Let’s Write Something

moon

Okay, okay, okay! We’ve all been stuck with our four walls and families for an eternity, and it’s beginning to wear thin.  We’ve cleaned out the fridge, we’ve cleaned out the garage, gone through 8 years of emails and binge-watched 6 years of television.  We’ve organized the towels by fluffy, the food by expiration date and the underwear by number of holes.  We’ve done all those stupid patio exercises and gained 5 kilos (11 pounds.)  We’ve taught the kids all the math we remember and nobody normal cares how long the 30 Years War was.  The dog is refusing to go “walkies,” and somebody stole the chocolate you hid in the tampons box (Steven, you bastard!)  So, now what?

This is the perfect time to write a national anthem for The Moon.

Think about it! You definitely have some time on your hands.  You wrote poetry when you were young, “moon” rhymes with everything (“swoon,” “June,” “raccoon”) and you can just steal the music from the public domain (“Moonlight Sonata,” perhaps?)  Plus, how cool would it be to be the person who wrote the national anthem for The Moon?  Like Way Cool!

The truth is, even though The Moon is central to the tides, the calendar and romantic love, humans have always treated it badly.  For example, there are 181 moons in our solar system — from Ganymede (bigger than the planet Mercury) to Deimos (smaller than Liechtenstein) — and every one of them has a name — except ours.  Ours is just “The Moon.”  C’mon folks!  Make an effort!

Meanwhile, people always say weird stuff happens whenever there’s a full moon.  Hey, that’s celestial profiling.  Venus doesn’t get that kind of abuse, and it spins backwards, for heaven’s sake.

Then there are the million and one songs supposedly written about The Moon that aren’t actually about The Moon, at all.  We have blue moons, harvest moons, moons hitting your eye like a big pizza pie and even bad moons rising — but nothing about The Moon itself.  You never hear lyrical lines like, “From thy rocky cratered majesty/Across your lifeless plain.”  Nobody ever sings that stuff.  No, Moon songs are always about love or lonely, or “My God, you make me horny.”  We look at The Moon and gush our emotions all over the place like water from a runaway garden hose, but when it comes to praising our shiny little friend, suddenly everybody’s mute.

However, even though we’ve treated our closest neighbour despicably for centuries, that isn’t the reason we need a national anthem for The Moon.  Here’s the deal!  The way things are going here on Earth, we’re probably going be living up there sooner than we think.  So, rather than getting caught with our pants around our ankles like we did with Covid-19 — let’s get prepared!

God save our gracious moon
Long live our shiny moon …

How am I doing?

First Lines Are Important

first lines

Writing is a complicated business, beset on all sides by pending disaster.  Those who choose to tell stories to strangers must begin at the beginning — and that’s where the trouble starts.  Tons of good tales die on the first line because they never get one.  Writing the first line of any story is hard.  Authors have a tiny window to convince potential readers that the approaching landscape is worth their time and trouble.  Unfortunately, most authors get it wrong.  For example, one of the most famous first lines in literature, “Call me Ishmael” is actually a total disaster.  It does nothing to pull the reader into the story.  In fact, it’s a little misleading.  The only important thing Ishmael does in Moby Dick is – uh – survive.  Melville would have done a better job with, “Call him Ahab!”  But seriously, a first line should leave the reader with a nagging feeling of what-the-hell-is-going-on-here? — and a strong temptation to find out.  Here are a few first lines that do exactly that.

It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.

George Orwell – 1984

My mother died today.  Or maybe it was yesterday; I can’t be sure.

Albert Camus – The Stranger

There was a hand in the darkness, and it held a knife.

Neil Gaiman – The Graveyard Book

Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins.  My sin, my soul.

Vladimir Nabokov – Lolita

The Man in Black fled across the desert, and the Gunslinger followed.

Stephen King – The Gunslinger

All children, except one, grow up.

J.M. Barrie – Peter Pan

It was a pleasure to burn.

Ray Bradbury – Fahrenheit 451

Marley was dead, to begin with.

Charles Dickens – A Christmas Carol

All this happened, more or less.

Kurt Vonnegut – Slaughterhouse-Five

This is my favorite book in all the world, though I have never read it.

William Goldman – The Princess Bride

The scent and smoke and sweat of a casino are nauseating at three in the morning.

Ian Fleming – Casino Royale

In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.

J.R.R. Tolkien – The Hobbit

It was the day my grandmother exploded.

Iain Banks – The Crow Road

“Where’s Papa going with the ax?” said Fern to her mother as they were setting the table for breakfast.

E.B. White – Charlotte’s Web

Elmer Gantry was drunk.

Sinclair Lewis – Elmer Gantry

I write this sitting in the kitchen sink.

Dodie Smith – I Capture the Castle

I’m pretty much fucked.

Andy Weir – The Martian

We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold.

Hunter S. Thompson – Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

And, of course, the best first line ever written:

Once upon a time. . .

 

*Illustration from The Far Side

Bad Advice To Writers

writing

Everyone knows how to write.  We learn it in school.  However, to be a writer takes a singular commitment that nobody can teach you.  Unfortunately, there are tons of people out there who think they can — and they’re spreading a lot of misinformation around.  These literary hacks aren’t lies, as such; they’re just bad advice.  Here are a few of the most notorious ones.

Write for yourself.  This is just a crock!  No writer writes for themselves.  If they did, they wouldn’t WRITE IT DOWN!  The minute you commit words to paper, you are trying to communicate – full stop.

Take risks.  Here’s a newsflash.  You’re sitting in front of a computer, not dashing into a burning building.  The only risk you’re taking is that people won’t read your stuff, and once you get through that emotional firewall, the rest is easy.  Pouring your soul onto the page is what you’re supposed to do.  It isn’t a risk; it’s a necessity.

Write about what you know.  This is stupid advice.  Folks, it’s called fiction, and fiction, by definition, is a pack of lies.  Writers are liars.  That’s their job.  Billy Shakespeare didn’t know anything about Danish princes, but he wrote Hamlet … because, guess what? … he made it up.  Writers create their own universe; good writers make it believable.  If you’re going to limit yourself to your own experience, stick to those rambling End-Of-December emails that chronicle your family’s yearly adventures.

Paint a picture.  This is one of those sounds-profound bits of advice that doesn’t mean a thing.  Quite frankly, if you want to paint a picture, ya might wanna get a brush and some paint.  Apparently, that’s worth 1,000 words.  Here’s the deal. Your audience has seen a tree.  They all know what it looks like.  Describing it in great detail is not going to enhance their experience.  What you want to do is write the mood.  For example:

The tree was dancing green in the brilliant afternoon sun.
The tree was moldy green against the grey evening sky.

This is the same tree, but with six words you’ve changed the time of day, the season, probably the temperature and, most importantly, the mood.  The reader paints the tree themselves.  That’s the beauty of words on a page: the details (the real details) of any tale are already in the reader’s mind.  The writer’s mission is to jumpstart that imagination so each reader can see their own tree.

And finally:

Join a writer’s group.  This is actually good advice, but remember the more time you spend talking about writing, the less time you have to actually write.  And the only way to become a writer is to write.  Everything else is just playing at it.