Writing, an excuse for learning

(as if I really need an excuse)

In case you haven’t figured out by now, I am a learning junkie.  It started when I was child and my mom and dad would do their cryogen demonstration*  for the boy scouts and it has followed me in everything I do.

It’s one of the things I love dearly about writing, and programming for that matter: you are always learning.  If not, you’re doing it wrong.

You learn the technical side: structure; design; these are the mechanics of telling a story or designing a system.  You hone your skills in their use with each line of code, each bit of prose you write.

In both you can follow a linear approach or you can break it up into reusable units.  You learn which works best for you in your current project, and you learn how to use different techniques to your advantage.

But that’s only part of the learning curve.

When coding, you have to understand the process you are supporting or replacing with your code.  You cannot design a tool without understanding what the tool is used for, just like you can’t design a simulator without knowing what you you are simulating.

In non-fiction, the need to learn is clear: non-fiction by definition is grounded in reality and if you want people to understand the reality you’re writing about– you have to know it well enough to explain it.  

In fiction: they say you should write what you know.  That is: ground the story in what is real.  No matter how fantastical the world or the situation you have to give them something that you know is real, that spark that takes your cast from flat characters on the page to something living and breathing.

Usually people are talking about ‘inner truths’ emotions, thoughts… but it can also mean your interests.  If you include things you find fascinating, if you bring that fascination, that joy with you: people can sense it and it can pull them in.

Nothing ignites interest like passion.

That’s where my first rule comes in:

Write what interests you, write what you love and incorporate those interests into what you write:  use it as one of the best excuses to learn everything and anything you want.

One of the more universal pieces of advice given to writers is “read” but in most cases, no one suggests what to read, because you should be reading anything and everything.  

Yes, read in your chosen genre(s) but also read beyond them, read the news and by all means read non-fiction on subject matter that interests you.

The more you learn the more depth you can give your subject matter, the more interesting it becomes, but only if you love what you write.

In the end, if you aren’t enthusiastic about it, if you don’t love your characters and the worlds they live in,  why would your readers care what happens to them?

I’ve always said, if it’s worth learning, it’s worth geeking out over.  So… geek on my friends, geek on!

sword - horizontal

* mom and dad’s cryogens demonstration*

It was always a big draw, and perhaps the first time I experienced a hands on lesson that was part show, part education.

The demonstration portion involved dipping a banana in liquid nitrogen and then shattering it with a hammer.  That would be put to the side before they continued with the rest of the demonstration.

The demo included shattering a rubber hose, and taking a cup full of liquid nitrogen and tossing it onto the floor (where it would turn to vapor even as it hit the carpet), and of course, who can forget using dry ice to make fog?

At the end of the demonstration, everyone was invited up to look at the now thawed hose and enjoy some formerly frozen banana.

June 21, 2013

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