Wednesday, May 27, 2015

1 Some Thoughts on How to Become a Better Writer by Todd Hasak-Lowy

We are thrilled to welcome to the blog today an author who has dared to push beyond the boundaries of prose. Todd Hasak-Lowy's newest release, Me Being Me is Exactly as Insane as You Being You, is a novel told in lists. Lists. Perhaps he is very well suited to share with us his ideas on how to embrace your deformity to become a better writer! :-) Read on to discover his advice for breaking out of the "becoming a perfect writer" mentality.

Embrace Your Deformity: A WOW-Wednesday Post by Todd Hasak-Lowy

I think most of us, when we start off writing, have some idea in our head of the perfect writer. This writer is the writer who can do anything. We all want to be that writer, naturally. Someone who can create life-like characters, place them in a brilliantly crafted plot, and represent the whole thing through one magical sentence after another. Plus about twenty other daunting literary things.

But we tend not to start off like that. Usually, if we have any talent at all, it’s for just one or two things down along that long, long checklist of writerly skills. We have a finely tuned ear for dialogue, or an innate sense for pacing, or a boundless imagination for strange and wonderful details. Our instinct, as beginning writers regularly preoccupied with perfect writers, is to fudge the rest. This is understandable, because, to take just one example, what kind of novel or short story is made up of 90% dialogue?

We don’t trust that what we do well will be enough, because even if what we create is good on its own terms, it will seem incomplete and deformed in comparison to the perfect writer’s work. And no one wants to be incomplete, let alone deformed.

But here’s my advice, especially when starting out: embrace your deformity. No, celebrate it. For two reasons. First, there may be readers out there with similarly deformed tastes. Readers who, for instance, love nothing more than great dialogue that sounds to them like the actual voices of actual people, readers who are perfectly happy reading a story that is told through nothing more than a few people talking. After all, whatever ridiculous thing makes us writers believe there is something called a “perfect” writer out there probably also makes most readers believe there is something called a “perfect” book as well. But, it turns out, many wonderfully idiosyncratic readers are grateful for writing that might seem odd to everyone else.

Second, and more important, if that’s all you’re good at, don’t get hung up on the fact that what you’re writing right now is kind of weird. You don’t know how to end a scene, big deal. You can’t describe what someone looks like to save your life, you’re not alone. Figure out what you can do and lean on it with everything you’ve got. Because it’s not incomplete, it’s just different. Turn your talent, however small and inadequate it may seem to you, into a foundation you can rely on and build off of and call your own.

Let me give myself as an example. When I started writing, all I was interested in was playing around with words. I loved writing strange (and often very long) sentences. I was ignorant of such quaint matters as plot and character. Due to my ignorance of those things, most of the early pieces I wrote didn’t go anywhere. How could they, I had no idea what I was doing. But occasionally I would get lucky and stumble onto a viable plot or a character I somehow already knew. The results, though still kind of weird, now looked somewhat like actual fiction. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was forging a voice, which was all mine and rather unusual and, because of all my practice writing pieces that went nowhere, something I eventually could produce pretty much whenever I wanted. I actually published an entire book of short stories thanks more or less to this one conscious skill.

After a while, this one skill wasn’t as interesting to me as it once had been. Because this skill was no longer new, the writing I created through it no longer contained within itself the same vibrancy my prose had when every sentence felt like a great discovery. So, quite naturally, I found myself getting interested in other aspects of prose. Dialogue, in particular. Using the foundation I already had, I started writing (and, just as important, reading) with an eye on how characters speak in fiction. I wasn’t a master right away, but I got better and better until this was a genuine strength in my arsenal as well.

Moreover, I realized that this new strength had all along been connected to the first. If I liked to play around with language, then it only made sense—after getting my own voice down—that I’d find my way into other people’s voices. This is the case with whatever your talent may already include, because everything is connected. If you’re great at describing what things and people look like, then you’ll probably be able to figure out how to describe how their appearances change over time—which sounds to me awfully close to the beginnings of a plot.

There are hundreds of doors into the world of fiction, but probably only a few different rooms. The point is to find your way inside, patiently and confidently and not while pretending to be someone you’re not. After all, who wants to get invited to (or even just sneak into) the party of their dreams if they have to show up as a confused phony? If you can only (“only” should be in quotes here, because being able to do anything well ought to be enough) do things A and B, but then try, all at once, to take your best stab at things C through Z, you’ll wind up with a mess. Even worse, you’ll muddy up what you actually do well, because that precious thing will get lost in all the approximating and guessing and generalizing you’ll be forcing on yourself line after line.

So accept who you are right now and what you can write well right now. And know that if you serve your present ability as you should that it will serve you in return. Over time it will become a reliable home base from which you can wander in order to scrap together more skills. That’s how I write and try to grow as a writer. I’m always trying to take on some new aspect of writing that was once foreign to me. But always gradually and always in such a way as to import them into the stable set of skills I already have. My writing remains mine, even as it evolves. I’m still far from being that “perfect” writer, but I’m an ever-changing me, which as far as consolations go isn’t half bad.

About the Book:

Darren hasn’t had an easy year.

There was his parents’ divorce, which just so happened to come at the same time his older brother Nate left for college and his longtime best friend moved away. And of course there’s the whole not having a girlfriend thing.

Then one Thursday morning Darren’s dad shows up at his house at 6 a.m. with a glazed chocolate doughnut and a revelation that turns Darren’s world inside out. In full freakout mode, Darren, in a totally un-Darren move, ditches school to go visit Nate. Barely twenty-four hours at Nate’s school makes everything much better or much worse—Darren has no idea. It might somehow be both. All he knows for sure is that in addition to trying to figure out why none of his family members are who they used to be, he’s now obsessed with a strangely amazing girl who showed up out of nowhere but then totally disappeared.

Told entirely in lists, Todd Hasak-Lowy’s debut YA novel perfectly captures why having anything to do with anyone, including yourself, is:

  1. painful
  2. unavoidable
  3. ridiculously complicated
  4. possibly, hopefully the right thing after all.

Amazon | Indiebound | Goodreads

About the Author:

Todd Hasak-Lowy’s first young adult novel, Me Being Me is Exactly as Insane as You Being You, was recently published by Simon Pulse and is written entirely in lists. 33 Minutes, his first book for younger readers, came out in 2013. He will publish his second middle grade book, Somewhere There is Still a Sun, a memoir co-written with Holocaust survivor Michael Gruenbaum, later this year. Before writing for a younger audience, Todd published two works of fiction for adults, a short story collection (The Task of This Translator, 2005) and a novel (Captives, 2008). Todd lives in Evanston, IL with his wife and two daughters.

Website | Twitter | Goodreads

 -- posted by Susan Sipal, @HP4Writers

1 comment:

  1. This is fabulous. Just what I needed right now. So, thank you :) And the book sounds so amazing. Checking it out.


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