Talking about the act of writing

So, I've found that actually talking about the process of writing is nearly impossible for me to do. What brought on this realization is the fact that, in my English class, we were required to do a presentation on what we want to do after school. Everyone just assumed that I was going to do writing, and I didn't mind doing it, since it's something I do regularly. I botched the presentation, which is really abnormal for me to do, and when the teacher asked why I sucked so badly, I honestly had no idea what happened. Then, a bit later, I realized that I couldn't explain the act of writing to people who didn't do it like I do. Like, when they asked where my ideas came from, I was at a loss for words, because they don't really come from anywhere.

Anyway, I was on a tangent. Has anybody else ever had a problem explaining writing to people who don't write, or is it just me?

I have some problems communicating my perspective on things *in general* due to brain weirdness; but in general what I found is that sometimes if you just explain it to people in whatever synesthetic way you think about it (I usually explain with a lot of similes to theater and film and games and so on) they usually click on some aspect of it. So basically, whatever it is that comes to your mind to describe what happens when you write, just say that, even if it's weird. I've not had the experience of having an absolute blank when trying to explain writing, however.

I've never really been good at explaining things generally.

How I write is similar to how I sculpt. I have a lump, I tease limbs or whatever out of it, I tear bits off, I put bits on. In essence most of the time I just feel like I'm telling something that was just waiting to be told. I see the stories as if something is happening before my eyes and I'm an all seeing observer, it makes it a bit hard to translate the visuals into words.

Where our ideas come from is something people have been arguing about for a long time, some say from the divine, others from chemicals, some even say both. To some it is the sum of our experiences that give rise to these ideas. Some say they are inspired by music, food, drugs, cats, catdrugs, a lover or a sunset. Some say whatever pops into their head is their inspiration just to get the accursed journalists to stop asking questions.

It is an interesting question, and some would say at the same time a useless one.

In any case regardless of what the origin is or origins are, reading lots and writing lots helps with actually writing. If one does these things the time available for considering the why can get eaten up quite a bit.

In all this I haven't actually answered your question.

I've not explained writing to people much since I've actually got doing writing rather than whining about doing writing.

I did a lot of whining I did. Inspiration is wasted if not acted on.

...hmm I still haven't really answered the question properly. Oh well.

I don't even see how that would be hard. "Writers generate plots in numerous media, beyond traditional publishing. Scripts for movies, television shows and video games all require writers. Advertising needs them for video and print. Journalists and bloggers use language to convey news, commentary and knowledge."

Dumb question from the audience - "where do you get your ideas" - "I happen to have an imagination."

Boom, done, give me an A.

"Where do your ideas come from?"

"Theft. I steal them from other people. I sneak into your homes every night, stick a plunger against your ear, and just go to town sucking out all your ideas. By the way, teacher, you nasty. Seriously, some of these ideas? Uh uh. The thing with the poodle especially."

It seems simple after the fact, but public speaking is very much something you generally need to plan for. It's really not as easy as standing up in front of a room and talking. For one thing, all the extra focus on you can really throw people off.

Think like a super villain. You have to not only come up with a convincing reason why the world governments should pay you $100,000,000,000,000 dollars, but you also need to anticipate difficulties that may come up, like a superhero asking you a question. Think about what sorts of questions are generally asked of people giving the presentation, and plan accordingly. Perhaps look up videos of similar talks given by others, though you might skip to the Q&A portion if you're worried of a little accidental plagiarism. Even if you don't set a certain phrase in stone ahead of time, you can get a general idea of what your response should be like. In fact, that may work better for some people, since seeming less stiff is a plus in public speaking.

It can also help to have something like water nearby. That way, if someone asks you a question, you can pause to take a sip of water. If not water, maybe just take a moment for a deep breath. Sometimes, a second or two of delay is all you need to get the braincells firing better in that situation.

Another thing that may have come up with you is "nerding out". I'm sure you've seen people who can talk on and on about a particular series of games, movies, shows, books, etc. They're clearly enthusiastic about it, but so much of what they're saying is without a proper context or explanation that you can't understand and empathize. It's very easy to fall into that. That's why it pays spend some time planning out a presentation; you can find ways to relate the information to other people using analogies. You might even go so far as to take inspiration from Bill Nye who told a story that served not only as a lame ice-breaking joke, but also as a way to make a point about the subject he was discussing.

As far as communicating to regular people, it'd be a good time to put on your stupid hat. It's the same one I wear to see if something in a story breaks the flow. Basically, it's just a matter of interacting with things as if you have no deeper knowledge or interest. In editing, it helps you to check and see if you messed up with pronouns or need a reminder about some definition that pertains to the work. In this case, pretend there's a version of yourself without the deeper knowledge on how to write and see how that person would need the subject explained to them.


