Creative Writing

Fiction Prediction: How Crichton Prophesied Our Awful Internet Age

The past two or three years, in my late twenties, I’ve almost exclusively read fiction. Call it escapism, call it the consequences of a creative writing college program, call it what you want — but after years of reading memoirs, business biographies and spiritual poetry, I’ve sunk my brainteeth into something else. I read fiction because I believe that is where the truth lies.

The author, or the voice, or narrator — whatever — through the guise of fiction is freer to speak.

As original hipster Sir Philip Sidney famously wrote:

Now for the poet, he nothing affirmeth, and therefore never lieth. For, as I take it, to lie is to affirm that to be true which is false; so as the other artists, and especially the historian, affirming many things, can, in the cloudy knowledge of mankind, hardly escape from many lies. The poet, as I said before, never affirmeth… He citeth not authorities of other histories, but even for his entry calleth the sweet Muses to inspire into him a good invention; in troth, not laboring to tell you what is or is not, but what should or should not be. And therefore though he recount things not true, yet because he telleth them not for true he lieth not.”

-The Defense of Poesy (1595)

Kevin, why are you quoting poetry? You don’t even like poetry.

Because I’m about to quote a Jurassic Park book, and I want to seem smart before I do.

What Sidney is saying is that the poet (or the author) has more power to tell the truth than anyone else, because storytelling taps into something that arguments, facts, and heavy rhetoric cannot. It taps into the human experience, which, of course, is truth. The reader is not agreeing or liking characters, but absorbing and experiencing, seeking to understand and further enrich his or her life. We might not agree with Ahab, for instance, on his search for the white whale, and we’re certainly not rooting for Kurtz in the African jungle, but we understand their quests and motives, and it teaches us something about ourselves, even if it’s dark and ugly.  

Whew. Okay, that took too much brain power.

A few months ago I read the sequel to Michael Crichton’s mega-famous novel, Jurassic Park, called The Lost World, and there was a passage in a stretch of dialogue that metaphorically punched me in the proverbial stomach.

Those who have read Crichton’s novels know the man was a genius. Agree or disagree with his logic, the guy had brains. As it turns out, the late science fiction author (that is, science with a sprinkle of fiction) of The Andromeda Strain, Jurassic Park, Sphere, and a bunch of other fantastic tales, was also a passive-aggressive Internet prophet.

In Crichton’s 1995 novel, The Lost World, his protagonist — the chaos-theory-mathematician Ian Malcolm (played brilliantly by Jeff Goldblum in the movies) — aptly predicts our modern, ultra-aware, internet-addicted, hyper-connected population. His outlook, however, is bleak.

the-animal-world-dinos-pic-13

Our Lost World

“I think cyberspace means the end of our species.”

Say what now? (more…)

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Launching a Career in Freelance Writing: Leads, Clients and Pay Rates

Like a pack of baby seals conscious of the ever-pervasive and always hungry predator, writers stick together. One question I often hear is, “How can I make money on my writing?”

My answer is usually the same: build a blog, makes business cards, and network until you bleed.

Then I hear: “Shut up — it’s not that simple.”

I say: “Yes. It is.”

Them: “What can I do?”

Kevin: “Whatever they want.”

They say: “What if I’m not qualified?”

Me: “Can you write?”

Them again: “Do pigeons crap in the winter?”

Me: “Weird question, but yes. Then you’re qualified.”

#FreelanceMagic

There are too many obstacles keeping writers from working professionally. The biggest one is insecurity. That’s how it was for me, at least. I had been writing (creatively) since I was 10. Yet, I believed — before I could ever sell my skill — that I needed to be a perfect writer, that I needed to reach some rarefied echelon, some snooty status.

Then I realized: The only way I’d get there is if I started writing. And if I did it all the time.

Then I realized: I didn’t need to be Hemingway to write a business blog. Or advertising copy.

So then: I wrote.

And then I found: Most of my clients couldn’t write a sentence to save their lives. Or they hated the effort it took. Or they just didn’t have the time. Whatever it was, they needed my help for a reason. To them, I was the second coming of Hemingway or (depending on the client) Dr. Seuss. (more…)

How I Write Right (or, #ThisThatAndTheOther)

The other day I was asked to participate in a “How I Write” blogroll by my friend Tony from A Way With Words. He wrote a great post called “Brewing a Fine Story: My Writing Process,” and he nominated me to keep the blogroll rolling. Unfortunately, Tony overestimates my ability to keep my word, and I haven’t had any time to appropriately nominate any other writers. Nevertheless, I have highlighted a few writers (at the bottom) without their foreknowledge. Whether they keep this going will be up to them.

SIDE NOTE: Check out their blogs if you can.

In Tony’s blog, I thought he hit the writing process on the head: “1. Read 2. Steal. 3. Repeat.” I’m tempted to just stop there. But I won’t because research suggests you’re willing to read up to 500 words. So I’m going to write 600 and cut 100 out. I’m getting ahead of myself.

