Friday, September 27, 2013

Random Writing Tips Friday

I’m going to start by assuming John Grisham, Alice Walker, James Lee Burke, and Patricia Cornwell will not be reading this blog post. Although I’m sure these four great writers continue to grow in their craft, they’re probably less likely to look for tips from a newbie writer.

Which means if you’re reading this, you are probably also a newbie writer. By newbie, I mean we haven’t ‘made it’, whatever that means. The writers who make it have found what works for them; how to write stories people love and are willing to pay for. But you and I are still searching for what works for us. So, from one newbie writer to another, here are a few random writerly tips for your Friday enjoyment.

Usual Piece of Writing Advice Number One: If you spend more time thinking about doing book signings and interviews then you do actually writing, then you’re not a real writer. A real writer is a slave to the story, it’s the story that matters, not all that authorly crap.

I say: Yeah, but….doing a reading to a packed house, talking to Terri Gross from Fresh Air about your new release, and being hailed by the Twitterati as the next great gift to writing also sounds kind of cool.

Here’s the deal: Unless you’re Mother Theresa, cut yourself a little slack on this one. Sure, you might know someone from the Iowa Writers Workshop who, as a writer, is pure as the driven snow.

But you and me? Chances are we've day dreamt about the New York Times Best Seller Lists.

You and me? We’ve dreamt about the sellout crowd to the eagerly anticipated third book in our genre bending trilogy.

You and me? We say if dealing with the nuisance of celebrity author status is an artistic burden, then send a little bit of that pain my way.

So you know what you need to do? The same thing you need to do in your writing. Just be honest. Me, there’s the part of me that would love people fawning over my brilliance. And once I’m honest about it, once I own it, and once I recognize it’s a part of me, then I can move on to the real work of writing.

Usual Piece of Writing Advice Number Two:  Real writers finish and ship. Pretenders? They are the ones who chase after every shiny new idea, constantly starting new stories but never doing what real writers do, getting to THE END.

I say: Yeah but…until you are an established author you have no idea what sells. I read an interview with Lee Child where he said he had no plans to write a character other than Jack Reacher because Child wasn’t arrogant enough to know what the public wanted. He knew the public wanted Reacher so by God, that’s what he was going to give them.

Here’s the deal: As newbie writers, you and I don’t know what will sell and as gall darn important as finishing a work is (and it’s important), I would argue what’s more important is writing a lot of words. Rainbow Rowell, the fabulous author of Attachments, Eleanor & Park, and Fan Girl, has said a couple times that her experience as a newspaper columnist taught her not to be too precious about her writing. I liked that advice.

As important as it is to finish, it’s also important not to be too precious about our writing. Or let me put it another way. That manuscript that you just have to finish? It’s probably not To Kill A Mockingbird. Shocking, I know. Don’t worry about walking away from that manuscript for a while. Chase that shiny new object and see where it might lead you. Yes, finish your stories but remember, you probably have to write a lot more stories and words before you begin to write something great. You have time.

Usual Piece of Writing Advice Number Three: Writer’s block is normally caused by yeast infections. Okay, not true although my wife is certain most of the evil in the world is caused by yeast infections. The truth is, when it comes to writer’s block, there is no ‘usual advice’.  Some obnoxiously insist there is no such thing as writer’s block while others tell you to take a long walk on the beach. My wife would tell you to take Monistat 7.

I say: Yeah…but I took Monistat 7 and my writing hasn’t improved.

Here’s the deal: Because there is no usual advice I might as well give you my own thoughts about Writer’s Block and for me at least, writer’s block can be broken down into two types.

Writer’s Block Type One: General Apathy Towards Work
Sometimes work isn’t fun. Even work that we think is fun. Sometimes its not fun and for some reason we try to avoid diving in and getting messy. Go workout. Get a home project done that’s been sitting. Go look at your credit card bill to see how much high interest debt you have. Let the writing go for a little bit and then come back to it. But come back to it with the right attitude. Roll your sleeves up and tell that piece of crap Muse that he or she is going to be meeting you on that page whether he or she likes it or not.

Writer’s Block Type Two: You don’t know what comes next on the page
Like Stephen King told us in On Writing, stories are like found things, like fossils. Our job as writers is to discover them and tell them honestly. So let’s say you’ve done your homework, found a good fossil, and unearthed it to discover characters that act in all sorts of troublesome ways. Things are sailing along swimmingly until you hit a stage of your story when things all of a sudden get….boring.

Yep, boring is the word. At first, you don’t admit your story has become boring but that’s exactly the problem. You don’t want to write what comes next because every time you try, the result is something boring.

For me, this is the most typical kind of writer’s block I face. And I discovered an incredible secret trick to shaking free of this type of writer’s block. Make whatever comes next “not boring”. Blows your mind, doesn’t it?

Not so easy to execute on the page though is it? The problem is, you’re following your characters into a logical boring outcome. And what you need to do is start being illogical. You need to surprise yourself. Take a character and say to yourself, “What would I as the author never, ever expect to happen next?” “What would I never expect this character to do?” Try that a few different ways and see what happens. Usually when I try this a couple different times, something pops loose in my imagination and all of a sudden the story once again begins to flow to Interesting Ville once again.

What are some of your random writing tips?

1 comment:

Robert Polk said...

I seem to get past blocks when I drive a spell or mow the grass. I need to be effortlessly engaged in something..and if I have 80's music on, watch out! Ideas mob me.

I don't think I'll try Monistat 7.