Notes from An Alien

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Tag Archives: writers on writing

Do We Really Know What “Writing” Is?

I’m a writer…

I’ve published 5 books and I’m working on number 6…

I’ve been writing this blog for 3 years, 9 months, and 29 days…

The longer I’ve been writing the more writing has changed…

Most of us learn to write at a young age—most of us do some sort of writing daily—some of us do professional writing—some do creative writing—some creative writers make a living at it…

Yet how often do we notice how we change as writers?

29 days into the life of this blog, I wrote a post called, Really, No *Really*, What The Heck Is Writing?

Since I’m 29 days into the 10th month of the 4th year of this blog—and, because the work on my 6th book is taking me to new realms of writing—I’ll reproduce that “old” post here (plus the comments it got…).


So many things in life are taken for granted. So much is automated. Even things like Love can suffer from a lack of proper awareness.

Ever walk down a street you’ve been down hundreds of times and wonder at some detail that seems like it just appeared yet has always been part of the landscape?

Perhaps I can do that for you in this post—give you a fresh vision of what the heck Writing really is.

I often find that checking an Etymology Dictionary gives me fresh perspectives on words and concepts that have become a bit stale.

“Write” has roots that mean carve, scratch, cut, or paint.

Pardon me while I let the poetic side of my personality take control for a minute:

Authors can sometimes be said to “carve” a place for themselves in our culture.

There are also many writers barely “scratching” out a living.

Many wish they could “cut” a swath of recognition through the crowd of other writers.

And, our favorite writers are those who “paint” images in our minds with their words.

Anyone who ranks high on tests of left-brained activity is probably cringing at such a poor example of the application of word roots to an understanding of the meaning of writing.

You right-brained folks are probably creating other, equally-poetic examples :-)

You! Citizen! Step away from the keyboard!!

Keyboards aren’t real good at carving, scratching, cutting, or painting. But the many former instruments of writing did all those things.

This attempt to go back a few steps so we can advance our understanding of writing has just reminded me of the many comments I see in the Twitter stream for #amwriting declaring, sometimes with boldness, sometimes with an excuse, that the Tweep is actually using a pen and paper for their WIP.

Just like my glee at saying my favorite word is “word”, I find an absurd pleasure in perusing written attempts at defining “writing”. Kind of like reciting the Kama Sutra while making love. Or, even better, putting two mirrors face to face and creating an infinite regress. And, possibly best, the self-importance of this example of self-reference: “I think the first word in this sentence is egotistical.

Seems like I’ve written myself into a corner: Carved a cul-de-sac, Scratched a non-existent itch, Cut off more than I can chew, Painted something non-representational…

Still, writing exists and I’m doing it now.

Your Feelings, Thoughts, Written Affidavits, Rants, or Explanations??


Simone Benedict January 29, 2011 at 7:46 pm

  1. Well….to me writing is carving, scratching, cutting, and painting. In my mind, writing is still work that is much like the stone mason. It involves getting wet, dirty, and sweaty but the end result is still something beautiful (hopefully).

    As a ‘rant,’ it seems to me some people see being a writer in very romantic terms (I’m guilty of it at times for sure). So while I would like to think I can sit in my unheated garret waxing artistically along in some kind of egotistical and isolated way, the truth is I have to spend my time out in the world getting my hands dirty–a point you address in the post about walking down the street and seeing details. To me that is what the heck writing really is. Getting your hands dirty then rushing home to wash them so you can hammer out what you’ve experienced on your keyboard…or sharpening your quill and scratching it out on some paper, whatever your tools are.

    Alexander M Zoltai January 29, 2011 at 7:58 pm

    I *Love* the way your right-brainedness made a beautiful left-brain-appealing point, Simone.

    Writing is Work.

    BTW, Happy Kansas Day !!!

  2. Karla Telega January 29, 2011 at 8:26 pm

    There are a lot of gaps in the English language. There are different interpretations of any given word. The reader is an important part of writing, since it’s his interpretation of words that make them real. If a tree falls in the forest and nobody is there, does it make a sound? We give ourselves all kinds of credit for creating images with our writing, but it’s the reader who makes writing real.

    Alexander M Zoltai January 29, 2011 at 8:40 pm

    Must repeat these words, Karla !!!:

    “The reader is an important part of writing, since it’s his interpretation of words that make them real….We give ourselves all kinds of credit for creating images with our writing, but it’s the reader who makes writing real.”

  3. Simone Benedict January 29, 2011 at 8:28 pm

    You do think I have right-brainedness, Alex? Gasp…are you sure? Is that the side that does math and stuff? If so, then no that side has atrophied.

    Yes, writing is work but it is mostly fun work, I think.

    Happy Kansas Day….lol. For a deep thinker, you sure do have a great sense of humor.

