes one-way to their job every morning. He has a function every evening until 9PM. He also attends school online. He still finds time to write every day. That’s not amazing, that’s discipline.

If you’ve got the discipline pegged, now you need to find your place. Although, most likely, if you’ve got one you’ve done the other.

 

*An hour may seem arbitrary, and probably is. Do it anyway. It doesn’t have to be a contiguous hour.

Where the Stories Live

I am often asked from where the ideas for my stories come. I wonder if those who ask assume that there is some sort of idea generator that I discovered in an attic or bought from Amazon. I find myself cornered at functions while the hopeful writer asks me the same question a dozen different ways, like I’m deliberately keeping the secret from them.

The truth of the matter is that ideas come from wherever they come. Dragonfaerie came from a doodle as I was watching TV. The Land That Holds Down the Sky was inspired by three spools of differently colored wire on a telephone pole in the middle of nowhere. There is no secret formula.

I think the difference between a fiction writer and everyone else is how a fiction writer’s mind works. A “normal” person walking from their front door to the bus stop a block away experiences a five minute walk. A writer watches a dozen stories blossom and die before they arrive at the stop. I once created and destroyed an entire universe waiting for a light to turn green.

The hardest part is getting those stories to behave long enough to get onto paper. I occasionally talk to my father on the phone and begin to tell him about all the stories I have written until I realize that they exist only in the asylum of my imagination.

Welcome to the New Site

Not long ago I realized that my website needed some TLC. I hadn’t updated anything in over four years and the design was a bit darker than I thought was necessary. I also wanted to include a blog for my fans. So, I decided to start over with something fresh.

Over the next several weeks, I will be adding more content to the site. Please check back often and let me know what you think of the new design.