The Uzerfriendly Writer’s Workshop is a weekly community project lead by Cherryboywriter where he (I) posts a weekly mini article. On the topic of how to improve as a writer. At the end of each month the posts are compiled into one singular article here! Any works or writers taking part will also be featured here at the end of the article. If the idea of having a community to help you improve your talents and give you support and visibility sounds good to you then join the Uzerfriendly Discord to get started now!
Monthly Topic: Theming
What I Hope To Accomplish Here
If you’re reading this then you’ve got one of two things on the brain write now. The first is that you have a desire to write more often than you currently are. Or you’re at least curious about how the writing process really works. In both cases, I admire the innate curiosity you harbor and hope that what I offer helps you create something you feel you can be proud of.
No matter what mode of writing you’re interested in whether it be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, web articles, scripts for videos, microfiction, or something autobiographical there are two truths that surround the process of writing. The first is that there are few if any, hardline rules to writing. Only a vast sea techniques that improve what you write and make it more palatable. The second, partly because of the first truth, is that writing is difficult.
The process of formulating ideas, expanding on them, organizing them, and then translating them into a written form in a manner that’s legible to others takes concentration and effort. Some of us get very easily lost in the weeds of our thoughts & everything can come out as a jumbled mess. Some of us have the attention span of goldfish when the memes on Twitter are absolute fire. Some of us come home exhausted from absurdly long work shifts and just wanna lay knocked out before waking up again to do it 3-4 more times that week.
I know how it is because I’ve also been there. Nevertheless writing anything at all is an endeavor worth undertaking. Writing is an act of self-expression that requires both knowledge of yourself and knowledge of the outside world in equal measure. It’s a skill that lets you record your own thoughts and create things that could appeal to a base as big as the world or as small as just yourself. Writing by its nature forces you to refine your view of the world through education and experimentation. Much like participation in a sport, everything you write will leave you both better at the action and as a whole more developed in your sense of purpose.
But much like with anything, the two hardest aspects of writing are getting started and sticking with it. Over however long you stick with this workshop my hope is that I’ll effectively teach you the things I have learned & give you space and motivation to simply sit down and do the thing. Because there are in fact so many things to teach you I want to make sure that there also aren’t things not useful in the slightest. Fundamentals are something that can be taught, style is not. The individual tricks and signifiers that make your writing really feel like your’s are something you will slowly develop throughout this process, so keep that in mind so that this becomes an effective dialogue rather than a mere lecture
To that end, the main thing we need to establish is how to find your starting line.
For this reason, we begin with theming.
“So You Want To Write? Understand Your Message”
Perhaps the most esoteric piece of writing advice that’s stuck with me the longest comes from Ernest Hemmingway,
“All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.” So finally I would write one true sentence, and then go on from there. It was easy then because there was always one true sentence that I knew or had seen or had heard someone say.” – Ernest Hemmingway
Now the idea that you can just write one really good sentence and then everything else will flow like water from the Spring of Eternal Life is… idealistic to say the least. Much like the philosopher who says, “Philosophy is bunk.” he could only make such a statement so clearly because has studied all the alternatives and found them lacking. So it was with Hemmingway; he could say such a sentence only because he had written so much.
Still, I tend to agree that the “truest sentence” makes things much easier in practice even if it can be a bit directionless.
Personally speaking, I am someone who enjoys buying connections between things. I try to see how even the smallest things are a part of and contribute to the governance of the whole as my favorite Roman emperor would put it. This is why everything I write generally turns into a bloated project and our gracious patron Anthoknight refers to as “Bibles”. True it is very laborious but it’s the style that allows me to best use all the little bits of information I have on the subject to weave a more cohesive tapestry. Frankly speaking, there are already several little choices I’ve made in this section alone that I can trace back to other markers of inspiration but that no one else would know is from that source unless they knew it themselves and knew that I specifically was making them.
And that’s something I consider to be at the essence of “the truest sentence”. That your truth, your theme, is not something to only stage the idea or to be pondered once or twice. But that it permeates itself in even the smallest stages of your creative process. There’s a very interesting ShaelinWrites video about this sub-thought that I’ll link but also don’t expect y’all to absorb because frankly some of her works are still very high concept even for me.
