Saturday, April 23, 2011

Advice I've Encountered Along the Way

Throughout my career as an aspiring author--thank God for day jobs--I've amassed a wealth of advice from speaking with other writers, reading, or through my own personal experiences that I wish I would have known right off the bat. Granted, this advice is something I could have come across with simple research or chatting with others floating in my same boat, but I was but a mere newb with no idea what I was getting myself into.  For those of you considering a career in writing, I hope the following tips are of some help to you.  For those of you who already have a career in writing, I ask that you leave a little slice of advice of your own.

My Less Than Expert Advice

1.  Stringent goals are a buzzkill-Goals are a wonderful thing; they are, perhaps, why you began writing in the first place.  Setting stringent goals with your writing, on the other hand, is like slitting your own throat.  Too often, I've read statements by authors along the lines of, "I'm going to write 1500 words today," or "I'll quit writing for the day after I finish two chapters".   A part of me dies inside every time I read statements such as those (maybe that's what I've been smelling).  There's no sure fire way to either give yourself writer's block or to provoke poor writing than forcing yourself to adhere to unreasonable expectations.  Writing is meant to be enjoyable, empowering even.  If you must force yourself to do it, it's rendered meaningless.  Not only will this affect your demeanor, but the quality of the writing you're forcing down your throat as well.  Rushed, forced writing will read just that:  rushed and forced.

2.  Discouragement is a dirty word-We've all had our low points where we've thought to ourselves maybe this isn't for me after all.  Why else do you think writing has one of the highest incidences of depression than any other profession?  Of course, it does nothing for our mental states when we see the works of Snooki or The Situation being snatched up by publishing companies while ours remain in the slush or, worse, rejection piles.  Dear readers, the only thing standing between you and your dreams is yourself.  By allowing discouragement to eat you alive, you're allowing yourself to negate all the hard work it took to get to where you are. 

3.  Remember why you write-Whether it be as a form of therapy, to share a story with the world, to support a cause, or just to pass the time, we all have a reason why we expend exorbitant amounts of time plugging away at the keys beneath our fingers.  The day you allow yourself to lose sight of that reason is the day you should shelve the laptop until you find it again.

4.  Rushing only makes things take longer-I'm going to leave the obvious joke alone here as this is a family post.  Tell me, when you rush to complete something, can you honestly say you've done your best work?  I didn't think so.  Don't rush to complete a sentence; don't rush to complete a chapter and, by all means, don't rush to complete a novel.  If you decide to rush through a novel just because you're obsessed with seeing it on bookstore shelves, you desperately need to slow your roll, take a deep breath, and allow someone to bitch smack you back into reality.  Believe me, you'll be grateful they did.

5. Read and Write-I've always regarded this as one of those "duh" tips that should be a given, but I digress.  You're only as good as the authors you read, so choose wisely and read often.  You'll be amazed by what you can pick up by studying the writing styles of others.  When I first started writing, I began to pick up on things I never paid even the slightest bit of attention to before (sentence structure, punctuation, grammar, characterization etc.).  Once you've read, sit down and write for as little or as long as you feel compelled to do so.  Even if all you do is write a sentence, you're still working on perfecting the skills necessary to succeed later.

6.  Develop a thick skin-Critiques are crucial for any author and aid in making your story the absolute best it can be.  Sometimes, the truth hurts.  Most of the time the errors comprising the truth can be fixed.  Remove your personal feelings from the critique. Listen to your novice proofreaders and editors for they are your future audience.

7.  Set your work down-For two weeks, two months, or even longer, let the draft of your manuscript lay dormant without so much as a glance in its direction. --It's at this point in the post where those among the "rushers" are completely freaking out at the thought of this premise.--No matter how many times you go over your own manuscript, there will always be errors that you just don't catch.  It's imperative that you be able to look over your work with new eyes (no, putting in contacts does not constitute new eyes).  You'll be amazed by the little things you'll be able to catch (as well as the sheer amount of them) after you've put your manuscript away for an extended period of time.  If you don't believe me, try it for yourself.

8.  Two words for the price of one-Keeping your story flowing is crucial in writing.  Eliminating unnecesary words will do wonders for your flow.  One way to exterminate the little buggers is to look for instances where the meaning of two words can be summed up using just one.

For example:  Instead of using "to allow for" use "enable".  Same meaning, fewer words used to convey it.

9.  Save editing for later-Your first draft is for showcasing your creativity; your second draft is for beating the hell out of it.

10.  Read your work aloud-Somehow, verbally hearing the words you've penned provides more clarity than just "hearing" them in your mind.  There's probably some scientific logic behind this of which one can Google  (I sense a future blog topic).

11.   Keep a something to write on and with on you at all times-Ideas--great, earth-shattering ideas--can creep up on you when you least expect it.  I can't tell you how many times I've had a breakthrough and told myself that I'd write it down as soon as I got home only to find myself home two hours later with my hand in a Pringles can and my eyes glued to the television.  That idea I had two hours earlier?  It's long gone; a distant memory I only wish I could recall.

12.  Get emotional-If you're passionate about your writing, it will translate over to your readers. Dig down deep to that gut wrenching day when your first love broke your heart, you lost your beloved pet; the day you found out Snooki had written a book or that Paris Hilton was recording another album and let that agony run rampant on the page.

13.  Write what you want to, not what you think you need to-This is a topic I've beaten like a dead horse (see my blog post "What Covers Your Literary Bones?" posted on April 12, 2011). Write what's in your heart not what is trendy or marketable.

14.  Be open ot ideas-Just because you have a good idea in your head now, doesn't mean you shouldn't leave room for an even better one to take its place.  Adapt.  If you find that your story isn't gelling, revamp it.

1 comment:

Newbie Author said...

I'm a newb as well. You list a number of items I've learned to be true, and several that I'm memorizing.

I completely agree when it comes to goals. In order to write well, I need relax and get into the zone. Once I'm there everything flows... Setting an aggressive goal creates tension that kills my productivity.

Thanks for a nice post.