Writing in the Rain

Image

I felt driven to put up another short post by the incredible thunderstorm that’s been raging in Nashville for the past 24 hours.

I’ve been cooped up for about a week now studying for my second semester senior year finals (my last finals ever), and I’m wishing that I had more time to write.  The lightning that flashes outside of my window and the thunder that makes my desk and floor shake haven’t let up a bit in the last day.  I’m reminded of going out onto my back porch during a summer thunderstorm a few years ago to write while the rain came down all around me.  None of us can control the weather, but if we could I might choose to write in the rain more often than not.

I remember stepping onto the porch and loving the soothing sound of the rain as it hammered on the roof.  I didn’t need to listen to music because I had the drumming of the raindrops.  It smelled like Summer.  I sat in a comfortable chair at a round glass table with nothing on it but my computer.  Every once in a while a flash of lightning would make me glance up, and I would wait a few seconds for the thunder to roll in.  I remember pausing to look up and finding that two hours had passed.  I’d written just over 4,000 words.  And it was still raining.

Maybe you should avoid this if you’re trying to write the happiest of scenes.  But if you’re really wrestling with some idea or question or issue in your writing, which I hope everyone is at some point because that’s what makes for the best stories, I would recommend giving it a try.

If April shower bring May flowers, what do May flowers bring?

Image

Pilgrims!

The Magic of Words

Image

Image

Proof that even fictional characters can give us the inspiration and wisdom we need to keep on dreaming.

Every word, phrase, chapter, or series we create is a little piece of magic.

It’s a Me Monday

Image

Some of you might be asking, “So, who is this random guy that keeps making posts about writing like he knows what he’s talking about?”

To which someone else might answer, “I have absolutely no idea.”

“Well, why hasn’t he posted anything about himself?  I’m not looking for a biography, but just a bit of information might be nice.”

“I don’t know.  Maybe he hasn’t gotten around to it.  Maybe he’s shy.”

“More importantly, though, why do you think he’s having a hypothetical conversation with himself?  Does he realize it’s weird and a little creepy?”

“I… Well, I have no idea why he’s doing that.  I hope he stops soon.”

How do you start a blog post about yourself, I asked myself earlier today.  Apparently the conclusion that I came to is that I should be thoroughly strange.  I’ve never had a hypothetical conversation with myself out loud or written down before now, I promise.

Welcome to my first ever Me Monday, where I’d like to tell you a little bit about myself.  I’m thinking about doing this maybe once a month, to put a bit of a face and personality behind all of these posts about writing and craft.  Today I’m just going to answer a few of the most common questions people ask me.

What’s your name? My name is David Ben-Ami.  All through high school my friends called me David, but on my very first day of college the first three people I met were all named David and I decided I’d had enough.  My friends call me Dave now, with a lot of my closest friends calling me Benami.

Where are you from? I’m from a sleepy little suburb of DC, Rockville, Maryland.  When people ask me where I’m from I usually just say DC, and get a little embarrassed when they call me out by asking where in DC I’m from, to which I have to answer, “Oh, I’m actually from…”  Right now I’m about to graduate from Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee.

What did you want to be growing up? I always wanted to be an NFL running back – a dream I held onto until about fifth grade.  I latched onto the dream of becoming a writer in 9th grade and have never let go of it ever since.

What is your favorite book? Harry Potter.  If anybody dares say anything other than Harry Potter I’ll flick them on the nose.  (The tier right below Harry Potter is littered with books from The Stand and The Shining, to A Song of Ice and Fire – the Game of Thrones series, to The Silence of the Lambs).

What is your favorite movie?  Star Wars, although that’s actually six movies.  I just can’t stop admiring what an incredible story and universe that series created.  But perhaps my favorite thing about it was how they humanized Darth Vader in the form of Anakin Skywalker in the prequel movies.  You really understand the choices he made and see the tragedy behind the way he was manipulated.  If I had to choose a single movie I’d choose Inglorious Basterds.  I took a class on War on Screen last semester, and if you’ve watched that movie less than three times you’re really missing out.  I laugh more at that movie every single time I watch it.

What is the most important thing you can tell another person about yourself?  I love people.  People are great.  I love my family and my friends.  I love going out with them.  I love sitting on the couch watching sports and laughing with the guys.  I love the jokes you can start to make when you spend a lot of time over consecutive years with the same people.  I love the characters I create.  I love the characters I read about even more.  I find it hard to write because it’s a solo activity so I spend my time working at it furiously and concentrating hard because I know that once I finish there will be people for me to hang out with outside that I can laugh and have a good time with.

So that’s a little about myself, I hope it wasn’t too boring.  I also hope you got a little chuckle out of my semi-crazy conversation with myself at the beginning.  Until next time, stay creative.

