Saturday, August 9, 2008

Welcome Guest Blogger - Ian Randall Wilson

Hi! For all you readers who need a Twitter fix: It rained this morning.

Glad to have you here on the blog today. Let's offer up a big Fiction Matters welcome to Ian Randall Wilson!

Okay, I'm going to stop talking (writing) like a game show host.

Let's meet our guest blogger!

Ian Randall Wilson is the author of Hunger and Other Stories (Hollyridge Press 2000) and the poetry chapbook Theme of the Parabola (Hollyridge Press 2005). His short stories, poetry and essays have appeared in many journals including The New Gettysburg Review, The New Mexico Humanities Review, Alaska Quarterly Review, The Mid-American Review, England's New Hope International, Canada's Green's Magazine, and the North American Review. Winner of the 1994 Cera Foundation Poetry Award, he is an executive at Columbia TriStar Marketing Group. He is the managing editor of the poetry annual 88: A Journal of Contemporary American Poetry. He also teaches classes in fiction at the UCLA Extension.

A link for the two books:

Ian has put together this handy "tip" sheet on writing. It's great advice and ideas from someone who has been teaching writing for a long time. Feel free to print them out and put them somewhere you'll see them. If you want to share these tips with others, please direct them to this blog, or, ensure you give credit to Ian for his list.

Over the years I've come up with a few "tips" on aspects of writing. Here's 10 tips to consider:

1) THE TIME TO WRITE: You can't be creative unless you carve out space and time for yourself. As an author, I've met many people who tell me they have something they're dying to write but they never get around to writing it. I tell them the first step is setting aside a time where you're going to write in a place where you won't be interrupted. It doesn't require hours. You can do this in 10 or 15 minute increments. Eventually, the words will be there on the page and you'll be happily surprised at how much you get done.

2) HOW DO I START?: You don't need an outline. You don't need research. A character put into a situation is enough. Disrupt the everyday and see what happens. Follow them. Write down what they say and do. Things will happen.

3) ANOTHER WAY TO START: Another way I get people writing in my classes is to show them a black and white photograph but only for a few seconds. A flash of image is all you need. Because the color has been removed from the picture, our imaginations will now supply all the missing information. You can write about the picture itself or whatever the picture inspires.

4) WHAT TO WRITE ABOUT: But sometimes it is hard to know what to write about. I tell my students at the UCLA Extension, to write only the first sentence of a story about something good that happened to them or someone they know. And then another story, and another. Do five minutes without stopping. Then they reverse and write the first sentence of a story about something bad that happened to them or someone they know. Again, write only the start of each story, continuing for five minutes. The assignment later is to look at one of these story starts that seems promising and write the next sentence and the next unless something is completed. The exercise always generates story starts for quite a few pieces.

5) INSPIRATION: As an author thinking about my latest project, inspiration strikes at the most unlikely times. It's those moments when I'm not consciously thinking about a story that something will pop into my head. Inevitably I'll be in the shower or just about to go to sleep. I have a pad in the bathroom and by my bed. If something comes to me, I step out of the stall or rouse myself and write it down. (For your shower sessions, waterproof ink helps!) Don't think the idea will still be there later. When it comes to you, seize it, and write it down, before it flashes away.

6) ON INFLUENCE: Some people say that when they're writing, they don't want to be "influenced." But influences are all around us in the logos on clothing, billboards and outdoor advertising, things we hear on the radio or see on the internet. Unless you're Thoreau sitting by the pond, you can't cut yourself off from the world. So if I must be influenced, then let it be by good influences. Before starting a writing session, I usually ease into it by reading. I'll read poetry or philosophy or some other subject than what I'm working on. This gets my mind in the right frame and very often suggests a new direction or a new idea in my writing.

7) PERMISSION TO FAIL: Many times I hear from my students that they think their work is no good. Your work is "no good" -- in the first draft, and you have to give yourself permission to write "badly" or you'll never get it down on the page. In our culture, we spend a lot of time and effort judging ourselves: How do we look? Are we buying the right beer? The right car? Are we with the right lover? Did we go to the right school? Do we live in the right neighborhood? Are we thinking the right thoughts? It's exhausting. Make a resolution to yourself: write that first draft and don't even consider if it's good or bad or right or wrong or working or not. Wait until revision to make any critical judgments.

8) FORWARD PROGRESS: Along with permission to fail comes another idea and that is how to make forward progress in a first draft. Every year I facilitate a class at UCLA Extension as part of National Novel Writing Month. One of my strategies for writing is to tell the group never go back, never erase, never cross-out. Move forward and only forward. Every time you go back, every time you erase or cross-out, you're judging yourself and as soon as the critics jump on your shoulder, that's a sure way to impede your forward progress.

9) CHARACTER--THINK BEYOND SURFACE: Many writing guides advise making character by knowing what they wear, eat, drink, how they walk -- as if characters are created the way you might construct a building with a materials list and a blueprint. Try thinking about your character's worldview. Consider their moral, ethical and philosophical outlook on the world. From their worldview will spring all the surface features including appearance, gesture and manner of speech. But you'll also generate behavior, action/reaction and deed in ways that may surprise you and the story.

10) END ON AN IMAGE: The best endings are not final but ambiguous, open outward to greater mystery and levels of interpretation. Consider ending your pieces on an image that is consistent with your main character's worldview. You'll discover that that piece will seem deeper and more resonant, and that your choice of image has "shown" us something significant about the character and the story that we'll think about afterward.

These 10 tips are just a few ways to start thinking about different aspects of fiction. Some people worry that thinking or analyzing how to write fiction will somehow destroy the magic. I don't agree. What it will do is give you avenues and approaches to your work. Every writer -- whether it's the person setting down his or her first word or a Nobel laureate -- has to face the blank page. A writing practice and some inroads about how fiction works make that blank page a little less threatening, a little less scary.
Hey! Feeling inspired? I am. Sometimes the best way to start is to simply start!
Which tip "spoke" to you?
Do you have something to add to the tip list? Let's hear it!
I bid you good writing.

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