Writing Tips

At last! A module that actually has some useful information in it.

Module thirteen was a compilation of various tips for writing, everything from where you work to how you work and how to edit and revise.

The course authors suggest developing a writing habit. Preferably in the same place, at your own desk, at a set time, creating a ritual that will help your brain get into the writing mindset. But most crucial, and this I do agree with, is that if you want to make it as a professional writer, you need to be a professional writer. You have to approach writing like you would your current job. This is definitely the part where I struggle, and why I have so many unfinished projects. Writing has been primarily a hobby, and publication is just a possible eventuality. In short, I haven’t disciplined myself enough to develop a writing habit.

The authors also discussed writing habits. For example, finishing a scene versus stopping halfway through. I’ve tried both ways, and it is nice to come back to a story and have the next step waiting for you. I find I don’t waste nearly as much time starting if I’m picking up in the middle of an action scene or a conversation. (The challenge is remembering to leave a note that tells me what is supposed to come next, otherwise the great idea I had yesterday is long gone.) Another suggestion they have is reading through several pages of the last day’s writing, which I can imagine would also be useful in getting yourself back into the story.

 

Finally, the authors spent a lot of time discussing revisions, making a point that editing and revising is no more a “one and done” than is completing a draft of a story. It will take several read-throughs, looking for jarring transitions, word padding, unnatural character behaviors and too-neat conclusions to various situations. And finding the areas that need work is only the beginning, because obviously then you need to revise and rewrite them, which will take time as well. Once the story itself is polished, then you go through and scrutinize word choices and look for grammar and punctuation errors.

Finally, or before, depending on who you are, you’ll need to select a title. For that, the advice offered is to make sure the title tells what the story is about, and gives a hint or indication toward the intended audience. For children, this may include the main character’s name and her quest in the story. For adults there is a little more room for ambiguity in the title. For example, I don’t think many men would mistakenly pick up Kristin Hannah’s “The Nightingale” expecting a James Patterson-esque story. (Though they could conceivably think it more along the lines of Stephen King, judging from the title alone.)

Finally, the course authors remind writers that they are not puppet masters, but narrators, describing what is going on in the story, not directing characters and creating sequences of events. This is a tricky idea to get your head around, as you obviously are planning and plotting each happening of the story. However, the planning should reveal itself through seamless flow, not through choppy or jarring pictures of action. A narrator will show you how the characters got from A to B. A puppeteer will make X happen because they needed it to get to Y.

The best way to understand this idea, I think, is to compare a successful author’s writing to your own, to get a feel for how the flow of your story compares to the flow of someone who has met with success. You’ll be faced with a choice, more than likely. You can be discouraged at how far you need to go, or you can be encouraged, knowing that everyone started where you are, slaving over a manuscript hoping for that big break. And with self-publishing avenues and e-readers, I think it’s easier than ever to get a following, which may give you a leg up in landing a contract with a publishing company.

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