Michaeline: Random Writing Advice

Do you ever take a book, and just let it fall open, put your finger on a paragraph, and read it . . . hoping to find advice and guidance? This is a very, very old fortune-telling technique, and while I don’t believe in fate, I do believe that the sudden juxtaposition of random nonsensical elements can make a lot of sense.

Brian Eno did juxtaposition with his cards of Oblique Strategies (today’s advice on Twitter: “What are the sections sections of? Imagine a caterpillar moving”).

David Bowie did juxtaposition with his music and his cut-up technique, which he borrowed from William Burroughs who used it in the 50s and 60s. (Burroughs was well known for his writing about the Bohemian subculture he was involved with; Jack Kerouac was one of his Beat buddies.)

I like just opening up a book of writing advice, and seeing what “the universe” wants to tell me. Of course, it isn’t “the universe”. It’s my own subconscious. If “the universe” tells me nonsense, I ignore it and go on. But if I like the paragraph, or if the paragraph really bothers me and refuses to let go of my imagination, I pay attention to it.

Today, I was looking at Creating Short Fiction by Damon Knight. The book has been in my backpack for the past three weeks, and last Monday I placed it in the bathroom, hoping I’d finally take a minute to start reading it again. I’m still not ready for a re-read, but opening the book and picking a paragraph at random gave me this:

“Notice that it isn’t enough to be interested or informed; it takes both. If you are interested in your subject but know little about it, you can’t satisfy the curiosity you arouse. If you know a great deal about the subject but are not passionately interested in it (like some scientists and teachers), you will put people to sleep.”

Since we were talking about research this week with Jeanne on Tuesday, I thought it was timely advice. I’ve got the third edition of Knight’s book, which was revised in 1985. It’s got a lot of practical advice for any writer, and can be read from start to finish, as well as being used for diving for pearls of wisdom.

So, I’m off to do some guilt-free research! If it interests me that much, surely I can make it interesting for at least some niche audience!

Michaeline: Communication: The Most Basic of Basics

Three cute young women in the 1920s tuning their radio in the parlor. One is holding a teddy bear.

Are they programmed to receive? (The Brox sisters, tuning their radio in the 1920s, via Wikimedia Commons)

When it gets down to the nitty gritty, writing is about communication. We, the writers, almost always want to reach readers, and then a slightly smaller percentage of us are intensely interested in the feedback.

But communication isn’t a simple process; if it were, we wouldn’t need the zillions of books and lectures and classes that we get from a tender age in how to communicate.

At the most basic level, communication breaks down into four parts: sender, encoding, decoding, receiver.

When we say sender, we’re mostly concerned on this blog with the writer. What can go wrong with this part? Writer’s block, no ideas. What can we do about it? We can feed our writerly selves with good information (reading, art, experiences, conversation). We can make sure we’re in writing shape (sleep, food, shelter while writing). And we can give ourselves the gift of scheduling to make sure we can sit down and write regularly.

The huge bug-a-boo that we all worry about here is the encoding. How do you put Continue reading

Michaeline: Developing Descriptive Tools

1001 Details of Takeshita Street

1001 Details of Takeshita Street

Yesterday, Kat talked about travelling to the setting of her contemporary romance and doing research on the spot. I have to agree, there’s nothing like going there, soaking up the atmosphere, and turning that into words – maybe in one’s diary or blog for practice before the words make it onto the page.

I mostly write urban fantasy and science fiction, so it’s not possible for me to physically travel to the Angel Caldera on Paradise 7, or visit the Goblin King’s throne room in the depths of the Cave of Wonders. I have to use my imagination, but Continue reading