In essence, I would say that the core theme of your work, no matter what, should take precedence over other factors. I maintain theme being more vital in large part because it provides a stable pole from which you can build and return to if you feel the need to deviate.
At the end of the day, you’re going to need a central idea(s) to work throughout the piece you’re writing to give it a strong sense of cohesion.
And that sense of cohesion is perhaps the biggest benefit to having a well-defined theme. It will give your readers something concrete to engage with, and it will drive you as a writer to really hammer down and expand on.
I had my heart set on finding some sort of general “What is a theme” video to add as an extra reference in this section… but strangely I thought that Shaelin or Tales Foundry and unless I can vouch for quality I don’t trust most videos under 15 minutes. Oh well.
“There’s A Hundred Ways To Get Home”
Have you ever been watching a Youtube video, documentary, or otherwise educational video of some sort as it trudges along only for the speaker to go “now if you’ll allow me just a second to explain X”? Or perhaps you were watching or reading some sort of serialized work and the creative team felt it an interesting divergent to stop following the main protagonist, subsequently putting everything you’ve invested in on hold, to tell you about someone else whom you don’t know at all?
The transitions between these things can be smoother than silk or as jarring as say… a superfluous font change in an otherwise cohesive word document. In any case, diverting time and attention from your focal point while writing runs the risk of confusing, losing, or otherwise turning off the reader. Why does this persist so commonly if the loss of engagement is perhaps the biggest detriment to any creative works? Simply put, the payoff for doing it well ends up being greater than if you had just pressed forward to the finish line.
As someone who no matter what always insists that themes are the most important driving piece of a work, this week I wanted to talk about what to do if you want to divert away from your core focus to talk about something different but related. Indeed once you’ve honed in on some sort of core idea it’s likely you’ll think of one or two or 10 different other things that art tangentially related. The temptation to include all of them is palpable, particularly for more experimental writers. However, to do so requires that most precious of resources, time.
Time for you to research all those little side tangents to see how worth wild they are in pursuing. Time for you to flush out those ideas within the actual work itself so that they feel like adding them in was essential to getting to the point. That of course adds to the time you have to spend plucking away at the keyboard to even get the words on the page. And this all will inevitably be weighed against the time your reader or viewer has before their text notification goes off or they realized they left something in the oven and need to remove it before the now charred chicken escalates to a cindered kitchen.
Indeed in the savage market that is the Attention Economy (and as any anthropologist would tell you since the beginning of the Agricultural Revolution), leisure time has only decreased and continues to fluctuate with our lives and as things fade in and out of importance. None moreso than in writing, in exchange for easy accessibility of this skill and the almost unlimited freedom the medium offers us… for the average person just trying to experience it taking the time to read, is quite daunting.
It makes you really wonder if diverting for this tangent of yours is so worthwhile after all. In fact, for somethings (mostly those of historical and political importance) a direct approach may be preferred by both you and the reader. So what is the merit of taking such alternative pathways only to come back to the thing you were originally doing? It varies on the content.
In an educational work, living examples are life. They demonstrate that not only do you understand your initial subject but that you’ve made strides to apply it to other fields as well. In a fictional work diverting away from your main story’s focal point to focus on a B plot could be the difference between a story simply told from the perspective of one to the tale woven together with the thoughts and feelings. As the old writing advice goes, “Every character should think they are the protagonist of their own life story.” Rarely is one is so dedicated to another that they put all their preferences and dreams to the side.
And indeed somethings just don’t make sense or otherwise can’t be appreciated without adequate context. A personal example of this is a post I wrote about the anime Hunter x Hunter which to this day is still my favorite thing I’ve done so far. It takes a look at a character named Beyond who wanted to explore a dangerous land of global level threats and dragged it into a global effort within the span of less than a single volume.
