Tag Archives: writing advice

Why Using Proper Grammar Is Important

 

Society doesn’t respect proper grammar as much as it used to. Rappers and valley girls think it’s cool to use improper grammar. The fact that we have the term “grammar Nazi” just goes to show how little society respects grammar. But just because something is popular or chic, doesn’t mean it’s useful. There are consequences to using improper grammar. It affects how we understand the world and communicate ideas.

Your language shapes the way you think. Your thoughts shape your understanding of reality. Your reality shapes who you are. The more words you know the more you can articulate explanations of how the world works, why it works the way it does, who you are and what you are. The more complete your vocabulary is the more complete of a mind you can have and thus the more complete of a person you can be. The framework that supports the whole structure is grammar. Grammar is the thread that holds your reality together. The looser that thread is, the less capable you’ll be of forming coherent, linear thoughts. Thus, the less coherent and linear your mind will be. Thus the less of a person you will be. Plus, the less control you have over your thoughts the less control you’ll have over your actions.

That’s not to say you’re going to drive your car over a cliff, but if you look at the most successful people who live with the most purpose you’ll notice they hold themselves with a sense of purpose and dignity. They speak clearly, articulately and use proper grammar. Their internal and external lives came together because their thoughts came together, and their thoughts were able to come together fluidly because their thoughts were organized using time-tested methods of refining the use of symbolic language (aka proper grammar).

The reality you live in, the person you are and the success you have in life are all built on the framework of language. The present state of humanity, as well as its future, rests on our ability to communicate and improve ideas. Allowing our language to atrophy will cause our world and our future to atrophy. By allowing our children to use improper grammar we’re lowering their potential. Even if it only lowers their potential by one to five percent, you have to ask yourself how precious their lives are? How much do your children deserve? How much lost potential is too much? What’s worth sacrificing their potential for? How much is sounding cool to idiots worth? Is it worth your mind?

 

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Does Substance Abuse Make You A Better Writer?

"I hate to advocate drugs, alcohol, violence, or insanity to anyone, but they'e always worked for me." Hunter S. Thompson

Anyone seriously interested in becoming a writer should make a habit out of studying the lives of successful authors. If you do that you’ll inevitably notice that a lot of famous authors have been alcohol and drug abusers.  This raises the question, does substance abuse make you a better writer? For a lot of reasons, the short answer is, it can, but there’s no substitute for solid technique, and the added creative boost that substance abuse can give you comes at a great cost.

Consider that for every successful drug abusing author there are dozens (if not hundreds) of authors who succeeded without the help of mind-altering chemicals. More importantly, for every successful drug abusing author, there are countless drug abusing would-be writers who merely ended up depraved, unsung drug addicts. So statistically speaking, if you shoot for that star you’re most likely to end up free falling into oblivion. Furthermore, for all we know, those successful addict/writers may have become successful writers without drugs. So we can’t empirically prove it was the drugs that made them successful.

Another point to consider is the damage drugs do. Sure, Phillip K. Dick was able to write over 50 novels with the help of amphetamines, and Jack Kerouac achieved legendary success from tales of his bohemian lifestyle, but both of those authors died relatively young. Hunter S. Thompson earned a cult following from his (admittedly exaggerated) tales of debauchery, but his personal life was a train wreck of heartache that estranged his loved ones and led him to commit suicide.  Professional success is a means to an end: a better life. If the cost of professional success is personal failure then the cost/benefit analysis doesn’t add up.

Just to drive the point home, Robert Frost once said, “To be a poet is a condition, not a profession.” Well, anyone who is an addict is an addict first and whatever else second. You can’t be a writer/addict; you can only be an addict/writer. So even if you shoot for that star and make it, your achievement will be bittersweet. Kurt Vonnegut probably said it best when he said, “Alcohol is the biggest problem in the life of any alcoholic.”

