Wednesday, February 9, 2011

WMW Introduces Aheila

Aheïla.  Somewhere in Quebec City, Aheïla works as a game designer by day and writes by night. Known for her blue hair, undying energy and tasty cooking (quails, anyone?), she’s convinced “prose is the new crack”, a belief she embodies daily on The Writeaholic’s Blog.

Write What You Know… NOT!

Whenever I read writing blogs or forums, I stumble upon a recurring phrase, either in the article or in the comments: “Hone your craft!”

It’s understood that writing involves spending time polishing our skills. “Honing our craft.”

One day, I asked myself how does one hone one’s writing skills and found my personal answer to be: “One challenges oneself.”

“I Like This and That”
We all like things to be easy and fun. We have favoured genres, favoured storytelling techniques, favoured themes, and the list goes on. The first step in honing our craft is figuring out what items are on that list.

I write long stories. I plot with fantasy/sci-fi elements. I have a fixation on the way people communicate. I outline. I like dreams and omens. I start sentences with “I”.

These quirks aren’t necessarily bad. They don’t make me an awful writer. They are my instinctive go-to story template. My comfort zone.

And you have one too.

By breaking out of that shell, we polish it and become better writers. We hone our craft.

“I Don’t Outline”
This might be the mother of writers’ labels: plotter or pantser. Writers tend to swear by one method or the other. In my opinion, we beneficiate from doing both, even if only for a writing exercise.

If outlining usually makes stronger first drafts – especially for long and/or complex stories, writing when inspiration strikes tends to sprout more magical moments. The plotter’s pitfall lies in drawing a blank when the plan doesn’t work. For the pantser, writer’s block comes when the trail of thought loses its appeal or when it’s time to go back and edit.

Plotters – I’m one of them – learn flexibility by “pantsing” it out from time to time. 
Pantsers – I’m occasionally one of them – develop new tricks by planning before writing some stories.

In either case, a trip to the “dark side” of our habits helps us find the plotter/pantser equilibrium and develop the approach that brings the best out of us.

“I Don’t Do Shorts”
A writing buddy of mine once said she never writes short stories. I too tend to go on for pages and pages. For other writers, shorts are the comfortable format. Whichever is our case, doing the opposite widens our horizon.

Writing short stories (as short as drabbles or hint fiction) forces us to condense our thought and carefully choose our words. Personally, I discovered the true power of “show, don’t tell” through mini-stories like those of the drabble challenge on my blog every Saturday.

Longer pieces force us to dig deeper in the characters, world and story. It teaches us to face the scary plot holes and the dreaded middle, to pace our actions even more carefully.

Obviously the skills necessary to pull off a drabble strengthens our novels and vice versa, making both format a useful exercise.

“I Don’t Know Sci-Fi”
Most writers stick to a couple of genres throughout their careers. It enables them to know how these genres work and what makes their readers tick. A highly commendable mastery – no doubt about it – but dipping in other genres fuels creativity.

For me, it doesn’t matter how little I know about a genre’s conventions; I try it anyway, often ending up with a hybrid between a favoured genre and the foreign one. I play with different voices too. None of these exercises are quite “me” and that’s fine.

Exploration helps us find our voice and enliven our approach to our favoured genre. What worked in our tentative mystery short story may turn into an interesting subplot for our fantasy novel. And even if it doesn’t, the change of mindset between both stories helps us revisit our main project with new eyes.

In my opinion, we are not “betraying” our favoured genre when we try another; we’re feeding our genre by opposing/moderating/merging it with another.

“Honing our craft” is like fitness training: we perform series of exercises that push us out of our comfort zone. That’s how we shed fat and strengthen your muscles. We do it alone or at the gym. The outside world doesn’t see our sweat-stained t-shirt, only the sexy body training produces.

Same goes for writing.

By pushing ourselves out of our comfort zone, we shed the unnecessary babble and strengthen our narrative skills. We can do it by ourselves or challenge writing buddies. No agent, editor or readers need to lay eyes on our weird, climax-less, space opera hint fiction; only the sexy and marketable manuscript we query matters.

The bigger the challenge, the greater the reward!

On the projects you want to publish do “write what you know” – mostly – but to hone your craft, don’t! ;)

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Thank you for taking the time to share your post with us Aheïla.


You can learn more about Aheïla on her blog, The Writeaholics Blog, which was born to host a self-imposed challenge; writing a novel over the year and posting 1,000 words a week.  With her first project completed, Unforeseen Dives, a new serial, Killing Time OST, is published three times a week in its stead.