And practice! It's a great idea to have your presentation done well enough in your head that you don't need to rely on a notecard. And if it's powerpoint, you better not be reading off the slides. One of the best presentations I ever did, someone just before me did one on the same subject. All of a sudden, a lot of basic information I was supposed to say became repetitive. I had to rehash things on the fly. What saved me is that I'd gone over the information so much because of personal interest that I was able to reorganize things AND impress people by how I knew so much off the top of my head.

Hopefully, you'll never have to redo your presentation on the fly a few minutes before you need to give it. But, when you really know the information you're passing on, it shows and people respond better to that.

Trying to talk about writing in general is tough because it gets broad to the point of uselessness. Gavin's "easy A" response is 100% correct but it doesn't really touch on the process of writing.

Talking about the process of writing is difficult for me unless I'm talking about a specific situation. I.e. the question "how do you make characters interesting?" is one I find impossible to answer, but if you asked me how I tried to make a *specific* character interesting, I could go on for days about how I approached it.

(And I suspect that at least half the time, someone would say "what? That's not the stuff I found interesting about the character AT ALL." But I'd still have a process I could speak to.)

I didn't talk too much about writing when I was in high school, either.

I mean, it can be hard to talk about that stuff, right? People might roll their eyes, think your foolish. Heaven forbid you want to be professional -- they'll think you're delusional and immature. It takes a lot of confidence to write, but it might take even more to talk about writing.

Then there's the fact that it's so personal. Yes, you're showing your words to the world, but in that initial act it's just you, by yourself, hoping that your viewpoint means something.

So I can see why it might be hard, and I know that for a long time I struggled to put my feelings about writing into words (haha). But over time you figure out what it really means to you. If it's a big enough part of your life, it's important to figure out how you want to let other people know about it.

I personally vary my explanation based off the person. If it's someone who's really into reading, I talk about writing as a conversation with other writers. "I love Ray Bradbury, Stephen King, Virginia Woolf, etc. Their works fill me with such joy, and I want to try and recreate that joy for others. At the same time, there are some things my favorite writers DON'T write about. There are some books I'd like to be able to read, but can't. So I figure I need to start writing them."

If it's someone who's professional (business major, or just an uptight person), I'll talk more about my process. "I write every day. Some days I want to, some days I don't. But every day, producing those words allows me to build a business. I think I'm going to post my stuff online, because I have confidence that that's where the future of literature is. After that I'll probably try turning my books into Kindle e-books. Once you get enough books out there, word of mouth begins to spread and you actually have a shot at making money. It's a slim shot, but hey, most businesses are."

When I'm with close friends, I've got this whole thing about comparing it to wanking. But this is a public forum, so it's probably best to spare you all.

As with everything, it's all about practice. The first time you try to explain writing to someone, it'll probably come out something like, "Books and words and keyboards and have you ever woken up in a pile of your own sweat?" But the more you try explaining your passion, the more you'll learn how to convey what you mean.

When it comes to general public speaking, I agree with Psycho Gecko and echo what I already said: it's all about practice. Can't really give too much advice there, since most of my public speaking experiences have ended with my laughing nervously to myself, ad libbing and getting so off point that I don't even know what I'm talking about anymore.

Also, Gavin: lol. There were a couple times I really wanted to say that to a teacher.

"Billy, the first seven pages of your essay were good, but on the eighth you just rambled on about He-Man. How does that relate to Jewish Scripture? Also, why are there Monster stains all over your essay? Did you write the concluding paragraph in your own blood? Wait, is this someone else's blood?"

"Don't worry, teach. I finished it. So, boom, done, give me an A."

Talking about the creative process is entirely different from talking about writing as a career. One is this abstract, subjective behaviour that's unique to each individual, and the other is a factual matter that can be easily researched. If the assignment is to discuss a possible career after graduation, stick to the facts. Tailor your message to suit the topic and the audience. Freewheeling is a bad idea unless you are an expert with tons of practice speaking AND expert knowledge of the subject matter.

I can preach on Sunday with no notes because I've been doing public speaking stuff for 18 years, I have been studing the material for 17 and I research my specific topic all week long, until I'm ready. That doesn't happen by chance.

Stick with facts, and add more facts to your base over time until you are an expert.

Talking about writing in general is easy, there's a plethora of information on how to write on the web. The challenge lies in defining how YOU write. Self reflection is difficult for a lot of people. Most of us don't think about what we do, it just flows naturally.

"The unexamined life is not worth living." - Socrates, via Plato.

Self-reflection, for a writer, is a necessity for improvement. The 10 000 hours to become an expert, cited by Malcolm Gladwell and others, isn't an unconscious process but one of refining a skill deliberately.

Gavin, you're corrupting the youth. This may be a capital offense.

I expect the hemlock any day now. Surprisingly, starting in January I will have two churches to preach at, it is going to be my fulltime job going forward, so the corruption can spread before someone catches on.