Having said all that, the fact that there are enough professionally successful drug abusing authors to establish a pattern means that pattern is worth analyzing, especially if that pattern (mis)leads young authors into believing drugs will help them. So it needs to be asked, why are so many professionally successful authors addicts? I’ll attempt to answer that question, but understand that while I’ll try to base my answers on evidence and/or logic, my answers aren’t based on a comprehensive longitudinal, peer-reviewed stack of psychological case studies, but if you take this for what it is you’ll be able to glean some useful insight from it.

In order to unravel this mystery the first question you have to ask yourself is why anyone becomes an addict in the first place. This is a subject that countless case studies have been done on, and there’s no single answer. However, there are some common factors such as genetics, mental illness, peer pressure, depression, stress, abuse, chronic pain, unfulfillment, and the fact that drugs are inherently addictive and euphoric.

Even being a “highly sensitive person,” which isn’t an inherently negative condition, still slightly increases the odds of becoming an addict. However, the combination of character traits and lifestyle needs of highly sensitive people are arguably the same traits and needs that predispose one to become a good writer. Many (though not all) of the legitimately negative life factors that lead anyone to use drugs could just as easily predispose them to be a good writer. So it could be that many successful addict/writers were already on the path to becoming good writers before they stepped off onto the path to addiction, which is all the more tragic, because all the negative life factors that people try to manage with euphoric substance abuse can be managed with therapy, exercise, yoga, social interaction, work, etc. freeing the individual from the shackles of addiction to focus on writing with a clear mind.

If you can identify the positive patterns in the lives of successful writers you can emulate those patterns without focusing on the single factor of addiction, and the positive factors that lend one to becoming a good writer aren’t particularly profound. On the simplest level, all you need is proper technical training and motivation. Many, many, many wealthy authors of sitcoms and romance novels were motivated simply by the desire for money and fame. So while quotes like, “To be a poet is a condition, not a profession.” have given writers a reputation for being transcendental monks who access a higher plane of consciousness and channel their profound insights onto paper for the edification of the unenlightened masses, the truth is that writing can be a job just like any other job, and you don’t need drugs to show up to work every day. You just need to understand your customers and produce a product that they want to buy. To that end, you’d be better off reading 10 “how to write fiction” books than blowing your family’s savings on drugs.

Having said that, sitcoms, romance novels and pulp fiction have a reputation for being “low art.” They may be a useful tool for future historians to judge the cultures that produced them, but they rarely advance human understanding. In fact, they can arguably hold society back.  On the other hand, many insightful, award-winning books have been written by authors who were high as a kite at the time, and there’s some empirical evidence to suggest that drug use can increase creativity. This raises the question, what gives?

The answer to that question lies in how ideas are created.  That’s a philosophical question that would be difficult to empirically prove, but my own personal writing is based on the theory that ideas are bound by the same laws as the natural universe: You can’t get something from nothing, and the only way to get new “things” is by combining existing ones in different ways.

This theory explains why drug use (and genetics, mental illness, peer pressure, depression, stress, abuse, chronic pain, unfulfilment, and euphoria) have the potential to facilitate creativity. Before I get into that though, I need to establish a control group to compare it to. It’s a fairly well-established fact that humans are cognitive misers who are born on mental autopilot. This is why sheeple exist, and why in fact, we are all sheeple. We just mimic what the people around us are doing and sleepwalk through life without putting too much critical thought into analyzing the universe around us, and we tend to abuse and ostracize anyone who has stepped outside of our comfort zone and explored novel ideas.

Isaac Newton pointed out that an object in motion will remain in motion until it interacts with another object or force. People are the same. Wind us up and let us go, and we’ll keep waving our country’s flag, working at miserable jobs and consuming pop culture until we die without ever stopping to acknowledge the grandeur and mystery of existence… as long as we never have a traumatic experience to wake us up from our walking slumber.

Charles Bukowski, an unapologetic drunkard and brilliant writer, once said that his abusive father beat the pretense out of him. World travelers frequently acknowledge how being immersed in a foreign culture will strip away your assumptions about life. Psychologists have noted that our personalities tend to be set in stone by our early twenties unless we have a near death experience or otherwise confront/reassess our mortality during a mid-life crisis. Many successful writers come from military backgrounds where they were forced to look the devil in the eyes (an experience unlikely to occur in suburbia). Even if you’re trapped in suburbia you’ll still be able to see outside your bubble if you commit yourself (willingly or unwillingly) to a lifetime of academic study. Extensive education combined with abject poverty and/or meditation can be a powerful combination to inspire outside-the-box thinking. Or you could just study how to think.

