Writer’s foreplay

“Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success.
If you love what you are doing, you will be successful.”

~ Albert Schweitzer

I always had that romantic image of a writer in my head: a melancholic appearance, hanging over a laptop in a coffeeshop, sipping a cup of black coffee, typing away the words which hit the screen like water hitting breakers. Occasionally shedding an eye on a small notebook at the corner of the table and then continue processing the information into the story on the bright screen.

Unfortunately, I found out that it doesn’t work that way. Being a writer is everything but romantic. It is hard work! You can’t just write away and and skip the foreplay. The foreplay of a writer isn’t romantic either. It means a lot of research, outlining, structuring and absorbing all kinds of information about the subject you are writing.

The foreplay is necessary! I made the big mistake of skipping this proces and followed the image of a romantic writer, eager to become one of myself. I failed!

As a novice writer I started to write my first story without preparations. Well, of course I did some structuring and outlining. I knew, for instance, who my protagonist is and what her goal will be. I focused on it, wrote down some notes about her and her goal. I also knew who the antagonist is and what she wanted from my main character. Well, that should be enough, right?!

I didn’t work out a detailed outline. Just worked out half a story structure. Didn’t get to know my story characters as good as I should have and what they do and what they really really want. I didn’t work out the side characters and their stories. I just started to write down my story while the foreplay wasn’t even getting warm let even hot. I managed to get words processed on my laptop. But the more I wrote, the more I got lost! The story went a whole different way than I had planned! All the characters did something different than I wanted them to. The main story did stick a bit, but all side stories went astray. I had to adjust the story while I was writing and it took me a lot of time to get it straight again. When I finally typed “Fade out” the outcome was a whole different story than I had in my mind in the first place. The rewrite was fun though. But that was only after I wrote a detailed outline and set up a new structure. And I made a character sketch for every character that appears in the story and got to know them again. If only I had started with these preparations in the first place, it could’ve saved me a lot of precious time.

So, the next project I started, I did my research and structuring well! The writing went a lot smoother than my first project and the story sticks! It saved me a lot of struggling while writing.

This is one thing I learned: just consider writing is your love relationship. You can not just reach an ecstatic state without hugging and a kissing. The more you know about your partner and his or her needs the better your love life will be! The same works for writing. The better you do your research and structure the better the outcome will be!

Don’t make the same mistake I did! Be well prepared if it concerns your precious story! But by all means, if you have made the same mistake I did, don’t give up! Just get over it and keep on writing! Learn from the mistake. Make the second attempt a better one. And the third one even more better. Because, if that is what you love to do, you will somehow learn to play the first bit and successfully get to the ecstatic stage!

More on structuring:
Find some strong facts about structure by Bang2Write here
Some interesting structuring tips article on ScriptMag.com: The Four Act Structure

Family matters

I want to dedicate a tiny section on this blog to some cultural things that I want to share with who ever is interested in some Chinese culture.

My parents were early immigrants from Hong Kong. They moved to the Netherlands in the 1960’s to settle down. As a result I, youngest of four, only child born in the Western world learned to live a double life. When I was out with friends I was Dutch. At home I was Chinese. In my early years it was quite difficult to find a balance. As I grew up I started to found a way to live with it.

Although it sometimes was difficult to live between two cultures I do cherish the Chinese traditions and I’m grateful my parents insisted that I should know my roots.

Chinese traditions contains many ridiculous things. But most of the things have a background story. And that background story sometimes intrigues me very much.

Let’s start with family matters. Few weeks back a nephew of mine became father of a baby girl. As I am his aunt (his mother is my cousin so he is next generation) I am thus the baby girls great-aunt. Believe me, I’m not that old!

My daughter (8) is very happy with her little niece. The little baby is so cute that she couldn’t stop cuddling her. But most of all she’s more impressed by the fact that she has become aunt! She proudly announced at class that she is someones aunt now. Where as her classmates all look impressed at her.

Why is my little girl aunt of the baby? In Western terms the relationship between my daughter and the baby girl would be called nieces. But my daughter is of the same generation of the baby girl’s father, hence according to Chinese tradition she has to be called aunt by the baby girl.

Nowadays we all ignore the complicated family relationships. We are all just uncles, aunts, nephews and nieces to someone. But this ancient Chinese rule to call family members by their rank is still very interesting. Why is it so important to make clear the relationships? Why does the older generation still insists the young ones do it right? Well, it’s because in Chinese culture family is very important. You have to know your family and you have to help your family when it’s in need. Bloodline is sacred.

The other thing is respect. The younger generation has to show respect to the older generation. That is the first thing a Chinese child will learn from his or her parents. If you know how to show respect you will be a good human being.

Family and respect. The basics of life.