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How Did You Start Writing?

I strongly believe that everyone is an expert on something (or many somethings), and that sharing our knowledge provides us all with a lot more useful information than one person pretending she knows everything. I think Wikipedia has proven that in a lot of ways--it's such amazing collaborative resource.

By pooling our writing experiences, we can learn from each other. Each month, I'd like to propose a topic (and suggestions are certainly welcome!) and some associated questions and invite people to email me with their thoughts or Comment below.

Then I'll consolidate the information and post it on Archetype. The only caveat would be that I'll need enough time to do the writeup, so responses would need to be in to me by, say, the 5th of each month. I'll provide a list of questions to help you think about your answers, but please don't let them constrain you or make you feel you have to answer all of them, or all of them individually.

I'm all about diving headfirst into the shallow end of the pool, so I'm going to suggest we start with something I've been thinking about a lot lately: how and why people get started writing.

Questions to help:

  1. How old were you when you first started writing, i.e. when do you think your journey on the path of the writer began?
  2. What got you started? For example, were you inspired by a teacher? Did you just decide one day that you were going to be a writer? Did you get involved in a fanfiction community? Did you have to write a story for a class?

    I have this theory that when a lot of people start writing, they write what amounts to fanfiction, but I may be way off base, so I'm really curious about that one. (I talked about this in the post below, if you want more information on my thought process.)

    I know that the fanfiction vs. original fiction debate can be a hot one, so if that stirs up fireworks, we'll dedicate another month to that topic.) So...have you ever written what amounts to fanfic, even if that wasn't your intention?

  3. What's kept you writing? Some people want to be writers, but the idea is bigger than the drive to actually write. They peter out almost immediately. What makes you different?
  4. What do you think it means to be a writer? That is, what makes a WRITER different from someone who just...writes?

Fanfic vs. Original Stuff, and a Little Mary Sue

Ok, so I have this theory.

My theory is that many writers start out doing fanfic of some kind, whether they know that's what they're doing or not. They're intrigued by an idea, person, tv show, movie, or whatever, so they decide to write (or rewrite) a (part of the) story.

That's how I started. Well, I started with two things, one an "original" and one an "episode" of a TV show I plan to take to my grave. I think the "episode" came first, but I'm not sure. It was like 10 lines in a diary (the only diary I ever kept, and I wish I hadn't thrown it out in a fit of teenage mortification), but it was definitely the equivalent of fanfic.

We didn't call it fanfic then; in fact, I think many people thought they were the only ones (and certainly fanfic wasn't as common before the internet). I've been a fanfic snob in a lot of ways (I write original material!), but I certainly wouldn't grill it over an open flame, and I definitely wouldn't call it a scourge. It does seem to draw attention to the original material in question, along with fansites and fanlistings and the like--and most media has become interactive media, with writers and producers visiting fan sites to gauge how well ideas are working.

I got talked into trying my hand at fanfic a couple years ago, and I caved. And, horrors, I enjoyed writing it. (I didn't write much, but can I just tell you--it was good. I'm really proud of what I ended up with. I wrote it under a pen name, so it's out there, but as of right now, I'm not telling you where.) In fact, it worried me a little how much I liked doing it.

I didn't have to build my own characters and relationships from scratch; I didn't have to build a world complete with rules were believable. I didn't have to face that first blank page, wondering where the heck I was going and how I was going to get there. A whole backstory already existed, so it felt like diving into the middle rather than trying to figure out where the beginning of something new was, and how I was going to make it go anywhere.

One of my greatest fears has always been that there won't be a new story in me. I write novel-length material, and the number of short stories I've written can be counted on one hand. Some of them collapsed in on themselves and have been relegated to ruins that I might someday excavate, but don't want to right now. Short stories just aren't my thing. (Look at the length of anything I write, like my blog posts--I seem to have a defective "write short stuff" gene. *grin*)

When you write novel-length material, or maybe I should take a Gestalt-type responsibility here and say when I write things that long, I get attached to my characters, my worlds, and leaving them to go someplace completely different...that's hard. Recently, trying to go someplace new, I had a complete meltdown on the launchpad, the idea burning up into the equivalent of fried circuit boards and plastic. I haven't completely abandoned it yet, but I keep looking at that scorchmark, terrified that I shall never write another story. Believe me, the urge to write is still there, but a novel-length idea that's actually growing into something that will bear fruit is eluding me.