Compared to everything the story had been so far he had done so much in so little and became many people’s immediate favorite mine included. But in my post about him, I talk very little about the man himself if at all. Because the character himself isn’t the most interesting thing about him. He was simply a man who saw the obstacles in the world standing in front of his goal and moved them aside to get what he wanted. So what made him such a compelling character was not just himself, which you consider to be most people’s usual focal point as personal always sticks out more than the political or scientific in a narrative.
What made him interesting was the world itself. How it gave him definition, significance, and did all this while embodying the themes the story had always been focused on from the very start.
I highlight this week that theme is not something that you must so rigidly adhere to that you become blinded by it. Nor is it something that you should feel you have to battle to include into your work. Rather, themes are something that both definition and life to your piece. Allowing you to create something enjoyable while still exploring even more if you had just followed every whim and impulse blindly.
Without a theme, the things you include can quickly become time-wasting distractions that could have just as easily be place in another work where they would better fit. Keeping things neatly tied together will give your work that most lauded of aspects we strive for, a feeling of cohesion.
“The Attention Economy” – Will Schoder
“Beyond Netero – The Hunt for Humanity” – By Me
If you want an example of doing this in action I think highlighting Nakeyjakey’s Lego metaphor for sandbox video games is quite handy.
Don’t Dilly-Dally or Divert, Deliver.
Last week I talked about the value of taking tangents in your writing. About the benefits that come with adding side tangents or B plots and why you should always consider whether adding one in will elevate your writing or not. I imagine that as I completed that section last week the many editors of the world working in publishing agencies felt a painful, ominous, and altogether familiar pang in their heads as I advocated what is effectively their desk job nightmare.
So to tip the cosmic scales back into balance and set many minds back at ease I now want to backtrack and do the opposite. Instead of mulling around potentially infinite mill of side stories and examples you could add, I’m here to remind you that what’s essential is that you eventually get to the freaking point. And consider the words of the artist Leonardo da Vinci when he said.
“Art is never finished, only abandoned.”
For all the benefits and interest a diversion might afford you, often the direct approach is just simply better. While it’s easy to get lost in the infinite amount of social media masses offering up their own opinion about how the story lacks depth or commentary the power of simplicity is one that has become underrated. I call back once again to the concept of time and how it is a most precious commodity. If you only sprint towards your intended goal headlong imagine how much time that would save you writing and your audience reading. There are many examples of series whose brevity is the soul of their wit. The brief pacing demands a much smaller amount of investment, which inturn elicits more managed expectations from the readership. And just as many examples of that happening are the examples of series that continued, for one (profit driven) incentive reason or another, continued well past it’s ripest point and began to go sour.
While it may seem like a shame not to include this idea or that example that would really make your work sing consider that there are a multitude of reasons to hold back. Ideas are truly a dime a dozen in fiction, what you’ve imagined has very likely been thought of by someone before. What matters, always, is execution. To tak more and more grandiose notches onto a otherwise functional work will reduce it to mere flair. Furthermore, if the idea is so amazing perhaps you should consider that it should be its own story idea all together and give it the room to flourish properly. If an example is so interesting then perhaps it really deserves it’s own case study.
Whatever the case is remember that there is so much value in simply hitting the finish line without trying to do a flip and falling face first.
How will you know when to end something? How long should your work be? What is the optimal amount of divergence to focus?
These aren’t questions I can answer. It fluctuates from work to work and situation to situation. However, what I can say is that your instincts will guide you through. I can say, personally that’s something I’ve had to actively grapple with doing this very project week to week. My natural instinct was too just spill my guts and dump as much information as I could into these everytime I sit down to write. But then another instinct tugged at my brain reminding of an inevitability. That once I’ve used one of the bullets in my arsenal I won’t be able to bring it back without considerable effort when it would serve me better in a later month.
Consequently, this reminded me of part of the reasons I took on this year long endeavor to begin with. It was to help break myself of this habit of writing only when the mood struck me in frantic bursts and do it on a regular basis. When you feel like it’s time to end something then it may be time to call it a wrap. In a similar way I cannot teach you to write, I can’t develop these instincts for you. You’ll gain them as you press forward. The action of doing will teach you more than just consuming theory or reading advice ever could.
And that, will conveniently lead us into the theme of February~