Grateful for Guidance
Thanksgiving approaches. Like most of you, we’re looking back on what we’re grateful for this year. Too many things to list, of course, but here are some of the best writerly tips we’ve collected in 2018.
- At a discussion at George Mason University’s Fall for the Book event this year, I was able to hear Elizabeth Strout speak about her incredible body of work, Olive Kitteridge and My Name is Lucy Barton, in particular, with mentions of her latest, Anything Is Possible as well. She admitted she doesn’t write any of her books sequentially. Imagine! She writes out scenes, prints them, then lays them out on this big table in her house and literally pieces them together like large, literary a puzzle. How freeing, to break out of the whole outline mode, or even just out of the guideline in your head, and simply write freeform that way. When I’m feeling stuck, I think this would be a great way to keep things moving forward, although I know it would likely have its drawbacks for me too:
* I would no doubt wind up with an unstructured mess.
* Someone would come along and turn a fan on, or spill a drink on all my papers.
* My husband would stop by, pick something up and read it, then feel the need to critique. On the spot. While I’m watching Riverdale!
- These little gems from author Richard Bausch, my former writing professor and advisor:
When you feel dry, mime someone. Write in someone else’s voice; write Faulkner for a while, or Cheever, or Katherine Ann Porter, or anyone, to get the thing on paper. Then go through and take out the SOUND of those other voices, and be true to the event, or the occasion, and clear about it whatever it is, and what’s left is you. You learned by imitating; there’s no reason you can’t warm to it that way, too.
Character is Fate. Character is action. Character is nature. Character is nurture. Character is the sound of a voice, a gesture, the color of the eyes, the hair, the texture of the skin. It is a matter of imagining, even when you are using a model, and it involves the marvelous reasonableness of the world’s fictional people—that is, we understand Jay Gatsby’s behavior, we are privy to his “romantic readiness” and we have full knowledge of what he felt standing at the end of his dock, his fantastic mansion behind him in the night, while he gazed, arms outstretched, across the sound, at Daisy’s green light. We know these people, therefore, better than we ever really know anyone in life.
3) This, from the latest issue of Writer’s Digest, on key book publishing paths. I love, love visual charts like this. They make everything so much clearer:
Here is some great writing advice I’ve received, simple but so important:
- Watch those verbs! If you’re using adverb to modify your verb, you might not be using the right verb. Is there a better, more accurate action word for what you’re trying to convey?
- Choose your readers carefully. When you’ve got a work in progress, be careful whose criticism you solicit. Not all editors are equal for all works. You need someone who “gets” your work, and who, even more importantly, wants to enhance what YOU’VE done, not do it over according to their own visions or tastes. Good editing makes your work better. Bad editing just confuses you.
- Write for yourself. It can’t be stated enough. Choose subjects and characters that compel and captivate you. It’s the only way you’ll be able to bring them to life and make readers care about them.
- Not everyone is going to like your work. Do you like everything you read? No, of course not. Get over it.
- When it comes to words, simple is almost always better.
- When it comes to length, shorter is almost always better. (There are of course exceptions.)
What advice are YOU grateful for? Whatever it is, embrace it, and pass it along.
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!