Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Tipsy Tuesday

Most successful writers are willing to tell you what works for them, and most of them share a lot of the same "habits", if you will, when they write. Such as the following:

1. Get to the point.

Don’t waste your reader’s time with too much back-story, long intros or longer anecdotes about your life. Get to your point quickly before your reader loses patience and moves on.

2. Write a draft. Then let it rest.

Crank out a first draft and then put it aside and let it rest. Now, how long you let your text rest may vary and may be dependent upon a deadline. If possible, it's not a bad idea to leave your manuscript alone for a couple of months before rereading and start the editing process.

This lets you get out of the mindset you had when you wrote the draft and get a more detached and clear perspective on the text. It then becomes easier to edit.

Sometimes letting it rest for months is not an option. At the very least, give it a few days.

3. Cut down your text.

When you revisit your text it’s time to kill your darlings and remove all the superfluous words and sentences. In a letter to a D.W. Bowser in 1880, Mark Twain wrote: "I notice that you use plain, simple language, short words and brief sentences. That is the way to write English--it is the modern way and the best way. Stick to it; don't let fluff and flowers and verbosity creep in. When you catch an adjective, kill it. No, I don't mean utterly, but kill most of them--then the rest will be valuable. They weaken when they are close together. They give strength when they are wide apart. An adjective habit, or a wordy, diffuse, flowery habit, once fastened upon a person, is as hard to get rid of as any other vice."

Don’t remove too much text though or you may achieve the opposite effects instead. Many years ago in a rejection letter, Stephen King got the advice to cut down his texts by 10 percent. He's followed this advice for decades.

(Of course, this would only work if you write long. I usually have to go in and add verbiage to get my manuscript up to the required word count.)

4. Don’t care too much what others may think.

It's natural to want to get people involved with your characters, to make them so real that readers can relate to them. Stephen King admits to being needy about the emotional feedback he gets when he lets his wife read a new story for the first time. He gets a kick out of hearing her laugh or cry because something in manuscript really touched her. But he has also gotten a lot of mail over the years from people who confuse his sometimes nasty characters with the writer. Or just thinks he should wind up in hell. And literary critics haven't always been fans, either.

But he sits down at his desk and keeps writing every morning anyway. If you listen too much to your critics you won’t get much done. Your writing will probably become worse and less fun. And criticism is often not even about you anyway. It's about the reader and his/her hangups. It's all relative--I've had a not so glowing review on a book followed by a 5-star one. It's hard to do, but you have to learn to push aside the review of the person who didn't fall in love with your book and focus on the one who did.

5. Read a lot.

When you read you always pick up things, oftentimes subconsciously. Sometimes it might be reminders about what you know you should be doing while you write. Sometimes the world and atmosphere the writer is painting sparks a new idea. And sometimes you learn what you should avoid doing. (Because, let's face it, bad books get published all the time.)

If you want to be a better writer you need to read a lot to get fresh input, broaden your horizons and deepen your knowledge. And to evolve you need to mix yourself up with new influences and see what happens. So not only do you need to read a lot in the genre you're writing, you need to read a lot in other genres, too. (Although I do try to avoid reading something that's too close to what I'm writing. For example, if I'm writing a vampire story, I try not to read books that have prominent vampire characters. I'll still read paranormals, just not with vampires. I don't want to be subconsciously influenced in my work in progress.)

6. Write a lot.

This is a big one. To become a better writer you need to write more.

Many of the best in different fields--we can all name superstar musicians, actors and athletes--have gone beyond the normal limits of practice. And they reap extraordinary results. The same is true for writers.

But what do you do when you don’t feel like writing? Waiting for inspiration can become a long wait--which is why you can't wait for inspiration. (Especially when you're writing under deadline. You just have to git 'er done!)

You either need to find an effective solution to reduce procrastination, or you need to just do it. And if you just get going, many times your emotions change and initial resistance transitions to enthusiasm.

Sometimes it doesn't. But as Nora Roberts has said, you can't fix a blank page. So write. Whether you "feel" like it or not. I don't always feel like going to work (actually, I usually don't feel like going to work!) but I go because I have to. Treat your writing like a job, and I guarantee you'll be writing when you don't feel like it, too!


Jamie D. said...

Excellent points all - thanks for the great list. :-)

Colleen Love said...

Thank you for posting your Tipsy Tuesdays, Sherrill. I always appreciate them so much. Sometimes writing can be such a solitary thing, and reading what other authors do just helps. :)

Sherrill Quinn said...

You're both welcome. :)