All of these factors can force you to perceive new insight into the nature of human existence and combine ideas that you would have otherwise had no motivation or opportunity to combine living in suburbia working in a cubicle. Even if you do live in suburbia and work in a cubicle, if you wrote about your boring, uninspired life and then sold your book in a country that’s completely different than yours then your work would appear insightful and inspiring because it’s so far outside the experience of your readers. So your average Italian reader might find Louis L’Amour’s work more awe-inspiring than your average Texan.

In order to take advantage of all of these enlightening opportunities you really have to go out of your way, and since humans are born on autopilot you’re designed to resist going out of your way. Even if you do go out of your way your brain will still resist combining new ideas in novel ways. However, you may have relatively easy access to mind-altering drugs that will override the inertia of your humdrum life and force your brain to combine the ideas that are already in your mind in new ways. If you do enough drugs your life will spiral out of control further pushing you outside your comfort zone leaving you in a new place with a new vantage point on your old life…which you could have just as easily experienced simply by going on an extended vacation, getting a new job or joining a social club.

Different drugs affect the brain in different ways, and if you understand how drugs affect the brain you can predict the effect they’ll have on the thoughts you pour out into your writing. You can even look at someone else’s art and potentially identify the drugs they used to “achieve” their results.

I’ll go through a short list of common drugs and discuss the positive and negative effects they can have on combining ideas in novel ways. The conclusion to be drawn from the information below is that, yes, drugs can cause you to think thoughts that you wouldn’t have thought otherwise. To that end, you can say that drugs have the potential to inspire creativity, but you could achieve those same ends with non-poisonous tactics.

 

Caffeine

Caffeine is a stimulant. It makes your brain work faster for a short period of time. Caffeine is a popular drug for artists in all mediums because it overrides the need for willpower to keep you working. However, you’ll only be able to work for short stints before your brain burns out. Granted, you can overcome this problem with more caffeine, but you can only push your body so hard before it crashes.

 

Cigarettes

Nicotine will give your mind a small boost, and when combined with caffeine can keep your working at unnaturally high speeds. Smoking also forces you to take regular breaks from writing where you can collect your thoughts and rest your eyes. On the downside you’re going to die a slow, horrible death from cancer.

 

Marijuana

Marijuana speeds up your brain, and forces you to combine random ideas. The idea for “The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” was conceived on marijuana, and since marijuana also gives you the munchies, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles favorite food was pizza. Marijuana is very common among artists, and since it’s neither addictive nor deadly there’s not much bad to say about it. However, any mind altering substance is bad for children whose brains are still developing, and even though marijuana has some medicinal benefits, you can only kill so many brain cells before you get dumber.

 

Alcohol

Alcohol is a depressant. It shuts down your higher level thinking skills so that your brain temporarily operates on its primitive core. In other words, it quite literally causes temporary retardedness. The “upside” of this is that for a short time your brain operates on a raw, emotional level. Sometimes humans are too smart for our own good. Alcohol strips those thoughts away and leaves you in a state where you think about life in raw, passionate, simplified terms. Great writing strips away the pretences of society and reflects the bare truths of life. So it’s unsurprising that so many writers would turn to alcohol as liquid inspiration, but it comes with great cost. In the short term you’re more likely to write garbled, meaningless, angst-ridden bullshit. In the long run you’ll inevitably get addicted, become depressed, go broke and die young.

 

Cocaine

If caffeine is like putting premium gasoline in your car engine, cocaine is like injecting Nitrous Oxide into your fuel line. You’ll be able to produce more work than is naturally possible in the short term. You’ll also have a lot of fun, but it’ll cause permanent brain damage. You wouldn’t supercharge your computer for a year if it meant having a broken computer for the rest of your life. Talk to some old school coke heads before using cocaine. Most of the coke heads that I’ve met strongly, passionately discourage young people from using cocaine for the first time even though they admit they fully intend to do coke themselves the next chance they get, which should scare you.

