Ask Raz #1
Welcome to the first official edition of Ask Raz (Ask Jerry)! I know what you’re asking yourself. Who the F*^! Is Raz? Why would I want to ask him anything? What makes him qualified to answer questions in the first place? Worry not, dear readers. All shall be revealed.
I’m currently working on an MFA in literature and creative writing. I’m a published author with a few accolades under my belt. I’ve been around the block more than a few times and have seen the best and the worst in the indie publishing community. I’m not more qualified than anyone else (not what you told me) in the industry to run a segment like this, but I appear to have an honest and unique view that people may find refreshing.
I’ve done segments like this in articles, newsletters, podcasts, and radio shows for different industries over the years. I started doing it as a teenager actually, after some heavy inspiration from Ren & Stimpy and their “Ask Dr. Stupid” segments in their ‘toons and comics. What started as a fun thing to do, quickly became something I enjoy.
I stalked some writing communities and thoroughly infiltrated others (Never trust a guy in a turtle costume and a trench coat.) to come up with the inaugural question for this segment. For future editions, you can email your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line “Ask Raz”.
I hired a team of trash pandas to tally up the possible questions to answer, and put it in letter form. This is what they assembled:
I write. I’m a writer. I want to write more. I want to write better. How can I? Please advise.
P.S. – Jerry needs more trail mix.
While not the most elegant or professional way to ask for advice, there are a few things to digest here (Don’t worry Jerry, your trail mix is on the way. Can you please stop altering the document?).
What we see here is a version of the most frequent question asked in writer’s groups and collectives the world over. There are a few major issues here, despite the typing capabilities of trash pandas. Can you spot them? Take a closer look. Go on, do it. I’ll wait.
This isn’t actually a question.
Again, I know what you’re thinking. “I see question marks and it looks like a question to me.”
While those points are technically correct, it misses the heart of the issue.
What we actually have here are multiple questions and several assumptions, puzzle-pieced together to form the ultimate writing question. Sadly, the number isn’t 42 (regardless of what Jerry insists).
Here’s the breakdown of what’s actually happening in this question and some understanding of why you’re unlikely to get an all encompassing answer, or, at least, the same answer from different writers.
- “I write. I am a writer.”
This isn’t a fantastic way to preface a question like this. We have to assume you’ve written words at some point if you’re asking the question. We also have to assume you are or want to be a writer. What you aren’t telling us is more important. Your situation.
Maybe you only write about giant sentient sporks that fly around hunting evil spaghetti haired penguins, all while blasting “Spoon-Man” by Soungarden from a tiny boom-box mounted on their backs with hot glue and the hopes and prayers of humanity’s last remnants.
Maybe it’s a story about a turtle. I like turtles (We know, Jerry).
EIther way, this is important information required to receive a sensible answer to any question following it.
While I’m well aware that the only natural enemies of evil spaghetti haired penguins are indeed sporks, I couldn’t possibly know your contribution to this age-old war unless you mention it.
Armed with this information, I would tailor and translate my response to you in a way that makes sense in your situation. That would be immensely more helpful to you than a general blanket response.
- “I want to write more. I want to write better. How can I?”
This is where things get convoluted. Three questions are being asked here and framed as one. The questions asked, while related to one another, are quite different. No one can possibly answer this as the singular question it’s intended to be. Let’s break that down further.
- “I want to write more.”
This should be its own question. Other information is required here as well. Why aren’t you writing as much as you would like? What barriers exist to keep you from that goal? That could be anything from being a parent to having no access to the tools needed to write.
Just like the previous example, the response would be entirely different based on that information. If you were a parent I’d offer advice to carve out time for your writing and how to set boundaries. If you didn’t have access to writing tools, I would refer you to programs geared towards assisting you in getting basic writing supplies or a computer.
Maybe the reason is based on the biggest problems for writers; imposter syndrome and/or writer’s block. I could provide a plethora of advice. I could even have Jerry send you links to articles written by people far smarter than I am to help you on your journey. I’m sure he’d love that (I would).
- “I want to write better.”
More information please! I have no way of knowing how you personally measure success or what standard you ascribe to. Keep in mind that I’ve never seen your writing, so I can’t even hold it up to my own personal standards.
