On the suggestion of an old friend, I started listening to Writing Excuses, a weekly podcast co-hosted by authors Dan Wells, Brandon Sanderson, Mary Robinette Kowal, and web cartoonist Howard Tayler. In each episode, the hosts and the guests will do a quick dive into some element of craft. In fact, the seasons are structured around one larger umbrella concept, and the individual episodes focus on the minutia.
For example, one season might focus on voice, so the hosts might spend an episode exploring first-person narration–what that looks like, how folks pull it off, where mistakes might occur.
Usually, the mid-point of the show features a book recommendation (the hosts and their guests trade off week to week). I have a stack of “to-reads” as it is, but I feel compelled to add The Inklings biography by Humphrey Carpenter.
Finally, the show wraps up with a writing exercise pertaining to the craft element in focus.
What I enjoy about Writing Excuses is that while the hosts collectively possess a slew of writing experience, both as professional writers and writing teachers, they never give the impression (so far as I can tell…I’m still in the early days of listening) that their advice is better than anyone else’s. The show’s tagline even reads, “Fifteen minutes long, because you’re in a hurry, and we’re not that smart.”
This motto also speaks to other aspect of the show I find appealing: running time. On average–if you subtract the padding at the beginning and end of the episode–the show goes for fifteen minutes. This makes for bite-sized, easy-to-listen-to-in-one-sitting, episodes. They could easily talk for hours on each topic, but they give just enough to think about, and then an exercise to go try it. The show’s most likely structured this way because they’d rather people be out there writing than listening to people talk about writing. Makes sense.
I also dig this show because it lead to an epiphany of sorts for me during one of the episodes. The hosts were talking about the concept of writing to learn; that is, try starting a story one way, and if the voice or the structure or whatever it you’re trying isn’t working, you can always change it. The point is, you’re writing for discovery. You won’t know something will suck until you put the damn words on the page.
Was that the epiphany? You promised an epiphany!
That wasn’t the epiphany. Here it comes:
<EPIPHANY ALERT>This concept of writing to learn, made me think of writing for the sake of writing. Writing to have some fun, which is supposed to be the whole point of the endeavor, isn’t it? Don’t we write because we like to tell stories? To make shit up? To dream characters into existence and fashion and structure the worlds they dwell in and travel to? Don’t we do this process through our run-ins with life? I thought so, but I realized I’d gotten away from these truths. I started thinking about making it, selling my book, becoming a published author, and taking in whatever that might entail. I began treating every idea as precious, filing them away in various notebooks with plans to write them into stories someday. Stories which I’d polish and send into journals and magazines, which would contribute to the aforementioned making it*.
I understand (or I’ve been reminded) that it’s okay to write to have fun. It’s okay to write stories that you don’t intend to send out or get published. It’s okay to write stories to learn how to be a better writer.
Okay, that’s the end of the epiphany. I don’t know if it really was much of an epiphany, but it was a learning moment for me. With this alleged epiphany in mind, I plan to start writing stories for fun and posting them on the site. And just in time for the holidays, yesterday I drafted a story idea about a department store Santa thwarting a group of villains. Should be a wild romp. I’m looking forward to writing it. Keep your eyes peeled for it to drop around Christmas.
Friends, I better close. It’s late and the five o’clock alarm arrives far too early. Be well. Be kind. And write just for the hell of it.
*I should clarify, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to make it; in fact, I would still like to make this happen, but this should be secondary to the storytelling…it should be a by-product of the writing. Put in the the time and the making it will follow (presumably).