Why Do I Write?


I did it! Yes, I wrote a novel in 3 days. Okay, it’s a short novel. But that was expected. The average submission in past editions of the contest expected novels was 100 pages, so I made it with 117 pages. Sure, there were only barely 31,000 words in my novel, but it was chock full of dialogue, which takes up a lot of white space. The point is, I completed the story. Whew.

Did I doubt I could do it? Absolutely! I did not think I would be able to sustain writing for three straight days to reach the 100-page mark. In fact, I managed 4-5 pages an hour and finished the novel 50 hours after the contest began, after I started writing. That even gave me the third day to review, make some revisions, and proofread as much as I could. And I even got some sleep in, meals, and showers!

The best thing that little experience did for me is to give me a little more belief and confidence in myself–something I’ve never been sure of all my life. Now, I know I can sit for three days straight and write away. Well, I actually know I can because I’ve done it before, just never for a contest. So now, I have that confirmation. I know I still have it in me because that passion for writing just pops up every now and then. I know I have it in me because the stories keep on running and growing and expanding in my head. As long as I don’t write them, they continue to plague me and haunt me like ghosts in the ether and skeletons in my closet. That is why I write.

On Writing: Finishing


The hard part about writing a novel is finishing it.
~ Ernest Hemingway


Endings. Whether it’s short or long fiction, sometimes the hardest thing to do with something you’re writing is how to end it. I have heard of many writers who write with an end in mind. In a way, that could make things easier because your only problem would be to figure out how to bring your story to that ending. Of course, sometimes, the characters have a mind of their own and decide to move in a different direction, turning your expected ending into something completely unexpected. Some writers are inspired by a great beginning. I imagine Dickens’s beginning for A Tale of Two Cities, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” gave him a huge field to explore, assuming he started that story with the beginning. Not every writer writes purely out of sheer inspiration, and I don’t imagine every great book began with the ending in mind. The more methodical and structured writers will plan their stories with a clear beginning, middle, and end. In fact, that is how I teach students to write their stories. I do emphasize that this is a plan, a blueprint, if you will, for the story, and the final work may not even be anything like the original plan. However, with a clear story arc formed by three distinct parts—beginning, middle, and end—you can proceed along a path that gives your story direction. I’d like to say that, most of the time, it should and will work out as planned, and it does, especially if you build on the basic parts and not lose sight of them. As you write, though, it’s important to be flexible and adapt to how your story develops. Sometimes, you might see a better ending or a more effective climax; or, as you write your ending, you realize you need to revise your beginning. That’s all to be expected. The worst thing that can happen is when you insist on writing the story the way you planned it even if the other story elements aren’t fitting in as planned. I’m not saying you should ditch the whole story, maybe you should just change it and work with what is getting written. You might end up with two completely different stories. When writing a novel, it becomes a little more complicated because you are dealing with several characters, several subplots, several scenes. Sometimes, some of the characters threaten to take over the lead, sometimes the subplots become larger than the main plot. There will always be a great deal of adjusting and adaptation as the smaller stories develop and the characters interact. No matter what ending you plan, once your characters come alive, your novel will have a life of its own and will continue. Unless you have excellent control over it, the tendency will be for that novel to beget a sequel and another until it becomes a series. That is how sequels, trilogies, quadrilogies, quintilogies, and so on have become so popular. Neither reader nor author wants the story to end. However, end it must, and if it can only happen by killing your favorite characters, then so be it. What is important is that the novel is written, ended, and completed. That’s quite the accomplishment, especially considering there must be thousands of novels that writers began to write that were never finished.