    Alexander M Zoltai January 29, 2011 at 8:35 pm

    Simone, the right brain is all about imagery and color and sensation and meaning…

    Writing=Fun Work {taking notes from my commenters…}

    Deep thinker? Hmmm… Must ponder that statement………………………:-)

    Thing is, I’ve done so damned much thinking, at such depth, that the underlying humor of life has risen to the surface of my worn-out brain…

  4. sfnowak January 30, 2011 at 3:28 pm

    As you know, my preferred writing instrument is a fountain pen. It feels like I’m writing and adds a certain flow. However, when I write a blog or an article, I think through my fingers a the keyboard. Long ago I stopped trying to figure it out and just decided it was one of my life’s many dichotomies, or evidence of schizophrenia, or maybe even creativity.

    Alexander M Zoltai January 30, 2011 at 3:49 pm

    Well, Steve, back when my destiny of becoming a writer was still an unconscious urge—grade school—I loved my fountain pens; and, even back then, about 50 years ago, I was strange because the usual tool was a ballpoint pen.

    If I have only dichotomy, schizophrenia, or creativity to choose from, I must select creativity :-)

  5. Simone Benedict January 30, 2011 at 4:23 pm

    Thanks for straightening me out, Alex. I’ve confused my right brain with my left brain again. Drat, that stupid dyscalculia continues to befuddle me!

    I still like using the antiquated tools for writing, but my keyboard is so much like a musical instrument. I can pound out rhythms that are delightful to my ear even when the rest of the world fails to hear them.

    Alexander M Zoltai January 30, 2011 at 4:51 pm

    Wow, Simone, thanks! Always love seeing a word I don’t know the meaning of :-)

    O.K., since waving our hands in the air seems to be the cutting edge of user interfaces, we can say that “writing” comes from roots that include: carve, scratch, cut, paint, and pound out rhythms…

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More Writers On Writing

Six days ago, I published a post called Writers On Writing.

It had four videos—various perspectives on the writing process

And, in a post from last year, The “Right” Way To Write ~ Writing Advice for The Brave . . ., I had these two quotes:

“For every ‘rule’ in the books, some book of creative writing has successfully ‘broken’ it.”


“For every complex problem there is a simple solution, and it’s wrong.”

Then, there was the post, Writing Advice, Even from Well-Known Authors, Can Be “Dangerous” . . ., that had links to a number of authors “rules” for writing.

In this post, I think my best advice for writers is:

If you’re going to go looking for writing advise, first, write a bunch of stuff, revise it, write some more, revise that, then, maybe, seek out other writers’ advice

One other tip (besides reading a lot) is to avail yourself of the Top Tags widget in the left side-bar—four tags (which will pull up over 240 posts) that you may want to visit are “Writers Resources”, “Writing”, “Writing Advice”, and “Writing Tips”.

So, here are four videos of authors giving their advice:

Anne Rice

Ian McEwan

Neil Gaiman

Elmore Leonard

And, if you think there are too many men in that short list, go here

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Writers On Writing

I have a trio of videos for you today:

* Jerry Pinto and Nilanjana Roy at The Hindu Lit for Life 2013.

* A two-part video with a group of 4th and 6th grade writers (from about 9 to 11 years old).

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Bad Advice for Writers

I’ve expressed my opinion on this topic many times—30 posts specifically on writing advice—many comments on the side

Back in July of 2012, I wrote the post, Rules for Writers Are Slippery and Shifty . . ., which has a link to 72 quotes from writers about writing.

I picked 14 of my favorites and included them in the post—here’s my top fav:

“Literature is strewn with the wreckage of men who have minded beyond reason the opinions of others.”
—Virginia Woolf

So, keeping that in mind, I’ll share a few selections from an article on FlavorWire called, Bad Writing Advice From Famous Authors:

{some may seem obviously bad to you, some may not…}

“You never have to change anything you got up in the middle of the night to write.”
— Saul Bellow

“Consistency is the last refuge of the unimaginative.”
— Oscar Wilde

“Write drunk; edit sober.”
— Ernest Hemingway

“You must refrain from rewriting, except to editorial order.”
— Robert A. Heinlein

“Never use a long word where a short one will do.”
– George Orwell

So which ones seem like bad advice to you?

Which don’t seem so bad?

Any of them seem like good advice?

By the way, there are quite a few more at the link, along with Emily Temple‘s opinions about why they’re bad advice

Please, don’t hold back, let us know your favorite piece of bad writing advice in the Comments :-)
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Writers On Writing ~ A List That Can Inspire

Interested in “writing processes, revision strategies, the business of publishing, and the overall life of a writer”?

I blog about topics like that and I look for other writers who do the same. But, like many things on the Internet, there are good sites and not so good sites

I featured Kate Messner in a post titled, Critique Is Not A Bad Word, because I found her writing style compelling and her way of sharing information honest.

So, naturally, if she offers writing advice, I’m going to pay attention; and, if she lists other authors she likes to read, I’m going to share that list :-)

Check out her page called, Writers, for her top writing tips and her pick of 18 authors worth reading.

Her story about when she learned the importance of finding her own unique voice as a writer is priceless!

And, if you want my pick for best book by a writer about writing, try John Gardner‘s, The Art of Fiction: Notes on Craft for Young Writers. ( “Young” in that title doesn’t refer to chronological age :-)
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