 

L.S.D., psilocybin, dimethyltryptamine

The effects of psychedelics are notoriously hard to describe. One effect that they have is to project your internal psychological state into your external perception of reality. If you’re in a bad psychological state you’ll see and feel bad things, hence “a bad trip.” If you’re in a positive psychological state you’ll see and feel positive things. That, in and of itself, is enough to force you to perceive reality in novel ways. Psychedelics also strip away inhibitors that prevent you from being overwhelmed by the sensory stimulation that bombards your body every moment of your life. The effect is that you’re strapped to a rocket blasting forward through the universe at the speed of thought. This can be an exhilarating and/or terrifying experience that will undoubtedly give you a new frame of reference to measure future experiences by. Psychedelics also activate a part of your brain that causes you to see the universe through a more mathematical lens. I can’t explain the experience much beyond that, but to suffice it to say that it will force you to make mental connections that would have otherwise been unlikely or impossible. If this sounds productive and tempting, be away that it comes at the cost of your sanity. Psychedelics hit your brain with the force of a sledgehammer; it’ll break you out of the mental mold you were born into, but what’s been broken can never be unbroken.

 

M.D.M.A., ecstasy, heroin, opium

Your brain naturally produces endorphins that make you feel happy. Drugs that supercharge the production of endorphins or eliminate your body’s ability to filter those endorphins make you feel happier than is naturally possible. The result is that you’ll feel happier than you’ve ever felt in your entire life; you’ll become euphoria. Once you reach that state there’s no motivation to go anywhere else. So you’ll just lay on the floor celebrating how wonderful your carpet is, even if it’s covered in piss and ash, and you’ll have little to no motivation left to write in that state. Once you come back from Shangri La you’ll know that no car, no house, no lover, no job, no vacation could ever possibly match the level of happiness you can achieve simply by giving a drug dealer $30. Writing takes concentration and dedication. Using powerful euphoric drugs is extremely unlikely to lead to great works of literature. It is a life path that is extremely likely to lead to destitution and death.

 

Crack and meth

Don’t do crack or meth. Ever. Not even once.

 

 

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16 Tips To Overcoming Writer’s Block

A piece of paper sits next to a typewriter. On the paper are the words, "Stop the block!"

 

1. Know Thyself.

If you’re suffering from writer’s block it’s because something within your mind or your life is preventing the flow of ideas. The better you understand your motivation, strengths, weaknesses, resources, and your style, the better you’ll be able to use your brain to generate ideas effectively. In fact, I could end this list right now, because every other step boils down to self-awareness.

 

2. Analyze and reaffirm your motivation.

As a writer, if you truly loved to write then you would write no matter what. You might even write more often than is responsible. If you have to force yourself to write, then you need to seriously question whether or not writing is something you’re passionate about. If it’s not, that’s okay. Life is about defining yourself and exercising your free will. As long as you follow your passion you’re doing it right. If the only reason you’re writing is for fortune and fame, then even if you become rich and famous it will be because you’ve spent your life doing something you’re not passionate about, which is wasting your life.

If you do decide writing is something you’re passionate about, then you may want to write down why it’s important to you. If you ever get stuck or discouraged about writing, you can look back to your mission statement, your love letter, and remind yourself why you’re doing what you’re doing. That alone may provide the motivation you need to get out of your slump.

 

3. Improve your technical skills.

Think of writing like baking a cake. There’s no right way to bake a cake, and if you make a career out of baking cakes by strictly following other people’s recipes, then your job will be as rote as any office cubicle job. So you may be tempted to get experimental and express yourself right from the beginning. However, if you don’t know how to bake a cake, you’re going to get very frustrated and discouraged when your experiments fail. If you would quit trying to be creative long enough to learn the core technical skill of cooking, then your job would be made exponentially easier, and you could modify the recipes quickly, creatively and effectively. If you’re having a hard time writing it might be because you don’t know how, and the only thing you can do to eliminate the frustration and discouragement you’re facing is to go back and study the fundamentals of how to write.

