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  • Writer's pictureAshton Spear

On Writing

Updated: Apr 5, 2021

I’ve always enjoyed reading. As I kid, I would oftentimes sit with a book into the early hours of the morning because I was so engrossed with the story that I had to see how it ended: Mossflower, from the Redwall series for example. I remember sitting up until two or three o'clock in the morning reading under the dim hallway nightlight, tears streaming down my face as I read the last few pages. The Road by Cormac McCarthy also springs to mind. I'll never forget the fact that I could almost hear my heart beating while I read those lines about the man and the boy making their way down into THAT basement, and the horrific discovery therein. It was the first time a book had made me truly terrified.

I love to read. It's just finding time for it amongst everything else going on. Well, thanks in large part to recent events, I've had more time to just sit down and read. And it has rekindled a long-lost love affair with literature. So much so that I've been thinking more and more about trying to write something of my own. Again, something I used to love as a kid. Be that my own Spider-Man comics, or short stories about my sister and a missing cat.

Over the years I’ve read books and taken classes that are all about how to become a writer. How to start, how to improve, play writing, adaptation, screenwriting secrets, etc. It's something I've dove into 100% for short periods of time when the spark of a story idea strikes, only for something else to pull me away, leaving me with a folder full of half-finished word documents on my desktop. The times I actually miss university deadlines! The funny thing is that when I am able to bring a piece of writing to fruition, it actually doesn't turn out that bad, or at least that's what the limited feedback I've received would lead me to believe. I suppose like many things, I’m filled with self-doubt and find it hard to trust that anything I write is good. So, my brain says, 'you can't do this,' and I give up before seeing it through to the end.

So how can I change that? How can I become a better writer? No matter how many courses I take, how much money I spend on them, or how many books I read on the subject of writing, the keys to becoming a writer seem to circle back to two main points:

  1. Just read. Read a lot. Read everything.

  2. Practice, practice, practice.

The most recent book I read that drove this first point home was On Writing by Stephen King. It’s one of the best. Half memoir, half instructional, there's no fluff, no hyperbole, no step-by-step exercises that guarantee results. What I think is his biggest tip to becoming a better writer, is to just read more. A lot more. And read everything regardless of where your primary interests lie. Apparently, he reads close to eighty books a year! So that's what I'll aim to do. Eighty books by the end of this year. That works out to about six and a half books a month. Jesus. That’s doable right? Yes! Positive thoughts. That's point 1. That's goal 1.

Point 2: practice, practice, practice. This is where a blog comes in handy, and why I've decided to start one. After finishing each book I'll write down some thoughts, feelings, things I liked, or things I didn’t. Maybe even some quotes or passages that I found particularly memorable. The kind of stuff I'd like to be able to write myself one day. It will be a way to practice my own writing. Practice, practice, practice. I also might, if I'm feeling particularly brave enough, use this blog for some of the writing exercises in Jeff Vandermer's incredible Wonderbook, which I've also been dipping in and out of recently.

I should say that I’m definitely going to be following the Gertrude Stein approach to writing when it comes to whatever I do end up putting in this blog. She has less of a focus, if any, on structure and grammar. It's more free form. Like jazz. Take these absurdly brilliant lines from her book, How to Write:

"Is there grammar in a title. There is grammar in a title. Thank you."

"I am not having it. Is that a possible tense. No it is not."

"Forget grammar and think about potatoes"

That's point 2. Practice, practice, practice. Goal 2? I’d like to proudly say, that by the end of 2021, I’ve written something. Anything. Be that a novel, play or script of some kind. Something I’d be happy to call a first draft that has some potential I can build on. I hope this blog, being public, will give me the much-needed push to keep at it, rather than something I talk about doing, and never actually getting around to. I doubt many people will read this anyhow, and I'm probably just be typing into a void right now, but that's OK.

The first book I’ve chosen, supposedly a pillar of sci-fi literature, is Dune by Frank Herbert. It’s one I’ve had on my shelf for ages and never got around to reading. Admittedly, I partially chose it because of the incredible trailer for the upcoming Denis Villeneuve film adaptation. Shout-out to my fellow Canadian!

So, with all that in mind, let’s go. First blog post written? Check. Practicing already! No turning back now. Just need to click Publish.

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