One thing I’ve noticed about writers is that they seem to be a fairly generous bunch, well the ones I’ve met have been anyway. Whether its a best-selling author, a teacher at the local school, writing buddies met online, they’ve all have a few kind words. There is a sharing of information, a camaraderie, a willingness to help each other.
Perhaps it comes down to the fact that most writers are sensitive; we probably spent most of our childhoods with faces inches away from the printed page. We still spend long hours with our faces close to the page, although it’s often a blank one; as we strain to make our brains and imaginations work.
Coffee can help. Red wine too, on occasion. But don’t make the mistake I made and email a potential publisher after consuming more than two glasses. There will be typos, grammatical errors, and sections of text which might not make any sense when you re-read it the next morning. Fortunately the one I emailed was lovely, and slightly amused.
Anyway, the following 5 tips have been passed on from very kind, wise authors, who would probably never drink and email:
1. Just write and don’t edit – yet. There are two very different hemispheres of the brain involved in the writing process. The right side, which is the creative part, the home of the imagination. This part needs to be uncensored. It gets shy easily and will flee at the first hint of criticism. Get too mean and it will give you a serious case of writers’ block.
The second part relies on the other side of the brain. It’s a champion at editing; the cool, rational, fault finding part. What’s important is to not confuse the two. In the beginning, just get the words down on paper. Don’t be tempted to fuss and fiddle with the first sentence over and over in order to get it perfect. Write and don’t look back. Then once you have say 1000 words down on paper go back over what you’ve written and, with a more critical eye, see what’s working and what’s not. Even better, put the writing away until the next day. Some distance will allow you to be even more objective.
2. Be willing to cut and burn. Okay, you’ve just written the most brilliant sentence, paragraph, chapter, book. The words should be framed, put to music, immortalized. But if they don’t fit, and sadly sometimes they won’t, get rid of them. A friend suggested I get a special folder for the deleted stuff and put anything I chop safely in there. What a great idea. Now I can cut and paste it and know that it’s all retrievable. Although, I must admit, I very rarely use it.
I have two whole manuscripts I’ve dumped because they just weren’t working. But that’s okay. I could always go back and tinker with them one day if I get bored. One of my favourite chapters from Milk Fever was given the boot. And I loved it, I really did. It was well written, it was haunting and a bit scary. But my editor suggested getting rid of it. It just didn’t fit. And as I sat with the idea I realised she was right. The chapter was good, but it just didn’t fit.
So, remember, if it isn’t working dump it, chop it, change it, delete it. Or better yet cut and paste it somewhere else.
3. Be inspired by others, but be yourself. Reading some of the brilliant books out there it’s tempting to try to emulate one of the greats. This is a good practice initially. One of the best exercises I came across in a writing book suggested taking a paragraph or so from your own writing and then re-write in the styles of different authors; try Hemingway, Austin, Flaubert etc. Quite amusing.
But ultimately, you will need to find your own voice. Let’s face it there is no one else on the planet exactly like you. You have a unique way of experiencing the world. So let your own expression come through. And I suspect that our own voice is the one that comes most easily to us. There is a rhythm to it that matches the way we speak and think. It will be fresh and uniquely you. So, don’t be a watered down version of someone else. Be you, beautiful you.
4. Make ’em laugh, make ’em cry, make ’em wait. Charles Reade’s immortal words of wisdom. Whether it’s in the theatre, on a stage or in a book. This is simply terrific advice. The raising of questions and then delaying a readers gratification for the answer is a clever devise. I’ve waded through pages and pages of trash, just because I can’t stand not knowing the answer. And no, I never flick to the end and read the last page. Just can’t do it. Wish I could. Check your own writing to see if it contains some unanswered questions.
5 Don’t get Aunty Bev to read it. Unless Aunty Bev happens to be an editor at a large publishing house – but even then I’d hesitate. I’ve let my mum read a couple of my novels and she thinks they’re brilliant. Every single one – even the ones that make me hang my head in embarrassment.
But is my mum, or Aunty Bev or my best friend going to give me honest feedback? Probably not, it’s kind of like asking your boyfriend how you look those skinny jeans. The fear factor, and the love factor, prevents him, and them, from telling you the truth. So either send it off to a Manuscript Appraisal Agency or if that’s out of your budget, then consider a writers’ group. I was blessed to find a great one through the CAE. Also, once you’ve written your novel, short story, autobiography, recipe book, put it away for a couple of months – at least. When you drag it out again, it will be almost like reading someone else’s work and you’ll get a much clearer picture of how how it’s working.
Well, that’s it for now. Thank you to all those literary angels who shared their wisdom, who encouraged and motivated me and commiserated sometimes too. I’m very grateful.
ps. For a reason I can’t understand I am lazy about blog editing. Why is that? Must explore further.