The Multi-Faceted Writer
Just A Writer?
Most writers I’ve met over the years have had many jobs, many careers. So, logically, they end up with many skills. An often-mismatched collection of knowledge, it’s this exact quality that makes a good writer.
Research Is King
I harp all the time on fellow writers and students about research. I quote Beck all the time – “You can’t write if you can’t relate.” For a Scientologist, that’s some profound shit. When taken at its brutal extreme, it can be the difference between fluff and serious prose. I would repeat the quotation to my students, then say, “See, I saved you two years of Grad school.” I wasn’t entirely joking.
Aside from putting word to page, the biggest challenge for most writers (even if they don’t know it) is knowing what they are writing about. In the construction of a science-fiction novel a writer will clearly pass through the realms of physics, sociology, politics, the wildly theoretical, astronomy and so many more complex subjects. This isn’t just knowing what the words mean.
Remember, there’s always a nerd out there more than willing to bust your balls over the actual distance between a parsec and an astronomical unit (a parsec is about 3,25 light years, astronomical unit is about 149,598,000 kilometers, light travels at about 186,000 miles per second, so do some mathing and you can figure out the rest).
Research by Doing
Personally, I find experiential learning the most important kind. One can read about things all day – but once you do a thing, it becomes solidified in your mind.
As I said previously, most writers I’ve met can do more than one thing. That’s probably a very good thing based on the challenges of becoming that wealthy and famous writer. An eclectic skillset makes all your writing a bit more real.
The Writer’s Skill Collection
So how does a writer go about collecting skills to make their writing more real? Education is the first and probably most important initially. Some schools are better than others – but your education is what you make of it. So, while you’re struggling through boring as hell Comp101, take a philosophy class. Take some history courses. You get the idea.
Beyond studiously collecting facts, there’s an all-important “just go do it.” Never changed the oil in a car? You should figure it out. You’ll learn about how oil can be hot, how it’s black when it’s bad. You’ll see it get everywhere and understand the difficulty getting to your fuel filter. How your wrench might slide from a stripped bolt. This seems trivial, but put these facts into an escape scene where your protagonists need to make a machine work – you’ve got a battery of challenges for them for that one simply experience.
Ever taken a computer apart? Try it. Ever tried to smash a flip phone for that awesome slow motion shot in your undergrad films? They don’t break easily. Sky diving, SCUBA diving. Listening to the police scanner, playing with fire (you know what I mean), building, breaking. The list goes on and on. Pay attention to the things that happen around – ask questions of yourself: Could I do that? Can my characters?
Trying things will add to your story’s plausibility immensely. The more you’ve done, learned and failed at, the more real your prose becomes.