WORKING WRITER TIP… WRITE TIGHT

Some of the working writer tips in these posts are ideas I ran across once and remembered because they resonated.  Others, like the one today, I’ve encountered many times and in many forms.

The first time I came across this particular tip was as advice given by a mid-list writer who was repeating advice she’d been given by a news journalist.  (Shows how professionals help each other. Nice, huh?)  Anyway, the journalist suggested the writer check every sentence in every story to see which words could be eliminated without changing the meaning of the sentence or the piece as a whole. 

I tried it and was amazed at how much smoother my own story became.

The second time I ran across this tip was in an article by Stephen King in which he advised writers to eliminate all purple prose.  If, after doing so, there was nothing left, he suggested they throw the manuscript in the waste basket and start all over.  Excellent advice.

The most recent time I saw this advice was a week or so ago in an online mini-workshop in which a romance writer showed ‘before’ and ‘after’ paragraphs in which the ‘after’ paragraphs had been pared to only those words necessary to tell the story.  Not eliminating description, of course, or paring it so much as to be boring, but by taking out extra adverbs and adjectives and all the ‘said’s that weren’t needed to get the idea across.  The pared-down versions were smoother and easier reading.

So today I’m repeating this oft-repeated advice and I’m saying it as simply as I know  how: write tight. 

I will admit that I’m not always good at following my own advice because, as a writer, I love to spend hours at my computer with nothing to show for it later except pages and pages of beautiful words amounting to nothing more than word fluff. 

But I try and that’s the important thing.  I go through my manuscripts and delete a lot.  Sometimes I do as Stephen King suggested and delete the whole thing.  Because I know that every word in every story should be both important and essential.  I know that the closer I get to that ideal, the better my story will read and the more my readers will enjoy and remember it.

WORKING WRITER TIP: WRITE WHAT YOU REALLY KNOW

 A writer I met recently was discussing her college writing classes that resulted in an MFA in creative writing.  The thing that struck me was how strongly (according to her) her instructors stressed that writers should write about what they know.

That comment kind of ended the conversation because I couldn’t wrap my mind around the concept of such strict limits on my writing. 

I mean, exactly what were those instructors telling her to do?  Write her life story and nothing more?  And, if she was willing to follow their advice, how was she to actually know what she knows?

Do we know only those things we’ve experienced?  Should we limit our stories to those things?  And which experiences qualify and which are too marginal to be put on paper? 

Should young writers eliminate senior citizen characters because they don’t know what it’s like to be elderly? 

Do we know only those things that are real?  Should we never write science fiction, fantasy or paranormal fiction unless they have personally met the aliens, ghosts, werewolves or whatever in their stories?

Or is that the right way to look at the whole question of writing about what you know?  Could it be that that writer misunderstood her instructors?  I certainly hope they never meant for their advice to be taken literally because, if all writers only write about what they have experienced in the real world, then most literature out there today would not exist.  No Frankenstein.  No Dune.  No Lord of the Ring.  No alternative history.  No historical novels.  No science fiction.  No fantasy.  Few romances. 

Yet it is true that you write best about what you know.  So…. what do we really know?

You may never have crossed the void of space but if you feel the sensation of living in a space ship, if you see distant galaxies in your sleep, if you hear the snap of light zapping between stars, then you know space and you can write about it.  If you sense otherworldly beings, whether they exist or not, you know them.  If you understand the unfolding romance between characters that will never, ever exist in real life, then you know them and can write their stories.

Wonderful stories written by someone who understands that true knowledge comes from within the writer and is not limited to either experience or reality.

WORKING WRITER TIP… THE EASY WAY TO ORGANIZE

Autumn has arrived in the north country.  It’s not the peak of the colors, that’ll come in three weeks or so.  But there’s enough color in the landscape to know summer is ending.  And the nights are sometimes downright cold, even freezing. 

You’d think all this praise for autumn would mean it’s my favorite season.  Nope.  Not true.  That’s reserved for winter.  Yes, winter, that white time of year when the temperature can and does drop below zero by thirty, even forty degrees.  Even more surprising, it’s my favorite season in spite of the fact that I’m allergic to cold.  (Yes, really, I break out in hives.)

Why so much praise for autumn, and why is my favorite season the only one in which I spend much of my time inside? It’s my favorite because I spend so much time inside.  Because life slows down then.  Because there are fewer social obligations. 

It’s my favorite because I can write in the winter.  And write.  And write.  And write some more.

So the question becomes… what to write during all those wonderful, quiet winter hours?  That’s where autumn comes in.  Because it’s the time of year when all things come to fruition, thus clearing the way for whatever comes next. 

