On Writing

While a picture is worth a thousand words, a few well-placed words can paint a thousand images in the mind.

The problem is, they don’t look good when put next to a picture, and this is why I sometimes feel that the art of writing, and the level of work that goes into it, is undervalued.

I have a tremendous respect for anyone who can draw or paint, mainly because I really can’t do either to save my life. But I can write, and according to those who read, I do it reasonably well.

To put my craft into perspective; I’ve been writing since I was eleven years old. When I say writing, I mean up to 20,000 word short stories, followed by sequels, and then graduating to 75,000 word novels. I have tales from my teen years that I keep returning to and re-telling. In addition, I’ve been blogging since early 2002, writing opinion pieces, poetry, and even the odd review. Amongst all of that, I discovered a passion for photography in 2004.

I mention photography because as a photographer, I know how difficult it can be to get that picture just right. It can take hours of setup for lighting or even longer waiting for just the right light — and that’s before trying to get the composition and settings perfectly set up. Sometimes, all of this work can be followed by hours of post-processing to get the mind’s vision translated onto the screen or paper.

On rare occasions, a photograph can take just a moment if you happen to be in the right place at the right time, but even those photos often need some post-processing. Getting a truly amazing photograph without adding any work is nothing short of a miracle or an incredible instinctive skill, plus a bit of luck.

This is where writing is different from photography or other visual arts. In some cases, the right inspiration will strike and within minutes a writer can have a poem, a short bit of flash fiction, or a blog entry — but while a moment’s inspiration can give a writer an idea for a book, the road from idea to product can sometimes take years.

It’s romantic to picture a writer as someone who sits hunched over a typewriter, bleeding into it, but the reality involves planning. To tell a truly rich story, with all the right elements, it takes more than just pouring out the contents of your head onto paper or into a computer for days on end — sometimes forgetting to sleep or eat and living on caffeine. All of that happens, but only after all the planning, the decisions, figuring out who is whom, stressing for hours as to how to make these figments of your imagination real and believable, setting out the storyline, ensuring character growth is handled well, deciding at which points to reveal more details, and then, unless you’re Stephen King, agonizing over how to end the thing! (No, Mr. King, I will not forgive you for the ending to the Dark Tower series. Ever.)

This doesn’t even take “world building” into account. If you’re writing in the sci-fi or fantasy genres, creating an entire world and a structure of either magic or scientific conjecture that remains consistent throughout is a skill all of its own.

And then there’s the post-processing, or editing, as most people call it. Editing a book is like going through a huge image, pixel by pixel, and fixing any errors individually. There are tools to automate spell-checking and grammar, but too many typos look like correctly spelled words to ever trust those tools completely. That is why a good professional editor is worth their weight in gold.

A lot has been said about how Google+ is a great place for photographers and visual artists, but not much has been written about how rich an environment it is for wordsmiths.

In November, millions of people, myself included, will take on the challenge of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). Writing 50,000 words in thirty days is possible, definitely, even when spacing it out to the 1,667 words per day average needed. Trying to write around work and home life is a nerve-wracking process as it is, but when trying to maintain a steady pace, missing a day builds pressure. I’ve participated for years, and have succeeded in about half of my attempts, but this year already has a different, more positive than usual feeling to it.

People on Google+ are already setting up NaNo circles, plotting and preparing. There is a definite community feel to it, even more so than in previous years on Twitter and Facebook. This early excitement has proven what I’ve been feeling since I started sharing my writing on Google+. I’ve tried various writing groups and forums before, but the level of feedback from other writers here is higher than I’ve experienced anywhere else on the web. The writers are so amazingly talented, and with prompts from people like +Nina Pelletier and +Jeff Hite, the budding authors on Google+ push each other, learn from each other, and inspire each other.

I often go back and read the conversations I’ve participated in with other writers, and I feel a definite sense that something big is happening on Google+. Something that, in my idealistic dreams, makes me think we’re building the literary heroes of the future together. There is a fantastic opportunity here where writers can write in Google Docs, then publish to Google Books, and share background and side stories with their readership on Google+. I can see myself doing it. In some ways, I’m doing it already.

Add to that the networking aspect of Google+, and there are amazing opportunities for editors to offer critiques on short stories and make connections with future clients who are all writing novel-length works. One definite pattern on Google+ is that the most social of photographers, musicians, and artists capture the most attention, and I feel that writers and editors who stay social and interact will become popular. The community that has already been built will ensure that.

I know that my future as a writer is on Google+ where I don’t have fans or followers, but where I can connect to my readers on a much more personal level than anywhere else.

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