It’s been a while since I’ve put out one of these. Sorry, but I’ve been pretty busy.
I have decided, though, that I’d like to try and get these codewords organized and written into a book in time for NaNoWriMo. I’m also trying to finish up a short story in the next few days (!), and then the non-fiction writing advice/experience book will follow that. And, if I be so bold, I’d even like to start a Youtube channel and post this stuff on there! Along with other topics of interest.
So many projects, so little time. But in the meantime, here’s the next codeword. (Notice I’ve since discovered that “code word” doesn’t need to have a space in the middle of it?) I hope you enjoy this installment.
Resumes exist, basically, to get your foot in the door for a new job. It’s unlikely a resume alone will land you the job, but when prospective hirers are searching for folks to fill their much-needed workers’ ranks, how are they going to decide who to put in the maybe pile and who just plain isn’t qualified for the position?
They use a resume. Your resume.
If I were applying to become a writer, what might my resume say? How might I convince the boss (a reader) that they should read my stuff?
Wait a minute! Are you really saying I need to meet certain criteria to write?
Right now, I hope you’re reacting to this. You might be reacting by leaning forward, thinking, “Oh no, you mean I have to qualify to write fiction? Oh, crap! Will I make it? Tell me more!”
But I honestly hope you’re crinkling your nose and saying, “What the hell are you talking about? I don’t need to convince you that I’m allowed to write! You read my stuff and that says all you need to know!”
What makes me think I can or should write? Am I qualified? Do I need to have certain skills or training or experience? Does any of that matter at all?
I think these questions can have value, but mostly they just distract us from our goal. They undercut our confidence. And as we all know, writers are often at a point of crisis on confidence. So all this may be better skipped.
Maybe asking these questions will actually help bolster your confidence when it gets low. Maybe you say, “Hell, yes, I can write this! I served three tours in Iraq, who else is going to write military science fiction?”
Or you might moan, “Who am I kidding? I learned all I know about the military from watching Star Trek! I can’t write this stuff!”
Stick with me for a minute here. I know this is a dangerous line of questioning, but I’m going somewhere, I promise.
Okay, if I were going to write up my resume to convince folks (or myself) that I am qualified to write, what might I include…?
- I have a Bachelors of Fine Arts in Creative Writing. An actual college degree that says I’ve been trained by an institution of higher learning to be a writer. So obviously I must be good at it. After all, a college degree defines who we are in this country, right?
- But you can drink your way to a C-average and graduate with any degree you want, does that make you great at whatever it was? Just because you have a four-year degree in psychology doesn’t mean you aren’t crazy yourself. I mean, have you ever met a psych major…?
- If you were a psych major or are married to one: I’m just teasing.
- If you were not a psych major or aren’t married to one: I’m not kidding, they’re crazy! (And maybe even if you’re married to one, I might not be kidding. You tell me, they’re your spouse…)
- I grew up in the 80s, the best time ever to be a kid. My young, creative brain was crafted by after school and Saturday morning cartoons, like Thundercats,I. Joe, He-Man, and Thundar the Barbarian.
- Violence and adventure were served in heaping helpings at that time, even if The 700 Club was trying to protect our fragile minds and immortal souls from it. I read Stephen King and Clive Barker in junior high. I grew up on R-rated sci-fi and horror movies. It was great!
- I saw the original Star Wars movies in the theatre when they first came out. (That’s got to prove my creative heritage, right? I mean, all these other Star Wars.. Just stop trying, you’re killing the magic.)
- I grew up playing real, table-top roleplaying games with real, live friends, seated at the same physical table and rolling real, physical dice. And we all had a part in shaping the world and giving our characters life. (Playing videogames in other people’s fixed realities, with strangers miles away hiding behind avatars… not the same thing.)
- All of these things kindled the flames of storytelling in our minds. The next generation, they got bubble-wrapped. And the one after that… For God’s sake, there’s no such thing as Saturday mornings cartoons anymore! It’s all gone hell!
- It’s also made me a grouchy old curmudgeon, in case you can’t tell. (“Kids these days...!”)
- I’ve served over 13 years in the United States Navy. Four of that was in the intelligence field, two was living and traveling on a warship, and I spent more than five total living in Japan.
- I’ve been a nurse for ten years, Navy and civilian, with a very wide variety of patients suffering from both physical and mental injuries.
- I’ve lived all over the U.S. and visited several foreign countries. (Eight, I want to say? It’s been so long now, I’ve lost track…)
- I’ve lived alone, traveled alone, lived on a ship on sea, and now have a family.
- I’ve been a student several times and a teacher several times, in differing capacities and fields.
- I’ve been alive for more than four decades. That’s got to be worth something, right?
So, do these things make me better qualified to be a writer?
I like to think that they help, but you don’t need a resume to be a writer!
The only bullets you need are these:
- I have life experience. As in, I am alive and I remember and learn from my years of life.
- I have interacted with other living beings.
- I have an imagination (if writing fiction).
- I have decent language and communication skills. (Actually, they should really be better than just decent but if you can get and/or hire some editing help, decent might get you started.)
