Friday, January 17, 2014

7 Things I've Learned So Far

If only I'd known these things when I started my writing journey! (BTW, this article originally appeared on the Guide to Literary Agents Blog.)

      1.      If you’re not sick of what you’re writing then it’s not finished. You don’t want to hear it and I don’t want to believe it, but this is the sad, sad…oh-so-sad truth about writing. A good piece takes more revising than you think you can stand, but you have to do it anyway. Again and again. Of course, it’s helpful to set your work aside for a while to ferment, but then you’ll need to…

2.      Revise again. Sorry! There’s just no way around it.

3.      Procrastinate tomorrow. Write now. You may have heard the story (legend?) about the wealthy patron who visited Michelangelo and found him staring at a huge block of marble. Eventually Michelangelo would create the statue of David from the marble, but at the moment he appeared to be accomplishing nothing. The upset patron demanded, “What are you doing?” Michelangelo replied, “I’m working.” The art of writing takes mental preparation, too, but don’t tell yourself you’re Michelangelo when you’re just stalling around. Start chipping away!

4.      Don’t waste a word. Back story? We don’t need no stinkin’ back story! Jump right into the action and work in any important information as you go along. Keep description to a minimum – just enough to make the story come alive for your readers and no more! Use powerful verbs and ax the adverbs. And make sure every bit of dialogue reveals something important about character and/or advances the plot.

5.      Read your work aloud. Or at least do that whispery thing where you move your lips and pretend you’re reading out loud. That’s one of the best ways to find too-long sentences, awkward phrasing, grammar errors, repetitious word choices, and stilted dialogue. If you have to read something over and over to make it sound smooth then it probably needs work. (See #1 and #2 above.)

6.      “In writing, you must kill all your darlings.” That good advice comes from William Faulkner. Samuel Johnson said it another way: “Read over your composition and wherever you meet with a passage which you think is particularly fine, strike it out.” Sometimes you have to look at what you’ve written with a cold eye and a heart of stone. Lovingly crafted scenes, lyrical prose, clever displays of wit, and real-life anecdotes should do more than show off your talent. Painful as it is, you must put the knife to anything that doesn’t also serve the story.

7.      We’re on a journey. And your main character should be, too. Of course, his external journey makes up your plot, but don’t forget the internal journey. If the main character doesn’t have one, then why should readers care about him? And if he doesn’t change in some way by the end of the story, then you don’t actually have a story! Clarify the main character’s personal journey before you even start writing then keep it in mind all through the process. Doing this will help you maintain the focus you need to write something amazing.