Penmonkey Gut Check

"Harden the Fuck Up Carebear" - Chuck Wendig

R. Lee Emery from Full Metal Jacket
“Harden the Fuck Up Carebear” – Chuck Wendig

One of the authors I can rely on for a much needed kick in the pants when it comes to writing is Chuck Wendig. Between his blog Terribleminds.com and his collected writing advice – that he has published in a number of books with catchy titles like – The Kick Ass Writer, 500 Ways to Tell A Better Story, 500 Ways to Be a Better Writer, and 500 MORE Ways to Be a Better Writer – I never fail to find something that I can apply to my own writing and situation. Chuck doesn’t sugar coat his advice, he’s like a foul-mouth drill Sargent that isn’t going to hold your hand while he tells it like it is. Picture R. Lee Emery from Full Metal Jacket getting all up in your face. That’s Chuck except instead of a funny hat, Chuck has a killer beard to intimidate you.

Today on Chuck’s blog he posted this:

Time Again For Your Penmonkey Evaluations

I think it’s good to evaluate yourself as a writer sometimes, just to see who you are and how you’re doing — where do you stand and where are you headed? If you’re planning on doing this thing really-for-realsies, sometimes a look at your paths and processes is worth doing.

So, a handful of quick questions. A survey, but informal — no data collection, here.

Answer in comments, if you’re so inclined. If you want to also post at your blog to generate discussion there, hey, go for it. (But please still try to leave your answers here, as well.)

a) What’s your greatest strength / skill in terms of writing/storytelling?

b) What’s your greatest weakness in writing/storytelling? What gives you the most trouble?

c) How many books or other projects have you actually finished? What did you do with them?

d) Best writing advice you’ve ever been given? (i.e. really helped you)

e) Worst writing advice you’ve ever been given? (i.e. didn’t help at all, may have hurt)

f) One piece of advice you’d give other writers?

Well, despite the fact that he didn’t swear once in that blog entry, totally diminishing my efforts to portray him as a badass, foul-mouthed writer, I thought it a great question and one worth exploring here.

Any other time I would be inclined to spend a few hours mulling over the questions and formulating a carefully crafted answer worthy of a public relations specialist intent on shielding a particularly slimy clients bad behavior, but today I thought I would try to do this reflexively without too much second guessing. Try to get to the heart of the matter without overanalyzing it and attempting to put too much spin on it.

Here goes nothing (and everything!):

a) What’s your greatest strength / skill in terms of writing/storytelling?

I’d like to think my greatest strength in terms of storytelling is my own twisted view on the world and the connections my brain makes. By that I mean the lens through which I see the world often triggers weird and wonderful connections that make me sit up and want to explore. Any writer worth their weight has the ability to string together some grammatically correct sentence that makes narrative sense. For me the magic lies in that writer taking you places you didn’t see coming and perhaps in a small way turning you on to their way of seeing the world through distorted lens. The fact Philip K. Dick is one of my go to authors should say a lot about my mindset.

b) What’s your greatest weakness in writing/storytelling? What gives you the most trouble?
Can I have more than one “greatest” weakness? How about a list? okay I will stick with two.

One, I find I struggle with character description. I am always struggling with finding appropriate ways to tie in description with the story and deciding what is worth describing. I tend to NOT describe characters on purpose to avoid having to address this issue and I know its not cutting it.

Two, I am terrible at plotting and often find myself going in circles in the middle of my stories, especially my longer pieces. I need to get better at either drawing myself a road map or at least pushing through to the end.

c) How many books or other projects have you actually finished? What did you do with them?

I’ve finished between 6-8 short stories that I have submitted all over the place. Finally sold one, but still waiting for it to be published – May 2014. Have another half dozen “short stories” unfinished that are way too long for most markets and need to be fleshed out into either novellas or novels. As for books I currently have one WIP on the go that has been lingering and I need to push through on it. No excuses.

d) Best writing advice you’ve ever been given? (i.e. really helped you)

That’s a tough one. There’s been so many pieces of advice that I have received at different stages of my writing life that have helped me move ahead and have that “ah-ha” moment. I think the best general one that I have gotten was to just write and not worry about if that first draft sucks. I know I held back as a writer for many years, because I often felt that a story had to be perfect in my head before I even put a sentence down on paper. I wasted much of youth not writing because of it.

e) Worst writing advice you’ve ever been given? (i.e. didn’t help at all, may have hurt)

I honestly don’t recall any terrible advice that I received. Probably because I tuned it out on hearing it and don’t remember. I think “generic” writing advice like “Write what you know” or “Show Don’t Tell” is pretty worthless unless you back it up when giving it to a newbie. Otherwise they are just more confused and afraid to write.

f) One piece of advice you’d give other writers?

A specific piece of advice I like to spout off about is don’t mistake detail for description. I’ve seen too many published authors include “shopping list” style descriptions or detailed descriptions of places, vehicles, rooms etc. that have no bearing on the actual plot or story other than to draw a very vivid detailed picture. If that is your style then perhaps you’d be better suited to writing catalog descriptions and not fiction. Description should be integral to the story and tied in with the action, plot, character development, and any of a 101 other things going on in your story.

Thanks to Chuck for the evaluation. Its good to take a moment every once and a while to ask yourself some hard questions about your writing and be honest with yourself. Even if you’re not prepared to share it with the world.

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