 

4. Improve your creative logic skills.

Typing is the final step of the writing process. 99% of the writing process is creating ideas. If you don’t know how to create ideas, then you don’t know how to be a writer. If you think creativity is magical, unscientific and can’t be taught, you’re wrong. If you want to write well, then you should study logic, the psychology of creativity and this blog: The science of thought/creativity

 

5. Have something to say.

If you can’t think of anything to say, then you should seriously question whether or not you have anything to say. Similar to point #2, if you have something so important and so vivid to say that you’d be saying it regardless of how well you’re able to express yourself, the words would just force themselves out of you. If you’re having a hard time writing, then put your paper down and turn off your computer. Spend some time thinking about what it is you have to say. If you can’t come up with anything, then writing well is the least of your problems. You need to go out and live life.

 

6. Live life, and observe it.

Your writing will only be as good as your comprehension of life, and in order to comprehend it, you need to experience it. If your writing is dull, it might be because it reflects the dullness of your life or your understanding of existence. The more you live, the bigger well of inspiration you’ll carry inside of you.

 

7. Resolve your problems in real life.

Writing uses all your mental faculties. Nothing ties up more of your mental capacity than stress. As a result, stress caused by real-life problems will stop your writing dead in its tracks. Likewise, happiness will give you energy and motivation to plow into your writing career. So in order to get back into writing, you need to solve your real-life problems, which are more important than writing anyway.

If there are problems in your life that are preventing you from focusing on your writing, you’re going to need to analyze and express them. Since writing involves analyzing and expressing life, you can kill two birds with one stone by writing about your problems. This also provides the added benefit of making your writing meaningful. Just be aware of the danger of getting locked into a cycle of wallowing in self-pity. This will make for boring, nauseating, melodramatic writing and won’t help you either.

 

8. Improve your health, or at least get some rest.

There doesn’t have to be anything wrong in your life in order to be depressed. In the same way that depression will sap your body’s mental and physical energy, an unhealthy lifestyle will also sap your body’s mental and physical energy. If you never seem to have the energy or motivation to write, it might be a symptom of an unhealthy lifestyle, and all the tips and tricks and how-to books in the world won’t help you until you start taking care of your body.

If you do live a relatively healthy lifestyle, you might just not be getting enough rest. Try eliminating some activities in your life that are stretching your time too thin and get some more sleep. Then you’ll have more energy to solve any problems in your life and clear up more time to get adequate rest and eventually to focus on your writing with a fresh, energetic mind.

 

9. Just say it.

Have you ever tried to express your feelings to someone you cared about, and after hours of trying to find the right words, you finally decided the only way to express yourself is to just blurt it out? That’s often how writing works. After you’ve blurted out what you had to say, then you can refine the details, but first, you need to create that solid, core expression.

This is also how you develop your own style: not by trying to perfect someone else’s art, but by saying what you have to say in your own voice. The only way you’re going to find your own voice is by saying to hell with everyone else and using your voice naturally.

 

10. Write crap.

If you’re getting frustrated and discouraged because nothing you write is perfect, then you should stop trying to write perfectly. Write crap. Have fun with it and actually get it onto paper. Then rewrite it. It’s like Nora Roberts once said, “I can fix a bad page. I can’t fix a blank page.”

 

11. Get in the mood to write.

If every time you sit down to write, you find that you’re not in the mood to, then you can either wait until you’re in the mood or you can get yourself into the mood. Any “how to write” book will tell you to get into a habit. Write at the same place, at the same time every day so your brain comes to associate that time of the day and that place with writing. Then your brain will automatically go into writing mode. You can further trick your brain by performing a ritual right before writing. It doesn’t matter what that ritual is, as long as it’s consistent. Eat eggs, take a walk, clean your room, wear the same hat, perform a séance. Once your brain associates this activity with writing it’ll put you in the mood to write.