I know some people write fanfic when they're blocked with original material. What's hard for me is I feel like it's easy to fall into the relative comfort of writing in a world that has endless possibilities, because you can fiddle with canon, argue cannon, and Mary Sue yourself, either subtly or overtly. Mary Sue may be a real scourge, but she can be fun, even if she never meets anyone in your writing groups. She can be a dirty little secret. Or a confession that draws us closer to other writers. I think being Mary Sue can be what prompts people to start writing.

What do you think?


The tabloids are eager to point out possible eating disorders almost as much as they like hyping diets so readers can look just like the celebrities who were supposedly anorexic last week.

What we believe about who has what problem has a lot to do with what the media tells us. It took Paul McCartney a while to convince people he really wasn't dead after the news broke. Even Matt LeBlanc had to call his mother to reassure her after he was incorrectly reported deceased.

The point is, we get a lot of information through words, and we pay a lot of attention to those words. But we often lie with our mouths to try to convince people that what they're seeing is wrong. When a celebrity swears she doesn't have an eating disorder and that she is eating tons of food and working out with a trainer, it could be true. But it might not be.

Words are only 7% of what we say.

Pay attention to the other 93%.

Plagiarism Sucks

In the early days of the internet, everyone gave everyone else credit for the teeniest little thing. Information was still being passed the old fashioned way — by word of mouth, by ink on actual pieces of paper — and each new fact was something to be treasured, along with the person who found it for you. Pages intended to share information were peppered with italicized notes: Thanks to C for this information! W is always an amazing and generous resource. D tracked this down for us.

Now information is so easy to come by — just Google, cut, and paste — that "borrowing" it has become just as easy.

But the fact of the matter really is, you're not saying anything by plagiarising, other than perhaps "I'm not bright enough to dredge up an argument of my own."

Our culture seems to be losing its ability to think. Far too many people are flummoxed by the idea of having to find information when Google or Wikipedia don't provide them with a preformatted answer.

And that scares me. It really scares me.

Because when we forget how to think for ourselves, we're helpless.

There are lots of reasons people plagiarize. They do it because it's easier than writing a paper they don't care about writing. They do it because there's pressure to produce more and better stuff. They do it because they don't know how to say it better than the author.

But no matter what your reason is, you're not a writer if all you're doing is stapling together others' stories. At least, that's what the publishing industry decided during Harvard's Kaavya Viswanathan disaster. Even when uncited material stays on the market, like that in Ann Coulter's book, it reduces your credibility. If you can't make the argument with your own words, maybe you should sit down and let someone else do the arguing.

I really do believe that old adage that nothing under the sun is really new, but at least come up with a new way to talk about it, you know?

Listen, writing is hard work. The Muse is fickle, and sometimes writing stories feels less like magic than punishment, but the willingness — and ability — to ask questions that make other people uncomfortable, to plumb the abyss of the human Shadow, to find meaning in what might otherwise drive one mad...that makes it all worth it.

Fortunately, the Blog explosion and sites that encourage people to post original fiction have reminded people that churning out ideas — original ideas — is fun.

In June of 1993, there were 130 websites online1. By 2000, there were over 7 million2. As of November 2006, over 100 million3. As of this writing, the web is growing at more than 3.5 million sites per year3.

On Being Alpha

Some Interesting Current Research

Alpha Female: a woman who is educated, intelligent, successful, attractive.

Problem: Alpha females have trouble finding mates. One research team recently went so far as to say that Alpha females, as a group, have trouble "finding men who want to marry them.”

Survey says:

Research consistently demonstrates that women prefer men of higher status than they, and men prefer women of lower status. At first glance that seems perfect—men look down, women look up—and as long as you're not an outlier, it is.