We often hear our elders, teachers, mentors, and parents, no less, to always ‘finish what you’ve started.’ In a world where everything seems to get shorter and shorter, fiction being no exception, it seems harder to complete a novel when you’re not even sure people will be reading it through and through. Nonetheless, there is a market for novels, with upwards of 50,000 novels published in the US alone. The number is an approximation, based on 2007 statistics, and if a projection is made worldwide, there might be upwards of 80,000 novels published each year in English alone. Top sellers reach circulation numbers of at least 1,000 books each week to get into the NYT (New York Times) bestseller list, which is the most significant and probably most prestigious bestseller list to be on. PEI bestseller status is achieved with a sale of 900 books and numbers are greater in the rest of Canada. This is actually good news for writers because we know there are still readers out there, so go ahead, write that novel, but make sure you finish what you started. As a writer, I am living proof that it’s easy to start a novel–I must have started about a dozen already–but it’s nowhere nearly as easy to finish one. Poetry, short fiction, and creative non-fiction are child’s play in comparison. I have to admit length is a huge factor. Anything else but a novel can be done in a single sitting. (Incidentally, I’m only speaking of creative writing here, as opposed to academic writing. Academic books also take a very long time to write, certainly more than one sitting.) Poetry might take a few minutes. Short fiction, depending on how short, can take anywhere from a few minutes to a couple of hours–with the exception of the longest short stories every written–forty pages of print takes more than a couple of hours. Essays and all other forms of creative non-fiction can also be completed within an hour or less. But a novel! To write 35,000-50,000 for a children’s novel, 80,000 words, which is the standard length for a YA novel, or over 100,000 words for a 200-page novel can easily take 100 hours, assuming you can write 1,000 words per hour. If you type fast and the ideas are just pouring out, you might get out more than 1,000 words per hour–that’s about 4 pages of print, double-spaced. So if you were to write just an hour a day at that rate, you’d have your 200-page novel in about 50 days; a month or less if you wrote two hours a day at that rate; if you’re a full time writer and spend at least 6 hours a day writing, you might have a novel in half a month. Pretty impressive, but you’d have to be a very methodical or very manic writer, or a combination of both–which is what I’d say most writers are. If your aim is to write a book a year, aiming for 1,000 words per day, or about an hour of writing, can get you enough content to fill a 200 pages in a couple of months, leaving you the rest of the year to edit and revise–which really usually takes a lot more work than the original writing. Unless you’re a very methodical writer and have everything planned out down to the last scene so that practically all you need to do when you’re writing the book is putting in the dialogue, or whatever other method highly disciplined writers do. The point is to write, write as often as you can, and aim to finish what you started. Otherwise, you’ll get a dozen opening pages that will, in all likelihood, be chopped out anyway. It’s time for me to take my advise.

The Power of Writing, or Why Write?


“I think all writing is a disease. You can’t stop it.”
~William Carlos Williams

I believe that one you are bitten by the writing bug, you’ll never lose your desire to write. There’s something about creating literature, putting words down on paper. It’s a fascinating process that can be extremely complicated if you have no idea what to do, and yet, from the moment each one of us learns to speak, we are equipped with the most important tool for writing: the ability to express ideas in words. This tool of expression is developed to varying degrees in each of us, but not all of us have the urge to express everything we experience in written words. That’s probably because so many people have not had the opportunity to truly appreciate what the written word can convey. People who are exposed to a great variety of written expression, no matter the genre, will realize that they have that same opportunity to express themselves, their ideas, their feelings. If they have been equipped with superior writing skills and understand the effect their words might have on others, it’s as natural as a block of ice melting in heat. Probably the best motivator is knowing you are able to record everything you think, feel, experience in words that you can revisit any time you want to. For others, the best motivator might be knowing that your story, your ideas, your sentiments, and everything you are able to express in words, will be appreciated by someone else. Writers, after all, are people, who need to be heard, who need to connect with other people, who need to know they are not alone in this wide world that can be alienating and difficult to navigate in any given lifetime. In this case, the best motivator is simply needing to make sense of everything, to organize everything into something that is more comprehensible, more tangible, and in doing so, answering important questions that so many people always wanted to ask but were afraid to. Every writer will have a reason for writing, but sometimes, like the mountain that just has to be climbed, we write because we just have to see our ideas as written words.

Like any other form of communication, all writing has a purpose. It doesn’t matter whether that purpose fulfills something writers want only for themselves or for their readers, any writing becomes legitimate once words are committed on paper–or more appropriately nowadays, in a digital file. Like most arts, literature is produced mainly to entertain. However, literature extends beyond a mere art form, because it is also a valuable means of communication. Hence, as written communication, it can fulfill several other purposes: entertain, inform, explain, or influence readers. This is not to say that these purposes are mutually exclusive. While you might set out with a single purpose in mind, in the end, you accomplish all the other purposes to varying degrees. Take fiction writing, for instance. In general, the purpose of fiction is to entertain. In the process of entertaining, however, writers explain many things, inform readers through description and sometimes even provide valuable real-life knowledge, and, in the end, influence readers. Whether the influence simply motivates readers to read more or moves them to step out of their comfort zones and do something new or different, there is no doubt that people have been influenced. Indeed, many a great work of literature has spurred actions and events that are pandemic. The way people think or see things is often influenced by some literary piece, fiction or non-fiction. Literature has the ability to move people so powerfully that societies and religions have been founded on the written word. I don’t need to name books or other works here, because I’m certain you already have some such influential work in mind. In many ways, writers could be motivated by the same singular desire to be immortalized in their works, because otherwise, they would not want a physical record of their work. When successful, it certainly is much better than anyone else’s fifteen seconds of fame!