You can take psychology one step further. Your brain is most creative when it’s in a relaxed state nearing mediation. This is why you hear many authors swear by drug use. Drugs force your brain into that alpha wave state of mind. However, drugs also burn your brain out over time. But you don’t need drugs to put your brain into its most creative state. You can do yoga before writing, lay down and rest, listen to music, read a book, watch a movie. Find some form of relaxation technique that will help get your brain into the right gear before trying to write, and you’ll find that writing will be that much easier to slip into.

 

12. Diversify.

Maybe you’ve tried to establish a pattern, but it worked so well that now you’re stuck in a rut. There may come a point where you’ll benefit more by diversifying your projects as well as your methodology. If you’re working on more than one thing at a time you can jump to another project when you get burned out on your current project. That will keep you working and allow you to come back to the burned out project with fresh eyes later.

Maybe all of your ideas aren’t waiting for you at your computer desk. Maybe some are at the park. Try writing in a notebook for a change. If you always write in a notebook try writing on a computer for a change. Try stream of consciousness writing, try brainstorming, try outlining. Try everything and figure out which combination works best for you. In order to be a good writer, you need to know what works for you. If you’re stuck in a rut it might be because you’ve neglected to figure out how you work best, and now is the perfect opportunity to finally figure that out by experimenting.

 

13. Reread your work.

One of the best ways to gear up for writing is to reread your own work. Don’t worry about fixing it. Just reread it. If you see a glaring error, go ahead and make that little change. Then keep reading. If you see another little error, go ahead and make that change. Don’t be surprised when an hour later you’re pounding away at revisions with the fervor of an inquisitor when all you sat down to do was read over your older work.

 

14. Start over.

If you can’t seem to get anywhere on the project you’re working on, then maybe the problem isn’t your methods. Maybe the problem is your project. Maybe you’ve just written yourself into a corner. I guarantee that eventually, that will happen. At that point, the only thing to do is start over. You don’t have to delete your old manuscript. Just save it and put it away. Then start over from scratch. This will be extremely painful and discouraging at first, but I guarantee your ideas will flow out better. You’ll say what you have to say better than you did before, and inevitably there’ll be segments that you can cut and paste back into your new version from the old version. So you won’t really have to rewrite it all anyway.

 

15. Don’t talk yourself into writing when you don’t want to.

This isn’t like one of those diet fad promises where I tell you that you can lose weight and eat anything you want. I’m not going to tell you the easy answer you want to hear: that you don’t have to work when you don’t want to. No. Eventually, you’re going to have to write when you don’t want to. And it’s going to hurt, but you’re going to have to do it anyway. However, the trick to doing that isn’t to talk yourself into it.

Think of it like cliff-diving. Cliff diving is horrifying the first time you do it. You may stand at the edge of a cliff 8 feet above the water and work up the courage for an hour before jumping. The secret to cliff diving isn’t to work up the courage to jump. The trick is to shut off the part of your mind that tells you not to jump. Eventually, that’s the point you’re going to come to anyway if you do reason with yourself. You tell yourself, “And that’s why I’m going to jump.” Then your brain clicks off and you jump while your brain is silent.

Writing is the same way. Don’t bother arguing with yourself or debating or working up the courage. Just tell yourself, “Brain, I know you don’t want to do this. So we’re not even going to talk about it. I’m just going to turn you off and sit down and write. I’ll pretend I’m not even here if that’s what it takes.” And when you do that you don’t have to be strong or brave or disciplined. You’ll cross the line without those virtues as surely as if they were there, and everyone who sees what you accomplish will assume you possess all of them and more because the result will be indistinguishable.

 

16. Quit.

If you’ve tried all of these techniques and you still can’t write, then maybe it’s time to admit you’re not a writer, which is fine. That doesn’t make you a failure. What would make you a failure is chasing after a dream that isn’t yours. Maybe you should focus your time on knowing yourself and figuring out what your passion really is.

 

If you enjoyed this post, you’ll also like these:

 

Screenwriting for Movies
Screenwriting for TV
Short Stories
Erotica
Choose Your Own Adventure
Movie plot break downs
TV plot break downs
Free story prompts
Writing tips
Blogging
Art

 


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