If you're a dominant Alpha male who makes more money, commands more power, and pursues higher goals than the rest of the pack, you have no end of subordinate women eager to be with you. If you're a female who doesn't have trouble finding men who are much more dominant or powerful than you, you're in great shape.

Meanwhile, if you're a male with little power or money, you fall behind. And if you’re an Alpha female, you’re seeking men who would make excellent equals or are even more Alpha than you; unfortunately, they’re busy being partners to all those other women.

Romance Novels:

Romance novels help women everywhere believe that somewhere out there is the man for them. And the romance-novel Alpha male is usually attracted to a woman who is not only traditional but also strong: she’s gorgeous, she’s sassy, and she fights for truth, justice, and a good marriage.

This may well be my hangup, but the Alpha male is always available to the heroine. The “other woman”
  1. has been chosen by his parents
  2. is the key to uniting kingdoms or
  3. is one of Cinderella’s long lost wicked stepsisters.

He's never really dating someone less than the heroine but still good enough that he's not actively looking. I wish it worked that way in the real world.

Because I really disagree with the minority who claim that a pair of Alphas would destroy each other.

I wonder if our relationships would last longer, if we'd have more fairy tale romances, if we really held out for the people who were great matches.

Maybe I'm just a romantic?

Tom Cruise vs. the People

There are a lot of people in entertainment who are confused about why Tom Cruise has become something of a pariah. They protest that jumping on couches and sharing his religious beliefs is no stranger than most of the other things that go down in Hollywood.

And you know, they're right.

But they're missing something that seems so obvious that I almost wonder if the missing is deliberate.

When Cruise said there's no such thing as a chemical imbalance in the brain and criticized the use of antidepressants, mis-labeling them "antipsychotic mind control drugs," he was criticizing the 150 million people in the US alone who take antidepressants. He also criticized their families and friends, and their belief (and relief) in something that helped them.

Most of what Cruise was trying to say is legitimate. Many experts argue that certain drug classes, including antidepressants and Ritalin, are overprescribed. They argue that the effect many people are getting is a placebo effect.

Research shows that there is a significant difference in improvement between subjects who get a placebo and those who get an SSRI (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor--the most common class of antidepressant medications), but that difference is not as big as most people think. Depending on the medication and the study, the placebo effect has been found to account for up to 50% to 90% of people's improvement.

Of course, there are people who argue that if a placebo is what it takes to help people, what's wrong with that?

And what about the people who wouldn't improve with a placebo? What about that 10% to 50% who genuinely need the medications for their brains to work properly?

Antidepressants shouldn't just handed out because you're feeling blue; there are other problems associated with reduced levels of serotonin and norepinephrine (two neurotransmitters often referred to as "chemicals" in the brain). And serotonin and norepinephrine aren't the only chemicals indicted in imbalances; for example, Parkinson's Disease is caused by inadequate levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine. I doubt anyone would challenge the reality of the disease Michael J. Fox is living with.

The "research" to which Cruise referred was most likely that of Thomas Szasz, who has been an adamant protestor of many practices in psychology and psychiatry.

For example, Szasz believes that terms like "mental illness" (and most likely "chemical imbalance") are used for social control, not to identify true medical problems. After all, he argues, you can't die of depression like you can of cancer. You can't autopsy the body of someone who had depression and say, "Yes, there is the disease. This is what killed him." Szasz also protests any kind of involuntary treatment, so of course he would protest the use of Ritalin with children, who don't understand the medications well enough to make informed decisions about taking them.

And his arguments are important ones. We really love pills here in the US of A. We take pills for pain, to help us sleep, to help us wake up, to lose weight, to clear up our skin, to get us off cigarettes, to improve our sexual performance.

At the same time, here in the US of A we are also free to make our own choices, for better or worse, and many of Szasz's arguments are founded on that very idea. Criticizing the millions of people who have been helped by SSRIs (and Ritalin) and saying their experiences are of questionable legitimacy...well, whether you agree with him or not, you start to understand why Paramount's Sumner Redstone referred to the whole fiasco as career suicide.

Though only time will tell how right he is.

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