Image

The Fear in Writing

Image

Why is writing so scary?  I mean, it is, isn’t it?  Maybe not always, but every once in a while you look down at your fingers and pause. Then you glance up at the page marker and whether it says 1, 5, or 500, it doesn’t matter.  You think, “Wow.  I’m positive that what just spilled out of my brain and onto that page is complete crap.”

Except that most of the time it’s not.  Something about writing makes us more critical about our own work than other people would be. That can be a good thing because it can drive us to do better.  But it can also be crippling.

Stephen King said, “I’m convinced that fear is at the root of most bad writing.”  That may be true but I’d like to respond with a follow up statement.  I’m convinced that fear is the root cause behind the loss of many great writers.  There could be thousands of amazing writers out there who just didn’t trust themselves to sit down and try writing.  Or to keep writing when they were discouraged.  Or to understand that we have to develop our skills – that they don’t just come to us fully formed.

Image

Many of us are also too afraid to put our work out there.  We’re afraid that our friends and family won’t like it.  That editors or agents will laugh at us.  But if they do, so what?  That just tells you to get better.  It gives you motivation to come back a day, month, or year later and show them that they were wrong.  Besides, any friends or family worth being close to us want to see us succeed and will help us get there.

“Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great.” — Mark Twain

So don’t let fear of any kind keep you from writing.  Don’t let it keep you from sharing your work.  Keep getting better and better, and when you feel it’s time, take a leap of faith and put it out there.

From the renowned master of perfection himself, “Artists who seek perfection in everything are those who cannot attain it in anything.” – Gustave Flaubert

Image

Short Stories… Why Bother?

Image

Do people even bother with short stories anymore these days?  When we read the biographies, memoirs, or quotes of the famous authors today, the older generation who have established themselves on real masters of storytelling, there is something that they all share in common: they started with the short story.  And not just one or two, but dozens of them.  But the short story seems to be disappearing from the popular spotlight today.  We rarely read them and it is even rarer for us to write them.  Does the short story have any merit anymore?

I wanted to write this post because as I let my finished rough draft sit on a shelf so that I can read it with fresh eyes I found myself with some free writing time.  I keep a prompt journal for all of my story ideas – one for novels and one for short stories.  There are a trio of shorts that I’ve been wanting to write for some time: one dark, one tragic, and one hopeful to wash it all down.  As I finish the second short, I’ve found something wonderful in writing these little stories (I’ve written about a dozen short stories in the past, but not for a while).

“Short stories are tiny windows into other worlds and other minds and other dreams. They are journeys you can make to the far side of the universe and still be back in time for dinner.” – Neil Gaiman

Short stories are fun to read and you don’t need to invest hours of your life to reap the rewards of finishing them.  Even more than that, I think that they’re fun to write and can teach a writer things that a novel can’t.  They teach us to make our words count, to drain the excess.  Writing a novel seems hard?  Try packing all of that character development, tension, plot, and message into 3,000 words. They also teach us to write about things that matter.  In a novel we can sometimes fall into the trap of putting in a scene because we like it.  It doesn’t move the plot forward or develop any of our characters but it’s “just so cool and fun!”  Try making that scene a short story.  You’ll re-read it and tell yourself, “Wait… why did I read that again?”

“The short story is an imploding universe.  It has all the boil of energy inside it.  A novel has shrapnel going all over the place.  You can have a mistake in a novel.  A short story has to be perfect.” – Colum McCann

Now, a short story doesn’t teach us all of the things that we need to write a good book, but it teaches us a few of the the things that writing a book can’t.  And that can make a good book great.

So if you have some time, take a stab at it.  Keep a prompt journal and give it a go.  Spend 30 minutes on it, or a whole day.  It’s fun and it can give us some instant gratification – something writer’s sorely miss.

What do you think about short stories?

“A short story is a different thing all together – a short story is like a kiss in the dark from a stranger.” – Stephen King

Image

Image

 

Finished! …Kind of

Image

I don’t mind taking a very brief post to shamelessly congratulate myself on finishing the first draft of my most recent project.  It took me several months but I now have an 89,200 word, 360 (paperback) page book that I wrote on my own.  It’s a book that needs a ton of revisions, rewrites, and edits, but it’s still there.

While writing the rough draft it seems like once we type that last word the journey will be over and we can package up the shiny new book and ship it off.  But the truth is that we’re far from done.  It’s time to dive into a whole new world of turning your vision from something choppy and half-realized into something polished and vaguely close to what you had imagined when you first sat down in front of the computer.

But it still feels nice.  When writing, sometimes it can take months or years to really finish a project, so we have to take our victories where we can.

Disclaimer: my printed manuscript looks nothing like the nicely type-written page above.  It’s not wrapped in a bow or artfully spread out in a half-circle like a deck of cards.  Here’s what it actually looks like:

Image

 

Happy writing to everyone out there working on their first draft.