Back in November, I took a class called Write Better Faster, offered by the author of Dear Writer, You Need to Quit, a book that I wrote about in a post called Dear Self, Have Fun.
I have not started writing either better or faster. Alas. But I’ve been slowly working my way through some of the books mentioned in the class. I’ve been reading them very deliberatively. And I just looked up deliberatively to be sure it was the word I wanted and it is: “related to or intended for consideration or discussion.” Not deliberately, ie “consciously and intentionally, on purpose,” although obviously that’s true, too.
Anyway, my usual reading is high-speed and voracious. I can finish a book in a few hours, but I only retain the main ideas. I’ve been trying hard to read these books in more depth, pausing to think about the information and ideas, taking notes, summarizing my responses. Trying to really use them as learning tools.
My approach was unsuccessful with only one of the books: The Power of Habit, by Charles Duhigg. Honestly, that book was just too interesting: I couldn’t stop myself from gobbling it down. My notes for it are terrible, although I used all caps and bold for my takeaway point, which says something about how I was feeling as I finished. Takeaway point: IF YOU BELIEVE YOU CAN CHANGE — if you make it a habit — the change becomes real. Your habits are what you CHOOSE them to be.
So far, I’ve also finished Wired for Story, Verbalize, Triggers, and Rising Strong, and I’m working on Deep Work and Story Genius.
Coincidentally, an email showed up in my inbox this morning from Mark Manson (author of The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck) claiming that the most important life skill for the 2020s was probably going to be the ability to learn well on your own.
Sadly, this might mean that I’m not going to do so well in the 2020s. Because at the end of all this reading — a sincere, well-intentioned, thorough, focused attempt to learn how to write better & faster — I’m not sure what I’ve gotten out of it. Apart from approximately 15,000 words of notes, that is.
It’s not that I haven’t learned things. I definitely have. I’ve learned about the habit cycle, about transitive verbs, about the relationship of myelination to memory, about the human tendency to search for patterns. I’ve learned techniques for characterization, for plot development, for resolving interpersonal conflict, for creating change in my own life.
I don’t know, though. At the moment, I’m feeling very unfulfilled by all this learning. According to the Clifton Strengths test (taken for the class), I’m both high Input and a Learner, so this approach — reading all the books and trying to learn more — is definitely my style. But honestly, I think what I really need is to figure out how to get better at the execution strengths instead. Instead of being who I am, I want to learn how to be a Discipline and Focus person. But I think the whole point of the Clifton Strengths exercise is to embrace who you are and lean into your own strengths, instead of trying to be someone else.
Meanwhile, it’s Monday, and after my week off, I am feeling ready to get back to a solid writing schedule. It’s not quite the new year, but it’s time to execute! Hmm, maybe this story needs an execution? Nah, probably not. I did decide a couple of days ago that sentient otters were definitely in order, though!
I have to believe the influence from those good titles may be more subconscious and their influences more subtle. That certainly was for me after reading Deep Work years ago yet no immediate impact. But I’m more aware of influences now from that book which embedded in my habits over time. On another note, I’ve been woefully AWOL from our sprints; not a permanent thing! Writing habit starts back up, officially and shouting out publicly so I won’t delay yet again, on Monday, Jan. 6.
I do have a bunch of potentially useful exercises, too. I need to pick and choose what makes the most sense to me to do, because I’m not going to do all of them, but many of the habit books stress setting clear goals and that’s something I feel like I ought to try. Not the “write every day” clear goal, though, (which I know doesn’t work for me) but maybe just getting better at using my calendar to track my to-do list.