Writing is Nonpareil


Writing can wreck your body. You sit there on the chair hour after hour and sweat your guts out to get a few words.  ~Norman Mailer, 1998

Funny, I never had any problem completing writing assignments, regardless of the format. Anything from poetry to essays to research papers were a breeze. Assignments for the school papers or magazines I could pump out. Articles for press releases and publicity I could churn out. But when I decide to sign up for a 1-month-50K-word writing challenge, or tell myself I need to write my book my collections my stories my poetry I come up with sweaty guts à lá Norman Mailer, so I guess I’m not in such bad company. Probably the distractions of survival have something to do with it. I think it’s probably the knowledge and realization that life isn’t just getting up and going to class and doing what is expected of you or asked of you or even what you choose to do because you know you always have somewhere to go home to, food at the table or in the fridge, a bed, and all the creature comforts you need. When you’re writing and hoping that it will bring home the bacon and pay the bills, then it becomes an immensely unreliable method for relieving worry or for self-expression because your expression becomes limited to your source of worry which is whether or not your writing will sell and how soon and how much. Anyone who wants to be a writer by profession or vocation should first take a course on how to survive on writing alone. The intellectual, psychological, and emotional satisfaction you get is nonpareil.

It’s National Novel Writing Month … Again


After my first foray into National Novel Writing Month, better known as NaNoWriMo, exactly 3 years ago, I decided to finally sign up again this year. The past two years, I hemmed and hawed and decided in the end that I’d just stick to doing my own writing on my own time at my own pace and not shoot for the 50K-word target.

Finding myself in a situation where I had the freedom to do a bit more writing (a.k.a. in-between-jobs), I decided I had to do something about an idea that had been brewing since I first thought about it and wrote a short scene consisting mainly of dialogue several years ago, which I turned into a short script intended for the PEI Screenwriters’ Bootcamp of 2013, for which I developed a full 13-episode mini-bible. That meant I had a very rough idea of what direction the story would take–and when I say rough, I mean rough: 50- to 100-word concepts for the remaining 12 episodes.

I’d received a lot of feedback that it was a very promising story, but was torn between expanding the episodes to fill an hour (really, about 40 minutes) or cut them and concentrate them to fit a half-hour (which really is only about 18-22 minutes). As you might have guessed by now, I remained torn; hence, the decision to take the mini-bible and convert it into a novel.

I’m still hemming and hawing about how it will develop. However, I got off to a head start just converting the script for the first episode into prose. I also managed to up the count by throwing in some character descriptions, some scene descriptions here and there, and even a bit of dialogue and action for a couple of the episodes.

It’s also part of my excitement, I guess, at my newest toy, a really handy software called Scrivener from Literature and Latte, which allows me to write on “index cards” and to see my writing as index cards or as written text. I can shuffle those cards, move them around, and keep any bit of writing I want even if I don’t think I will keep them in the final copy. I do know I’m not too happy with the last bit I wrote, and then I got extremely busy and was out of the house for quite a length of time so I wasn’t able to follow-up on my incredible head start. Now, I’m in a bit of a slump and need to get back to writing that novel while stopping my editor’s brain from telling me “Delete! Delete!”

And that’s why I’m writing this. I figured that if I just let it out and do a bit of metacognitive processing I might be able to metastasize my thoughts into words.

After I get back from running an errand and supper and a shower…

Cindy’s Rules for Writers #4


Rule #4

Read. Everyday, whenever you have a bit of time, read. Not just anything, although that is good for a different reason, but the kind of writing that you want to do. If you want to be a journalist, read newspapers and magazines. If you want to be a novelist, read novels. If you want to be a poet, read poetry. Not just a little, but a lot. Get to know different styles of writing. Read works by great writers that you can model your writing after. Yes, I believe a lot of what you learn as a writer can happen by osmosis–in this case, just reading a lot of excellent writing–because you remember a bit of what you read (if your memory is better, you’ll remember a lot!), and what you remember will seep into your writing. But don’t just read excellent writing. Read the really bad writing too, and those in between. If you can distinguish the bad writing from the good writing, you’ll be able to apply that to your writing. You will know when your writing is good and when it is bad. You will learn how to avoid the bad writing and write better. I’m willing to bet that no good writer ever became good at writing without having reading a lot. What are you waiting for? Go get something to read!

Cindy’s Rules for Writers #3


Rule #3

Write about something you don’t know. Admit it. You don’t know everything. Nobody knows everything! There will always be something out there that’s new to you. If it’s totally new to you, it’s also probably totally new to a lot of other people. You could be filling up a niche. Who knows? It’s a great challenge to see how much you can write about something you don’t know. How do you go about it? Simple. Research.

Cindy’s Rules for Writers #2


Rule #2

2. Write about something you know. This is the easiest way to begin. Write about people around you, places you’ve been to, experiences you’ve had. Try to describe them in as many ways as you can. Observe very closely and note every detail. You’ll be surprised how much detail you can write.

Cindy’s Rules for Writers

1. If you want to be a writer, write! Don’t just think about it. Don’t just talk about it either. Write as much as you can whenever you can. You can’t be called a writer if you’re not writing anything. It doesn’t have to be fancy. It can be words. It can be sentences. Words grow into phrases, phrases into sentences, sentences into paragraphs, paragraphs into stories.