First I want to take a minute to say THANK YOU to everyone who commented on my last post or followed my blog after I wrote the post ‘The 5 Worst Writing Tips I’ve Ever Received.’ It was really thrilling to have so many people engaged in the conversation, and I hope we can keep it up!
Now I’d like to take a minute to introduce this post, which is the companion post to ‘The 5 Worst Writing Tips I’ve Ever Received.’ In this one, I’m going to briefly lay out the five best, most inspirational, most effective tidbits of advice about writing that I’ve ever heard. These are things that made me think harder about my writing, strive to broaden my language and deepen my characters, and inspired me to persevere as a writer. So, without further ado, here they are:
5. Write the story you want to read.
This phrase, on the surface, rather similar to the ‘Write what you know’ dictum, but they’re different in a few key ways. ‘Write what you know’ limits you to the scope of your own experiences; ‘Write the story you want to read’ offers no limitations except your own imagination. Here’s another way to look at this statement: ‘DON’T write what you DON’T want to read.’ If you want to write a NYT-rated work of literary fiction, but would prefer to spend your time reading mysteries and threw your copy of Infinite Jest at your bedroom wall, your work of literary fiction will probably suck. (But your mysteries might be awesome!) The point is that passion will shine through your writing. Bad writing can always be made better, but an emotionless story will never go anywhere.
4. Turn off your editor while you’re writing.
This has been said many times and many ways, and I’ve found it incredibly helpful. If you’re constantly critiquing the paragraph/chapter/section you just wrote, you’ll get bogged down rewriting that section over and over again, and ultimately you’ll kill your motivation and never finish the book. It’s more important to plow full steam ahead and take a look at the overall story later than it is to nitpick the details as you go along. Your first draft will almost always suck (or at the very least be un-publishable), so don’t waste time trying to make it perfect. Get the story down, develop your characters, type in that unbelievably-satisfying phrase ‘THE END’, and then come back and edit later.
3. Simplify, simplify, simplify.
Some writers can use florid prose masterfully; for most of us, using an adjective where none are necessary only complicates and confuses things. Someday, I hope to write an incredibly lucid story chock-full of beautiful vocabulary words (because I love vocabulary more than most things on this Earth), with adverbs dripping off the pages. But I’m not going to do that until I’ve proved what I can do with a three-word sentence. Lots of people confuse verbosity for talent, which is not the case. Talent lies in a writer’s ability to use the fewest words to express the most complicated, subtle idea.
A lot. Read everything you can get your hands on. I edited a manuscript last summer that was so bland and tasteless that I couldn’t find a plot; it made me confused as to whether or not the author had ever read a book in her life, whether she knew what books contain. (Hint: it’s usually, though not always, some sort of story.) Reading is educating. It teaches you what works, what doesn’t, how sentences work, how to use adjectives, how to create a plot and build characters, how to develop suspense and create worlds. I don’t have a damn clue how grammar works, but because I’ve been reading (a lot) for my entire life, I know when something is wrong because it just doesn’t feel right. Reading gives you an internal compass for how to construct your own works. Don’t be afraid to imitate the style of your favorite writers, because as you practice, your own voice will emerge, strong and independent. And this segues into the final piece of advice …
1. Keep a journal.
I know, I know, you’ve been told this a thousand times. Whether you already do or do not keep a journal, everyone’s heard this one. But this has been without a doubt the most important thing I’ve ever done for my writing. It’s also been one of the most important things I’ve ever done as a human. I started keeping a journal half-way through my senior year in high school, and the ability to document my experiences from that day on January 7, 2007 forward, has been both revelatory and transformative. The corollary to this piece of advice might be Socrates’ great phrase ‘know thyself,’ because writing in a journal allows you to dissect and preserve your own emotions in a way that, I believe, makes you better able to understand the human condition at large. Equally importantly, it also helps you practice writing. Your journal allows you to tap into the human psyche; it allows you to practice and improve your craft; and of course, it allows you to preserve your memories and experiences in a time capsule that will keep them forever close to you.
Besides, If you don’t keep a journal, how will future biographers know the true extent of your genius? *wink wink*
So, what do you think? What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever received? What advice would you give to other writers?
(Look, guys! I spelled ‘received’ correctly in the title! Take that, spell-checker!)