I like to think that after more than 12 books, I’ve learned a thing or two about writing. The number one thing: before you can obsess over craft, voice and all the literary devices, you have to get words on the page. These tips will help you get there.
Get a comfortable chair
In the book Daily Rituals: How Artists Work, one of the things that struck me the most was how many artists lamented the lack of a good chair. The author quotes musician Morton Feldman as saying, “For years I said if I could only find a comfortable chair I would rival Mozart.” As someone in physical therapy for sitting injuries (no joke) I quite agree. Writing requires serious sitting time and you’re more likely to get your butt in the chair and keep it there if it’s comfortable.
Make a date with your muse…
Set a time, set a place and show up there everyday so your muse knows where to find you, according to the author Tom Robbins who knows everything. Make writing — or trying to write — a part of your daily routine. In fact, make it the first thing you do every day, otherwise you’ll never get around to it.
…but never wait for the muse
What separates the real writers from the wannabes is how much one relies on inspiration or feeling “in the mood” to write. Write when the muse stands you up. Write when can’t think of anything to say. Write when typing words feels worse than sticking hot needles in your eye. Keep writing even when each sentence is worse than the last. You WILL revise it later.
Write like no one will ever read it — on your first draft
No one writes perfect sentences or beautifully constructed stories on the first go round and if they do, they’re not normal. The first draft is usually an incoherent explosion of thoughts and feelings vaguely resembling writing. So just go for it. Let the words flow as if no one will ever read it — or judge it. Have fun seeing where the story takes you. Have fun allowing yourself to be imperfect for once.
In the battle of Pantsers versus Plotters…
…be a plotter. Sorry, but I think writing by the seat of your pants is asking for writer’s block and/or huge chunks of text that need to be deleted because you followed a dead end narrative path. Does outlining take away some of the magic, or the thrilling feeling of not knowing what will happen next? Nah. It’s only an outline. It’s only writing. If you come across an exciting detour in your story, take it. But try to have a destination and a map when you start typing. It’ll help keep you going when the writing gets hard.
Put a duke in it
Or, know your audience and their expectations and deliver that. There is writing to impress the other writers in your MFA program or critique groups and there is writing to make yourself feel brilliant and literary. And then there is writing for your reader. Whether you’re writing genre fiction like romance or non-fiction, your reader is giving you their time and attention in exchange for entertainment, diversion, education, etc. That is time they are not giving to their family, friends or job. Honor your reader and deliver what they want.
Also, in order to do this, one must also be a reader. So read. “For work.”
Delete. A lot.
Many writers are credited with the phrase “kill your darlings” –meaning sometimes those perfect sentences or brilliant scenes have to get cut for the story to succeed. You have to be ruthless and put your story — and your reader — first. Ease the sting by have a “darlings” folder or document so those little gems aren’t gone forever. Also, to delete a lot, you have to write a lot. Otherwise you’ll have nothing left.
Writing is rewriting
This is where the magic happens. Print your story on paper and read it with a pen in hand. Leave your story in a drawer for a while and come back to it with fresh eyes. Let other people read it and tell you what they think and listen (or not, whatever). Then — and this is the important part — go back and make changes. Rinse. Repeat.
Everything could always be better, including your story, your blog, your poem, etc, etc. But before refining something to death, send it out into the world so, you know, people have something to read. This will be scary and there will be brutal, soul crushing rejection. Overcoming this fear is the difference between a manuscript saved in the depths of your hard drive or a published book in the hands of a reader.
I’m teaching a workshop on How to Write The Right Book — Fast! and How To Build a Loyal Readership with the Hearts of Carolina Romance Writers Group on Saturday, October 18th 2014. Details are available on their website. I hope to see you there!