LESSONS FROM MY CHILDHOOD ABOUT WRITING
Me on the first day of kindergarten.
1. BE YE KIND. Read for your fellow writers and offer good, honest critique. It’s easy to look down on someone else’s work when you yourself are long passed the stage of development where everyone either longed to tell you get another hobby or just flat-out said it. Be generous with praise, but be genuine.
2. PLAY WITH THE NICE KIDS. There was an unpublished writer I greatly admired. For a bunch of psychological reasons I won’t go into, I felt like such an idiot around her. This should have been a huge glaring neon red flag, but it wasn’t. One day I listened to her chew up one of our group members and hock him out; by now the alarms on the flag were blaring. The way she explained herself to me, she made it seem like she had a reason for what she did, but not a good one. I was so enamoured with this person, I remained friends with her. But my work suffered horribly and, while I read reams of her work, she’d Email me back a few minutes after I sent her mine and lecture me on how important it was to be “serious” about my craft. One day, I was her target. Let me just say, those red flags are there for a reason.
3. STICK UP FOR YOURSELF. If you’re serious about writing, put yourself out there in critique groups. LISTEN to everything and fight the uncontrollable urge to defend your work. If the criticism is valid, it just is. Whether there is or is not a consensus about the issue, you might want to rethink things as objectively as possibly. But don’t be a pushover. When the critique is over, IF and only IF you are given the opportunity, explain your view or process. Discussing your work means you have to think about it on a different level. Amazing things come of this.
4. TEACHERS KNOW EVERYTHING. Not everything, but teachers have a bigger and better toolbox and they know how to use those tools. Best of all, they want to teach you how to use them, too. You will know you’ve had a really good teacher when you’re writing or critiquing someone’s work and hear your teacher’s voice in your head. “More sensory detail. SLOW DOWN. Let your character stretch out a bit.”
5. CLEAN THE BATHROOM…AGAIN. Sometimes writing is like cleaning the bathroom with I was a kid. My mom would always come behind me and, no matter how well I thought I done it, she’d find something I’d missed and make me do the whole thing again. When I finished the first draft of my first novel, I thought, “I’m done.” Be ready to write and rewrite and then rewrite some more to get noticed, and then, after you have an agent and hopefully a publisher, you’ll rewrite some more. Get used to it.
6. TAKE CARE OF YOUR PRECIOUS THINGS. With computers and their tiny vast minds, it’s easy to think of them like a piggy bank. When you need your work or a version of your work where you said something really cool and want to use it, you just give it a shake and there it is. As amazing as computers are, they aren’t fool-proof. Back your writing up yourself on disk. Use a back up service. Hell, print out the manuscript and put it in the safe deposit box at the bank incase the house burns down. Once it’s gone, it’s gone and just the frustration alone that comes with trying to recreate what you had or what you think you had is crazymaking.
7. STOP PLAYING THAT $*%* GAME. Nobody every wrote a bestseller while simultaneously playing Spider solitaire or Skip-Bo or any of those free games on that gamehouse.com website. Sometimes games are a good distraction, the beginning of a ritual that leads to writing, but ultimately if you’re spending more time playing Be Jeweled than you are writing, you might want to rethink your calling.
8. ROLLY POLLIES, FIREFLIES AND MUD PIES. When you’re telling a story, it’s easy to get caught up in the story line that takes you from point A to point B and all the way through the alphabet at break neck speed. Some writers write their first drafts like that and then go back and layer in the small stuff that makes the writing rich. Some people call it adding texture, but it’s a lot like noticing the small things like rolly pollies or fireflies or the design the wrinkles make on your protagonist’s forehead. What do her hands look like and why? Yes, it’s noticing the small stuff, but it’s also like cooking with your Easy-Bake Oven, tasting the batch of words, smacking your lips together, and knowing what the writing needs to make it rich. Chocolate is always good, but sadly isn’t always the answer.
9. GO FISHING. If you want to be a good writer and you’ve never been fishing before, GO. It doesn’t take much more than a cane pole, a line, a shiny brass hook, and a soggy creek bank to dig worms. If you pay attention, you can learn a lot about writing just dangling a simple line in the water. Sensory detail, order, pacing, and above all patience, which will come in really handy after you’ve written your novel and are ready to sell it.
10. TAKE GOOD CARE OF YOUR IMAGINARY FRIENDS. For those of us who don’t really care if anyone calls us crazy, we can freely admit we hear voices in our heads. Good writers honor these voices by writing down their stories. As one who has had as many as three protagonists telling their stories at one time, and as one who grieved during the time those voices went silent, I can say with certainty, they are a gift. They give us an understanding of our characters that can never be attained with process gimmicks, charts, or outlines. They give us clean crisp dialogue and are windows into living breathing souls that exist only to have their stories told. So take good care of your imaginary friends. Talk out loud to them, and let your characters talk to each other. They allow us to do what we love. They allow us to write.