“OMG, OMG, you have to see this movie.” Friends, family, the media . . . everyone wanted me to go see Tom Hanks in THE BEST MOVIE EVER!
Of course, when I finally bought my ticket and popcorn, I was disappointed. With all the hype there was no way the film could have lived up to the push. It had been oversold.
This happens with motivational sayings and life hacks, too. When someone oversells the latest self-help book or when a piece of advice is repeated ad nauseam, it becomes background noise. We resist.
I made this mistake recently trying to get my son to read a book that I’d found beneficial. I tried giving him a synopsis. I quoted from it every other day. I shared examples of how it had helped me overcome a bad habit.
As he resisted, I started leaving it “accidentally” where he might stumble on it, as if finding it in his car would make him more likely to give it a try.
He is now convinced it is THE WORST BOOK OF ALL TIME. I blew it, and he’s missing out on some good stuff because of his stubborn refusal to give in to his mom.
Anytime we dismiss the too-often quoted or ignore advice with a “yeah, yeah, yeah,” we could be missing a life-altering nugget of truth.
There’s no shortage of advice out there for writers, either. We’re faced with never ending truisms about craft or the creative process and we often become conditioned to ignore the most common.
After this post about learning in layers, I had an epiphany on the idea behind “truth is stranger than fiction.”
In the popular book Immediate Fiction, Jerry Cleaver reminds his students that fiction is heightened, concentrated reality.
. . . you think there’s nothing to it, that writing a story is just like life. Like life, yes. But not life itself. Creating stories is a special craft—a special way of capturing reality on the page. It feels real, but it isn’t. You can’t just break off a piece of reality and stick it on the page. It won’t work. It won’t work because fiction is concentrated, heightened, intensified reality. It’s the essence of reality. All reality doesn’t contain such essence or truth, but all fiction must. You, the author, must create it.”
That’s a gold standard of writing advice but no less true for being familiar.
I’d read this excerpt at least five times and highlighted almost every other section of the book except this one.
It wasn’t until several drafts into my current project that a light bulb went off. Readers don’t care how long it took your main character to get to the bank, or the route he followed. They care that he was robbed at the ATM. Eventually, I was able to use this in my manuscript, cutting extraneous conversations and flabby descriptions.
Look around your shelves, you probably have how-to writing books galore. Try looking at an old one a new way. As your skills improve and experience grows, an old has-been could become the new go-to.
As for the book my son steadfastly refuses to read, I’m ordering the audio version for him. I’m hoping that in a weakened state he’ll accidentally hit play and absorb the information via osmosis.
Don’t dismiss an overused motivational quote or the latest popular self-help trend just because they’ve been done to death. Practice looking at things in the revised context of your most up-to-date self.
Give resources another read. Reconsider tips or advice based on your new level of experience or different life circumstances. You may absorb useful information and find yourself able to apply it in meaningful ways.
As for “Gumping” something myself, I learned my lesson with my son. There’s this book I think would be great for my daughter who is just starting out in her career. But this time, I controlled myself and only mentioned it once about a month ago.
To paraphrase Forrest, Christmas is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re going to get. The CD version arrived yesterday and is already wrapped and under the tree with my daughter’s name on it. She can listen to it passively on her way to work. Something’s bound to rub off.