A few thoughts in no particular order , but sentient otters, yes please! Must be unrelentably happy, playful , and tricky/mischievous , oh yeah! Gimme some of those . Next, I bet you will find yourself processing and utilizing what you have read and learned. And I doubt this will be helpful but I have always wanted to talk about it with an author. (Giving away my age here) Many, many, years ago I read Iris Johansen when she wrote romances for ? Loveswept? Maybe? Anyway , for me as a reader, I must like the main character . If I’ve read half the book and even if the story is compelling I will drop it and delete it from my library, if I don’t like the characters in the book I am reading. Iris Johansen churned out these really great romances that were so short even for that type of book they were short. And yet after a very few pages I was emotionally invested. I have read thousands of books in my life, many different genres and I have never read another author who could suck me in so quickly . I am strictly a reader but I wanted to try and analyze how she did it but every time I reread one of hers I got sucked back into reading and analysis went out the window . Anyway that ability to grab a reader in the first few pages is gold, just saying.Another topic . My husband and I are getting a dog . Because we are retired and travel frequently I am reading a series of books written by Michelle Welton . She makes some excellent points about feeding your dog raw meat ( I know, ick, gross) and I won’t be doing that when we travel but I know Zee has had problems and I thought about you and Zee while I was reading . 11 Things You Must Do Right To Keep Your Dog Healthy is the book on raw feeding by Michelle Welton . Happy New Year 🎉
Ooh, you would love Writing for Story. She speaks to exactly that point — a good story is immersive and if it’s immersive, by definition you can’t un-immerse yourself enough to figure out how it’s done. I got that one out of the library or I’d be looking for some exact quotes for you, but the author (Lisa Cron) specifically discusses how difficult it is to analyze what makes a story work, since in a good story, you’re involved, not analytical. Oh, one quote from my notes: “The first job of any good story is to anesthetize the part of our brain that questions how it is creating such a compelling illusion of reality.”!! It was also probably something specific to your relationship with those characters, because according to her, “Stories grab us when they allow us to experience how it would FEEL to navigate the plot” (the caps are mine) and it’s easier to do that when you connect to the character. And I’ll add that book to my lengthy reading list!
Wow , I did not know that was a thing but that is interesting to me. When IJ went mainstream with her Eve Dallas character I continued to read her but I have different levels of belief suspension depending on the genre and after reading 5 or 6 and mentally saying “oh come on ! ” I quit reading her. I maintain she was a better romance writer than suspense/police procedural but she does quite well so what do I know. I followed Tami Hoag into mainstream but her and John Sandford (both set in Minnesota coincidentally ) literally gave me nightmares they were so violent . I had to quit reading both of them . I read for pleasure only so if my fiction doesn’t leave me happy I drop them . I guess I am fickle that way. Still if Iris J. , or Tami Hoag wrote a new romance I would buy it .
Eve Dallas is actually Nora Roberts, not Iris J, but I agree on IJ’s mainstream books – they got dark. I stopped reading her, too. I’m also not a fan of books that give me nightmares and I’m definitely susceptible! I don’t remember reading any Tami Hoag, though, so I might have to look for her. At least her older romances, anyway!
Oops, I am still reading Eve Dallas, I meant Eve Duncan, she is IJ’s main character . The Eve Dallas series by Nora Roberts can get really dark too….so far I’ve read them all. I’m not sure what or where the threshold lies but after 6 or so Prey books by John Sanford I couldn’t stomach another one , Lee Child can get dark too but I’m still reading and waiting eagerly for the next Reached book. Interesting and something I’ve never examined before .
Me, too. Still learning, I mean. 😉 and a lot of similar kinds of things catch my interest.
I was thinking of you a few weeks ago when I finished reading CiCi for the 3rd? 4th? time ~ and thinking how much I enjoyed it, again, and that I really should write and tell you so . . . when, of course, the next bit of chaos or emotional flotsam came up and I didn’t.
So here I am in the second half of a long awaited and much needed vacation trip (we fly home Friday afternoon), which as we’re staying with loving friends who are more like family, has been more a healing retreat than a “vacation trip” ~ which means I’ve had time and heart space for some drawing and reading and some sips at flowers I don’t often take time to pause at . . . and I find this post.
And since, as Frost has it, “way leads to way,” (at least for me) I went from this post (which I very much liked) to the related one you mention, or one of them (Dear Writer . . .) . . . delighted to find that CiCi is your most fun reread. The uncoincidental coincidence <3
I've snipped a bit of your prose from that second post as well:
"life is better when you focus on what brings you joy and not on . . . " for me, that sentence ends with "your shoulds and oughts." But you know, same dif, as we used to say. 😉
I'm going to try to remember it, too.
Have your best and happiest year so far in 2020, sugar 🙂
That is serendipitous! That sounds like a lovely vacation, and I’m glad you also love Cici. 🙂 I hope your 2020 is also your best and happiest year so far!
Cheryl Greer said:
Happy New Writing Year! Really hope there is more of the Tassamara Series coming in the next year. I am not a science fiction fan but love your “ghost stories”. A devoted fan.
Thank you! I am planning on going back to Tassamara this year — hopefully with a story that will take me a lot less time to tell than Grace did!
I loved that series too! And will happily follow you back there too or Fen or Cici or wherever .
Otters?? Oooh, yes, Otters! LOL And for sure more Tassamara. Can’t get enough of that story. I tried to watch Inception last night (Matt Damon) and found it too confusing. The comment (above) about getting lost in a story rather than being able to analyze it reminded me of the movie’s plot of appearing in other people’s dreams. Strange…
That was a confusing movie, for sure! Fun, but confusing!