Yesterday while looking up writery things on the net, I came across an article entitled 7 Things I've Learned So Far, by Jane Borden. I enjoyed her article, but realized her writing tips belonged to her. If I had to make a list of my top writing tips, they wouldn’t be the same. Not that hers were wrong and mine are right, but because we’re different people. Just because we’re involved in the same activity doesn’t mean we’re going to take the same path. Just like there’s more than one way to get to bookstore (on foot, by bike, on roller-skates, by way of the doughnut store) there’s a zillion ways to write whatever’s in your heart, dying to get out.
So, here are my writing tips. They’re undoubtedly poles apart from yours.
1. Don’t fight.
This is pretty basic, but it’s important to remember. If you’re like me, the perfect retort to a rude comment isn’t always at my tongue’s tip at the encounter. If you’re fuming and rummaging through your head trying to formulate the perfecting stinging comeback, you won’t be in tune with your story or characters. It’s impossible, for me at least, to feel in sync with my writing if I’m too busy mentally constructing closing arguments. I’m not advocating being a pansy, I’m just saying learn to be a peacemaker. It’ll help you be a better writer (and a nicer person.)
2. Write somewhere where no one knows you.
I live in Rancho Santa Margarita, but I write at the Mission Viejo Library. Rancho has a perfectly lovely library, but I’ve lived here for twenty years and I know people. Chatty people. So, if I can’t write at home, I go to the Mission Viejo library. (My hometown library, by the way, only has one chair. Sometimes writing at the library isn’t an option.)
3. Pay attention.
Being a writer isn’t an excuse for poor citizenship. Just because you’re thinking about your book and not about the road doesn’t mean you get to run red lights. Once while writing at the Mission Viejo library, I turned off my laptop, stood up, only to suddenly realize that a person on the other side of the glass partition, not more than eight feet away, must have had some sort of collapse. The room was filled with paramedics, a gurney, and a crowd of about forty people. When I left the library, I passed an ambulance pulled up to the curb, lights flashing. I don’t know how I missed all of this, but I’ve since taken it as a life lesson. I never want to be so caught up in my own private world that I can’t recognize and help someone in need.
4. Take Notes.
Truth really is stranger than fiction and I like to look for what I call novel fodder. Strange and incredible things happen every day. People, especially children, say amazingly clever things. Novel fodder happens right outside my door. For example, once while attending a school board meeting at the beach club, as I listened to a member of the school board give his speech and spin his lies, a mother duck and a line of her babies wandered through the crowd, quacking. It was such a funny contraposition I used it in my novel A Library in Rhyme. So, go ahead and eavesdrop. And take notes. Something bizarre it bound to happen.
5. Don’t try to be like Jack or Marylou.
Jack and Marylou belong to my writing group and are very poetic writers. I love their use of language. Their prose is lyrical and beautiful. Their sentences are long. I confess, I fell into the trap of trying to mimic their style. It didn’t work. I just had a slew of run-on sentences. One of the best bits of writing advice I ever received was this, write like you’re telling your best friend a story. If your best friend is Cormac McCarthy, go ahead and wax poetic, but if not…be yourself.
And find the best writing tips that work for you.