My first book, Drinking From the Well, had its merits. However I realized that to become a better writer, I needed to find either a magic wand or some sound, practical advice. With that in mind I attended writers’ conferences and workshops. And I devoured books on writing.
Now, eight years later, I have writing students struggling in the same way. I cut to the chase and get them past the magic wand fantasy. Then I give them a sampling of what I have learned about good writing.
Start Strong What is this story about? I have to let my readers know ASAP. No deep secrets are necessary.
Write One Inch at a Time Anne Lamott’s book, Bird by Bird has sage advice for writers. But the most golden of all her golden nuggets is: write just one inch at a time. To complete an inch of writing isn’t too daunting. I figure we can all manage that. Then another, and another.
Get Over It Keep it simple. Simple writing is persuasive – and simple means getting rid of extra words. My worst enemy is: very. I used to think that very added emphasis – but it doesn’t – we all need to keep our sentences free of clutter.
Cut off the right arm Strive for simplicity and clarity in writing. Does exceptional writing have to be more? More metaphorical? More lyrical? I have written some lines that I loved, but when they do not support the story, I have to banish them and it feels like I am cutting off my right arm.
Write With Authority Everyone has heard the maxim: Write what you know. If I want to come across as an authority on the topic of my book, I have to research, research, and research some more.
Be Authentic But no matter how much I learn about any given topic, if I can’t sound like myself when people read me, my story will be as ho-hum as a beige wall.
Keep it Palatable Even the most serious topic must have some levity or readers will just give up.
Finish the First Draft Even if I write it wrong, I need to finish my first draft. Only then, do I know what I have to fix. When I wrote my novel, The Woman Who Wanted the Moon, I was close to the finish line, yet I knew I would have to rewrite the ending. Nonetheless, I finished the first draft so that I could see when, why and how my protagonist started demanding the change.
Show Up I have learned that consistency is king. Writers have to do the work – every day –even when we know we will probably end up rewriting everything we are grinding out. We still have to show up, put in the time.
Finish. Period. Remember the first nugget mined from Bird by Bird– write an inch at a time – you’ll get there! The book I have recently finished reading, Without Reservations, by Alice Steinbach is 295 pages long. Each page has about 5 inches of close-to-perfect prose – that’s 1,475 inches – roughly 123 feet or 41 yards. Keep in mind that the font and spacing are miniscule. How did she finish?
*** PS If you read this post earlier and are wondering about the name change??? Well, another tip is: never post anything you write in the wee hours of the morning. Often times parts of it will not make any sense in the cold light of day!