Every autumn I take stock of the accomplishments of the past year and plan ahead to the next one.  It’s when I make course corrections or change course entirely.  When I decide what about my writing is working and what isn’t.  So that when winter and all those hours of useful silence arrive, I’ll be ready.

This is something every writer should do once a year.  Not necessarily in the autumn but sometime.  Most people instinctively know this.  The problem is, many simply don’t do it.

Do it.  Make the time.  Because it’s the easiest way I know to organize your mind, your work and your writing.  Once a year go wherever you go or do whatever you do when you need to think.   Don’t bring any pieces of paper, or lists because there should be nothing between you and your thoughts.  You’ll be amazed how things will fall into place and your career path will become clear. 

Then put the seat of your pants on the seat of your chair and see how much you can achieve.

TOO MUCH OF A GOOD THING

 I’m guest blogger on the KeithPublicactions blog in a couple weeks or so.  That’s September 27 for those of you who might want to see what Keith Publications is like and what I have to say. 

 The thing is, I’m technologically challenged so it might be the last guest post I do.  Probably not but I’m an emotional wreck after doing a poor job of what most people can do perfectly in their sleep.  In other words, I’m still recovering from the technology involved in a simple and rather short post. 

 Foolish me, I thought all I’d have to do was write a scintillating post and send it to them.  Like I said, foolish me.

 Keith Publications, like many blogs, knows that authors like me need publicity and they provide it in the form of having me do a guest blog.  Great idea.  Gets my name out, gets out the name of my upcoming book and a little about it.

 And that’s the problem.  In order for them to so nicely get all that information out, they need to have it.  Which means I have to provide it.  All of it.  Me.  Just me.  No fairies out there flitting from my computer to theirs with everything they need to know.  Darn.

So I filled out what seemed like a very, very long form with everything in it I could possibly think of that anyone might want to know about me.  Then I wrote a post.  That part was easy, I enjoy writing. 

 Then I tried to send them everything they wanted.  The form.  I think it got there okay.  A picture of me that my computer refused to upload.  A link to my blog that I might have got to them… or I might not have.  The blog that I’m fairly sure went okay.  If not, then there won’t be a blog by yours truly on the Keith Publications’ site.

 You get the idea.  I’m technologically challenged.  I’ve signed up for a class on WordPress blogs so maybe I’ll be able to figure out how to do this blog that I’ve been doing for over a year.  Or maybe not.  After all this is me we’re talking about here. 

 So maybe this guest blog thing is too much of a good thing.  Maybe I’ll just stick to doing what I do best…. writing romance fiction… and leave the technological stuff to others. 

 Or maybe not.  After all, there’s always next time…

WORKING WRITER TIP… THE MENTAL ASPECT OF WRITING

Some time ago, I purchased a book on writing fiction.  Not my first such purchase by any means, but the blurb for this book intrigued me because it promised to teach me how to write fiction.  So I sent for the book and when it arrived I read it cover to cover.

There wasn’t much about the craft of fiction writing in the book.  Less than half, maybe only a third.  The rest of the book was about meditation.

How to meditate. When to meditate.  How often to meditate.  And what should happen inside my mind during and after meditation.  I followed the instructions carefully, though with skepticism.  I’ve always believed in the power of taking a few minutes sometime during the day and just dong nothing.  Relaxing.  Napping.  Sipping tea.  Anything.   But meditation?  Come on now!  But I tried it.

 I soon learned that I simply cannot close my eyes and think about nothing.  No matter how hard I try, no matter how many mantras I repeat, no matter how many fluffy, pink clouds I visualize.  I can’t do it.  I just can’t. 

But I got what the author of that book was trying to tell me.  That writing begins in the mind.  In the thoughts of the writer.  If those thoughts are muddy and confused and skittering every which way without focus or center or purpose, then the end result will also be muddy, confused and lacking focus, center or purpose. 

It’s a sad fact that sometimes the harder we writers try to write, if we try too hard, then instead of focusing better on what we’re doing, we actually lose focus and our writing suffers.

When this happens, take a break. 

If you can meditate, do so.  If you’re like me, get up out of the chair, leave the room, get as far away from writing as possible and do whatever relaxes you, be it gardening, painting, shopping or whatever.  And don’t return to that chair until every single mental cobweb is gone and your mind is sharp and focused and you know… you don’t just think, you know … what you want to tell your readers.

Doing this isn’t being lazy.  It’s not unprofessional.  It’s a professional answer to a common problem, and you will end up spending fewer hours writing than you would have spent if you forced yourself to do something when your mind wasn’t there.