Guest Post by Jeremy Gosnell
Writing is an illness, isn’t it? Writers are compelled to write, whether we want to or not. I am writing this out of a compulsion to write. Not that I don’t want to share my feelings on writing, but I would have to write whether or not I had something better to do. It’s easy to see this in everyday life. Millions of writers are struggling – unpublished, un-paid for their words; yet they continue to plug forward. Writing is a mix of emotions, experience and to some extent adventure. Our politics, ideas and opinions sometimes get lost in the mush but it all cultivates a center mass of expression. We tell stories, we share ideas, and we provoke thought. I feel like all writers observe the world in which they live. Religion aside, we take in moments and translate them to mean something else. Sometimes small, nearly meaningless moments are translated into something profound – a source foundation for a total life transformation. Other times major events are played off as nothing critical.
When I wrote my novella, Neptune’s Garden I had no idea what an audience wanted to read. I knew what I liked and to some extent how to translate my idea into an ebb and flow that could be followed and digested by a reader. I had life experience as a scuba diver, marine aquarist and comic book nerd to back up the story; mixing science with fantasy and illusion. I also had lived, loved and laughed enough to create real characters. If I hadn’t been first hand in a situation, I knew someone who had. The story had bounced around the four corners of my brain for a while. It captivated me and I found myself lying in bed writing it in my mind. I would add characters, situations and delete others. Slowly the stories’ world and its inhabitants came to life. Finally I sat down to write it. No plan, no goals; just a blank page. I knew what I wanted, to take readers on an adventure and make them think. Once it was finished I hadn’t a clue what to do.
Here is where, as writers life gets tough. Chances are most of your family and friends will tell you a finished manuscript is good. They may critique the grammar, premise or characters a bit; though overall they will probably at least say that they like it. Online you get a mix of attacks. Some people in online workshops seem to take pride in slamming other’s work. Some are honest and sincere and others crank out quick reviews in hopes of getting their work read. I had one guy in a university writer’s workshop tell me he hated science fiction and thought anyone who wrote it lacked any real talent. The story I was work shopping was, you guessed it, science fiction. Work shopping a story is a test in exposing your work to a handful of writers with real world feelings and opinions. They have no personal tie to you or your story. The problem with work shopping is everyone has an idea of what makes a great book and a good writer. I like books with lots of action, mind bending ideas with some sex and violence thrown in for good measure. I have friends who like lengthy literary works of profound insight. My Mother likes to read crime dramas and my fiancé, well she waits for the movie.
My point, your potential audience is vast. If, as you write you look at your own work as something that will be spending its life in your closet rather than on a bookshelf you have the upper hand. You have the freedom to be bold, break the rules and ask all the wrong questions. It’s like a night on the town drinking with a designated driver. Worst case scenario; you might puke, fall over and pass out only to wake up in your own bed, alone. Writing for yourself just because you can is a great introspective practice. Pick a topic, any topic. Something your passionate about and write the hell out of it. Then pick a topic you are passionate about and write the hell out of it from the other guy’s perspective. When we create characters sometimes we have to become them, and see the world from their view through our mind’s eye. If we don’t question our own ideas and accepted standards we simply create the idea of a character and not a real, living person. I cannot understand the thought process of a suicide bomber. If I wrote about one from my perspective it would sound more like a book report than an actual book. Though, if I do the research and find an emotional common ground with the character I can connect to all three dimensions. The result; a character that enthralls and frightens the reader and forces them to ask all the right questions but most importantly turn the page.
When you make the transition to writing for an audience everything changes. You simplify, you question less and you prioritize. Readers don’t like being bored but they often do like to think. It’s all about balance and letting go of some but not all of your personal beliefs. Keep the message there but make sure it has just the right amount of sugar with just a dash of salt.
I always equate writing to cooking. Too much of one ingredient and your soup sucks. When you are writing for an audience you’re always one sentence away from utter failure. A depressing thought I know. The good news is failure is in the eyes of the beholder and it’s nearly impossible to fail yourself and don’t worry too much as there are a lot of beholders out there.
When I was in grade school writing teachers used to tell us, “Show don’t tell.” Good advice I guess, then again these folks are teaching writing, not actually doing it. Writing is the last telling art. We have TV, movies, video games and cartoons to show us something. Don’t be afraid to tell someone how beautiful your female lead is. Don’t be afraid to tell them how her father abused her. Then you can show them her transformation from a broken young woman into a confident, powerful and sexy adult.
The cream always rises to the top. It sometimes takes a while and a bit of patience but sitting down each day with only your mind, a topic and a message is powerful enough – audience or not. My closet and computer are pretty full of works that will never see print. Yet, they are some of my favorite. They remind me of sitting down as an idealistic young writer and forgetting about who read what I was writing – and just writing for the pure fun of it. Passion is powerful and it always shines through. Keep plugging along, keep being bold and be sure never to lose that undeniable spark of passion. While it may seem tough right now at some point someone will notice and the right person will turn the page.
Jeremy Gosnell is a marine aquarist, author and scuba diver. He is a former columnist for Freshwater and Marine Aquarium Magazine and Fish Channel and a feature author for Tropical Fish Hobbyist Magazine. In 2010 Gosnell released his debut novel, Neptune’s Garden.