Ansley Asher

writing thoughts

Archive for February, 2008

That Spark of Life

How many times have you sat down to work when suffering from writer’s block and berated yourself by saying, “Why should I bother? I have nothing new to say. And there are already a million other books/blogs/short stories/etc. on the same subject.” Well, I wouldn’t sell yourself so short, my friend. Here’s why.

The odds of anyone coming up with the exact same words in the exact same order as you are a bajillion to one. Although experts say 87% of statistics are made up on the spot–and mine are no exception! All joking aside, unless you are parroting something you heard before (as I just did with that ancient statistics joke,) the way you choose to express yourself is uniquely your own. That has value. I never grew up in the Ozarks. I never went fishing with my cousin Sam. But the things I DID are the things that no one else did in the exact same way, and never will again. No one else will be living in the time I’m living in, doing the things I’m doing, and writing about them the way I am writing about them. So it is with you, and everyone.

I’ve read (anonymous) comments on blogs that say things like, “Women have no unique perspective. Old people have no unique perspective. Eskimos have no unique perspective.” You can reduce this very weak “argument” to: People different than me have no unique perspective. Say it aloud. Do you hear how absurd this sounds? The simple truth is, if you say what YOU have to say–and not simply copy what you have heard–you are adding your voice to the Great Conversation that humans take part in every day. This only augments our culture, not diminishes from it. Think about the talented people you love who write about the same topics. Take humor, for example–how many people write daily life humor? David Sedaris, Nora Ephron, even Jerry Seinfeld. And many more. None of those people write about their experiences the same way, even though they write about things everyone experiences–going out, talking to people, eating dinner, etc. How would you feel if your favorite humor writer quit because so many other people wrote about the same things she does?

Put your own uniqueness in your work. Trust yourself, and others will too.

What Are You Saving It For?

Instead of using their great ideas as they have them, people squirrel them away and store them on an idea shelf in their heads where they gather dust… But, we know that’s wrong. The truth is that as soon as you use your best idea, you come up with a better idea… Even writing an idea down in a notebook will let you come up with a new idea.

He’s dead on. For several reasons. Generating ideas–by itself–is a great way to sort out some of the bad ones so you can focus on the ones that shine. It also keeps your mind churning up better solutions to the problems you generate in your work in progress.

Recently, in my WIP for youngsters, I was faced with two characters meeting in a way that I hated. I wanted it to be funny, and the old “pet is lost and needs to be found” encounter just wasn’t accomplishing anything for me. It wasn’t conducive to funny. It’s a sad situation, in fact, to lose a pet (even for a short time), and that’s really hard to turn around to make humorous. So I wrote down that bad idea. And I came up with a much better way–a very silly way–for the two to meet, and it’s working out well.

From the broader standpoint of creating a series of books, I’ve read several lit agents’ blogs that warn against writing an entire series that will never be sold. The general advice (for us new, unwashed masses, anyway) seems to be to write work that can be built upon if the series catches on, but which stands on its own. That’s a good point. Consider that you do only sell the first one…what were you saving those great ideas for? Plus, even if you sell the whole series, later books will have your characters in new places as they change and grow–in state of mind, if not locale. So the ideas you have been “saving” may not even be as funny or exciting by the time you get to them. Or they may not work at all.

If the book doesn’t sell, no one will see your great ideas, anyway. Give each story its best chance to succeed: Stuff your work full!