Kevin’s Awesome Writing Knowhow Process for Blog Domination

When it comes to short story and fiction, I’m still very much finding my groove. And let’s be honest, no one wants to see my groove. Below is an ordered list that reflects my nonfiction writing process.

For my blog, there are two writing tracks: a) Inspired b) Needful

Inspired

1. An idea hits me from one of many sources (e.g., my wife’s wisdom, a recent life experience, any time I’m in church, a bat in my bedroom)

2. If I can’t write it in the moment, I’ll put a note in my iPhone Notes app

3. As soon as I can, I’ll jump on the computer at home and write directly in to WordPress

4. Though I wish I could say I wrote without stopping and saved the editing for the second draft, I just simply don’t. I go line by line. It takes forever. However, if I’m inspired, I usually can’t stop writing, and the best stuff rarely requires much tinkering. (more…)

Famous Writers in Hell, a recap

Last weekend, I had the pleasure of seeing Famous Writers in Hell, a one-act play I wrote and submitted to the 16th Annual Rochester One-Act Festival. What an experience! I’ve said this so many times now it sounds cliche, but there is no stranger (or awesomer) experience than seeing written characters come to life.

The festival was written, directed, and produced entirely by University of Rochester students. The quality of production and acting was to be a surprise to me, being unfamiliar with UR theater besides one performance. I had no idea what to expect! Just to be safe, in the months prior to the festival, I convinced myself everything would be awful and that I should prepare for the worst.

“Probably be poopy!” I would say. Or, “Oh yeah, that’s coming up?”

Also, I thought it best to stay away from the production team as much as possible. The director seemed both capable and passionate; besides, I wanted to see someone else’s interpretation. Since I’m busier than a vacant badger, it wasn’t very hard to keep my distance. I’m glad I did. The surprise of the performance was an experience I doubt I’ll soon (if ever) forget.  (more…)

5 Lessons for the Workshop Writer

Now, my darlings, a quick lesson on workshopping. Every writer must seek feedback on his or her work. It’s imperative. Thirty minutes in a workshop table can fuel you for an entire week. Don’t accept the adage of “All work and no play make Johnny a dull boy,”—a writer by himself going crazy from the lonely craft. Writing is, or should be, a team effort.

Last semester I had a playwright workshop course; currently, I’m in a short story workshop. Because I’m nice, I thought I’d share what I’ve learned. You’re welcome, America (and possibly Croatia).

Fair Warning: This blog post was not workshopped. I know, I know.

Here’s my top 5 lessons from the workshop table.

1) Prepare for the worst. Sorry, but your first draft wasn’t perfect. Embrace what’s coming. Get into the habit of looking forward to the edits. (Edits are your friends. They take you to new places and introduce you to new things.)  (more…)

The Best Writer in the Room (Give or Take 30 English Students)

As many of you know, I just started my Junior year here at the University of Rochester, NY. I’m studying entrepreneurship but also creative writing, as a minor. I’m a transfer student which means I came from a community college.

In the first week of school, my playwright professor led the class in a writing “Impulse” exercise. Basically, it goes like this:

You close your eyes and relax. A detailed scene is spoken before you and after a few quiet moments, you write non-stop for fifteen-minutes.

I’ve done these exercises before but have never really appreciated them. Often, other writers tell me the importance of writing a first draft non-stop without editing. Personally, I hate doing that. I don’t know why. I stop and read and edit. I’m positive it’s why my blog posts take so damn long.

Regardless, I did the impulse-exercise and the results came out as expected: a jumbled mess of words and a decent start. Nothing to write home about.

I was ignorant because I assumed everyone around me had a similar situation. A complete mess. But I was wrong. The professor asked students to read their work. Out-loud. Yes. I was wrong.

I listened to my classmates read their work, and it was absolutely amazing. I’m surrounded by wonderful, talented writers. In the fifteen minutes of writing, most (if not all) managed wonderful characters, detailed settings, and accomplished word-usage. I looked down at my work:

The cat go meow. Dog chase it on park. Cow go moo. 

Crap. I have some work to do.

Chicken Scratch

For most of my academic career, I’ve been the best writer in the room. That reads kind of cocky, but it’s true. Students in community college just don’t care. I put actual effort into my papers and found it really easy to impress my instructors and fellow students. Scholarships, literary journals, 4.0, etc.

At Rochester, the tables have turned. I’m no longer the best writer in the room. It turns out, everybody in the room is a good writer and often better.

Wait. Don’t Go! I’m not fishing for compliments (I promise).

As tempted as I was to drop-out and reenroll in community-chicken-college to satisfy my comfort zone, I know it would do me no good. It hurts when you learn you’re not the best at what you thought you were. I’m a decent writer; I know that, but I need to grow. That’s okay. I can always get better.

Despite the gross sense of intimidation and inadequacy I’ve faced this last week, I’m absolutely positive I’m in the right place. Every writer needs a push, and I’ve been pushed. In fact, since that first class, I’ve been working on my writing more than I ever have. Thank God for that. 

(I know it’s healthy because it stings).

Ever find yourself in a similar situation? Any advice? How do you write a first draft?