Yes, you read that right, every writer has their own personal set of standards. While a lot is generally agreed upon, which you can easily learn in school or by reading books on the subject of writing, there is a seemingly endless combination of individual pet-peaves and preferences out there.
How can you avoid this? Do some research. Direct your questions to writers that exemplify the qualities you had in mind when first creating your unique sets of checks and balances.
Just, please, whatever you do, don’t direct your questions to Jerry. Despite what he’ll have you believe, he did not invent the oxford comma; nor did he revolutionize the use of semicolons (Yes I did). He can barely even type. He’s a raccoon for f*^!’sake. The last time we did this segment I kept getting his fan mail by mistake. Some of you should consider professional help.
- “How can I? Please advise.”
Remember many paragraphs ago when you thought this was an actual question because of the use of a question mark? Now that we’ve closely examined the precursor to this, I hope you have a more clear understanding. This is not a question.
If anything, it’s a fancy candy wrapper. Many people equate the candy wrapper to being part of the candy itself, but is it? It provides no flavor or sustenance. It exists only to disguise and protect its contents. It also forces you to do extra work to gain some modicum of satisfaction, when all you really needed was a tried and true bag of trailmix to get you started (Jerry, this is a live document. People can see what you’re doing!)(good).
The questions being asked are just as important as the answers you seek. In this case, we need to be specific about what we’re asking for and who we ask it from.
Using all the above examples, I will now re-craft Jerry’s original letter (mine was better).
As a historical writer that focuses on the never ending battle between sporks and spaghetti haired penguins, I’ve hit a bit of a snag. I greatly admire your attention to detail and your work with strange and esoteric subject matters and thought you’d be the perfect person to reach out to for advice.
My first problem has to do with the frequency of my writing. My wife and I have two teenagers at home and I struggle to find time to sit down and write. As a family man yourself, I was hoping you might have some suggestions.
I could also use some tips on structure and formatting. I’m having a hard time finding the right vehicle for my first ever novel, entitled, “Spork Mating Rituals: The Rise of Revolution.” It features a collection of transcripts, interviews, and essays from experts all across the globe.
General writing tips to better my craft would also be greatly appreciated!
Thanks in advance,
Here’s my official response, which will be the traditional ending to every segment of this I do. I hope I’ve managed to help you add some tools to your writing shed, or at the very least, put you on a path toward discovering them on your own!
Dear A. Writer,
That’s quite a topic you’re working with and certainly one that deserves more attention. The lofty goal of complete world domination by spaghetti haired penguins, and their beady little eyes, must be stopped at all costs! I’m honored that you would turn to me during this time of need.
It can be hard to carve out some writing time with a busy schedule. My first suggestion is that you let your hostages go. While teenagers can be worth their weight in gold in the child army, they can be more trouble than they’re worth. If you’re having trouble parting with them, try having children of your own. That could greatly decrease any possible legal troubles that may arise as well.
My other suggestion on the topic of frequency is to set a “closed door” schedule. With this you’d set aside an hour or two each day in which you will be unavailable. I do this by literally closing the door to my office at the same time every day and ignoring those I live with. What’s the worst that could happen? Maybe someone loses an eye or a kidney, but that’s why we have two of each, right?
On a more serious note, schedule this “closed door” time with your family. Let them know how important this is to you. Create a way for them to contact you in case an emergency arises. If it’s a physical door at home, they can knock. If you write elsewhere, start a family chat on an agreed upon social media outlet.
When it comes to structure and formatting, there are certainly a lot of options. I’m sure by now you’ve done an online search. Those results can be overwhelming. I’d recommend reading a book from five different modern pioneers in the historical field to see the commonalities between their structures and formats. You may find a standard, or common ground, that suits your individual needs perfectly.
On the subject of general writing tips, here’s one not often discussed that I think will be of help to you.
Never stop writing. Have a way to jot down notes and ideas around the clock. Most modern communication devices have programs and/or apps for this. For the old school writers among us, taking a notebook and pen wherever you go is a great option.
This little notebook or text file could save you from writer’s block or any number of things some day. Use it wisely!
Yours in Madness,
A. B. O’Trailmix (Seriously Jerry?! I’m starting to rethink this entire arrangement!)