Who am I to give writing tips? I'm writing a book, but I’ve never had one published. I’ve read books on developing characters, the importance of plots and subplots, writing in first or third person, finding your character’s voice – you name it, I’ve read it. I subscribe to a writer’s magazine and read virtually every article, whether it applies to my style of writing or not. And I do this because….well, I do it because I’m writing my first novel. Has it helped? I suppose it has, but I’ve come to the realization that like it or not, the way I've been writing is by trial and error. Just write and if it stinks, tear it up and write again....well, maybe not, but sometimes it seems that way.
The best advice I learned was to read and read and read some more – especially books in the genre that you plan to write. But you’re supposed to analyze as you read and I don’t know about the average person but when I’m reading, I’m all caught up in the book and it ends so soon – and I realize that I didn’t analyze it for all of the above…developing characters, plots and subplots, writing in first of third person…well, you get the picture. What should I do – read it again? Well, yes. The second time I read it, it’s much easier to look for all those things and I've learned from it.
Here’s a list of my own personal writing tips that I’ve found to help me the most. Believe me, I’ve learned all these the hard way. I started the makings of my book several years ago, developing my plot, creating my characters, etc. I look back now at some of that writing and want to throw it away – but I won’t because I see the mistakes I made and I need reminders of those mistakes so that I don’t make them again. Some of these are Do’s and some are Don’ts. I’ll start with some Don’ts – just because I learned those first.
- 1. Don’t be excessively witty unless you’re writing a humorous book. I tried to be witty AND use big words. It looked fake and stuffy. See, those are not big words – fake, stuffy – but they are real words in a real world. Write with words that you know - real life words. Real life people are not always witty – some are mean, some are dishonest and deceptive and some are just boring. Real life is not always humorous. It takes all kinds to make a good story.
- 2. Don’t be afraid to cut – maybe cut out entire chapters if you feel it’s best for your story. I put my heart and soul in my book and it kills me to cut out characters and what I had thought were creative storylines, but it gets too busy and cluttered – like real life. But none of us want clutter in our real lives. Clutter abounds and it's hard to let it go - but we don’t want it in our books and our readers don’t want to wade through a lot of it to get to the good parts.
- 3. Do have a basic story structure or outline before you start. Don’t write your book by scenes. I started my book while working a full time job and a part time job selling on Ebay so snatching time to write in scenes seemed reasonable to me at the time. I do believe in using life observations in my writing, but I made the mistake of writing scenes as I got inspiration from life’s happenings. I wrote my book in scenes with one main character in mind and a vague sense of where the story was going. I had neither outline nor structure to my book - I just flew by the seat of my pants. Then it was awfully hard going back and making them work in a timeline. It was overwhelming in fact. I almost didn’t make it through my first draft because of it. When I get overwhelmed, I stop writing and it’s hard to get started again.
- 4. Do write every day. If it’s just jotting down some thoughts on what your character would do in a real life situation, write it down. Words turn into chapters and enough chapters turn into books.
- 5. Do keep a notebook beside you everywhere you go. Some of my best writing has been waiting at the bus stop for my granddaughter. I even started going to the bus stop thirty minutes early because I could get a whole chapter written on some days. A change of scenery and quiet time are conducive to good writing. And DO find some quiet time! I have not had the luxury of going to a secluded cabin somewhere for weeks at a time, but I’ve carved in every little bit of quiet I could find.
- 6. Don’t LOSE your notebook. If you’re writing away from your computer, immediately get back to your computer as soon as possible and type it and save it. I'm ashamed to say how many notebook pages I've lost.
- 7. Do SAVE it in more than one place. Do I sound like I learned that the hard way? Yes, I did. I now save on my PC hard drive and a flash drive every day. I also save on my laptop about once a week from the flash drive. You can’t have your manuscript in too many places.
- 8. Don’t get obsessed with word count. I did. At first my goal was a novella with a word count of about 40,000 words. I was obsessed with getting to 20,000 words, then 30,000. Then I realized I just needed to write one day at a time until I finished. At about 38,000 words and only two thirds finished, I realized it was going to be longer than I thought. What a pleasant surprise! I thought I would never get there.
- 9. Do learn to say no. Tell people you are writing a book. It holds you accountable and it’s a good excuse for saying no to things that clutter up your writing time. When I took an early retirement, a good friend gave me two wood blocks that her husband had carved the letters "N" and "O". I keep them on my desk to remind me that it's OK to say NO.
These may not sound like the normal tips you read about in books or magazine articles, but I hope they’ll be helpful to someone along the way who reads them. They’re real and they’re what I have experienced. I have finished my first draft and I’m slashing and rewriting and trying to edit along the way - which, by the way, I wouldn't be doing if I had spent more time making a blueprint for my novel.
I have one tip that I've found to be the shining star of all tips. I ask for guidance every time I pick up pen and paper or sit in front of my keyboard. I pray that God will guide my thoughts and my words so that in some small way I may touch someone with the words He gives me
Happy writing! Find what works for you…and do it.