- I have the follow-through to get the work done. (Very important! Unfinished stories don’t do anything. Only finished ones matter.)
That’s about it. But these are all very important. If you don’t have the ability to string two sentences together, how can you write more than a paragraph? And yes, even in this age of lazy brained texting (especially in this age) you need language and communication skills.
Most important, I would argue, is life experience. Does that mean that a teenager can’t write an enjoyable story? Certainly not. But the more life you’ve lived, and the more mature you’ve become as a result, the more you can write about. If you’ve never loved and lost, it’s difficult to fake it in your writing. If you’re not a parent, real parents might be able to tell when they read about your characters who have kids.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t write about it. You don’t have to be a combat veteran to write military science fiction. In fact, I’d bet many successful writers of the stuff are not veterans at all. But the gritty details and genuine emotions that come out of the real thing can be recognized by readers with that shared experience. (This is part of the reason I enjoy Starship Troopers so much.)
So you may be thinking by now, “Gee, maybe I should hold off writing anything until I am older and have more worldly experience.”
To think that is to assume (1) you have nothing to write about now, and that (2) when you finally do decide to write your masterpiece, the words will flow from your pen (or fingers) like liquid gold, perfectly formed in every way the first time you finally deem to write them.
Write now, people. Just like everything else, your skills increase as you practice doing it.
I used to think that way. I’d come up with some ideas that were very important to me and think, “Okay, I’ll just sit on that until I’m a better writer.”
How the hell are we going to get to be better writers by not writing?
You also don’t necessarily become a better writer by taking writing classes. They won’t hurt (mostly), but they won’t make you a genus either. I do think I am a better, more conscientious writer because of my college program, but it can be poisonous too.
English classes about essays and grammar are certainly useful in that they teach you how to properly use the language. But in fiction, perfect grammar isn’t everything. Dialogue may not sound as genuine if it’s technically perfect. I mean, how many people actually talk like that? (See what I did there? I should probably have written, “How many people speak like that, but it doesn’t roll off the tongue, does it?)
And knowing what the hell a gerund isn’t as important as knowing how to use them. (I personally don’t know what the hell a gerund is, but I’m willing to bet I use them appropriately nonetheless, just because I know how to write and speak English well. There might even be some on this page, but I’d never know it!)
Speaking of education, I have to say this. Please excuse my soap box.
A Degree in Writing
My first degree was a Bachelors of Fine Arts in Creative Writing.
Really! I was one of those people!
Well, I didn’t start out as one of those people. I considered a lot of majors when I was seventeen and eighteen years old, generally among the hard and soft sciences. But after taking an interest survey for “undecided” college students, I turned away from science and embraced my love of the arts instead.
My mom would ask me what I was going to do with a degree in writing.
And I’d answer, “I don’t know, I’ll find something. I’m not worried about it.”
What I ended up doing with it was enlisting in the Navy, even though people were saying, “Shouldn’t you be an officer if you have a degree?”
The recruiter said that, no, I could go officer after boot camp. And he should know, right? I mean, military recruiters would never lie to young, impressionable morons just to meet their monthly quotas, right?
Obviously, I was idealistic and stupid.
Well, stupid in hindsight. Just a young, naive dreamer at the time, like most of us at that age.
And if you, Dear Reader, are considering a college career in creative writing or a similarly idealistic path in pure art, please let me extend a bit of advice:
If you’re going to go to college and accumulate decades of debt, you need to get a degree in something that pays. Major in a paycheck (that you will still enjoy), and minor in what you really love (that probably doesn’t pay squat).
I know that’s not what you want to hear, that I sound like your mom.
But guess what?
I’ve been there. And twenty years later, I’ve learned something: Mom was right.
I was proud of my arts degree, as anyone with an arts degree is. And should be. But remember this, my fellow aspiring writers: You have to eat. If you have a spouse and/or kids, they have to eat too. You have to have a roof to live under. You will someday get sick and need money for the doctor. (Unless, perhaps, you live in one of those utopias where healthcare comes with the territory. But even then, you still need a job!)
Most writers also have a “day job.” Very few writers can afford to write fulltime. If you want to make a go at it, then marry well. Or live somewhere where living is cheap. Or learn to type while balancing your laptop against the steering wheel and live in your car. You could be a suffering artist like that—it’s classic right?—or, you could have a stable, productive, semi-comfortable life that makes it easier to venture out and dip your toe in the writing pool.
I graduated with my BFA in 1999. And then, in 2008, I graduated with a Bachelors of Nursing Science. Why? ‘Cuz I needed a reliable job!
And now that I can feed my family and pay my bills with good stability, I can pursue my dreams of becoming a writer. And maybe, with a lot of work and sprinkle of lucky fairy dust, maybe I’ll be a full-time writer someday and won’t need the day job anymore. That’s the dream. But you have to dream with your feet on the ground, lest you trip and fall on your face.
I think you get the point. I know Mom’s a bit paranoid and nags about a lot of things and worries just a little too much about her sweet baby, but in this case, Mom’s right.