I am most certainly not a famous writer. But a writer I am, and as a result of a year of blogging, I have begun to get a few questions about writers and writing that I do feel qualified to answer. Just this week, someone asked me how on earth I came to write a blog in the first place.
So here goes: advice to writers from a writer who is not famous, not published, not represented by a literary agent, and probably not destined for greatness. But in the “you can learn something from just about anybody” school of life, here are my writing tips for aspiring authors:
WRITE WHAT YOU KNOW. I know my husband better than anybody else. I can finish his sentences for him, and often do. I have spent forty years plumbing the depths of his wondrous mind, and I have discovered a writer’s gold mine there. I could no more write a treatise on the economy than win a Nobel prize, but I have found enough fodder in my husband to fuel blogs aplenty.
KEEP IT SHORT. The best writers get an idea, and then say it. Period. A few great ones can throw in adjectives and adverbs that make their writing sing, but the rest of us hang ourselves by adding too many modifiers. It truly is the thought that counts, not how uniquely you can say it.
MAKE IT COHESIVE. Get one good idea. Build a piece around IT. Too many ideas expressed in one place are confusing, confounding, and just plain muddy. Outlines are the greatest things since sliced bread! Figuring out what you want to say before you write makes writing flow. Or, as my small daughter said once, “I didn’t like that story. It didn’t have a skeleton.”
GET GRAMMAR. Man, oh man, if I had a dollar for every punctuation error, misplaced modifier, or misused apostrophe I see, I would have my own butler. Good writers are understandable. Grammar is what makes the written word understandable. James Joyce and a few others could ignore it, but I think that grammar is a writer’s best friend!
THINK OUTSIDE THE BOX. If it is a beautiful day out there, you can be sure that there are hundreds of would-be writers writing about the breeze, the rays hitting the daffodils, or the beauty of their children as they tumble in the park. On beautiful days, I see all the dog poop in the yard, my husband coming at me with a power washer, and an opportunity to acquire four new pairs of Capri pants. Don’t write about the obvious.
PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE. All good writers write a lot. I pride myself on a grocery list well done. It doesn’t matter whether it is a note to the teacher, a letter to the editor, or an email to a friend. If you are going to write something, do it as well as you can. Then do it over. Writers write. It doesn’t matter, really, what you write, as long as you are practicing.
EXPERIENCE MAKES THE WRITER. The layers of one’s life are what make a person interesting. Are you an adventurer? You are fortunate; you will have a lot to draw on as a writer. Are you housebound? No excuse; it didn’t stop Emily Dickinson. Are you just a kid? Well that is a whole world you can explore. I do feel that I have found my voice just recently as an older woman, but for me, life got in the way of my writing. Don’t let that happen to you.
LEARN AS MUCH AS YOU CAN FROM OTHER PEOPLE. My husband is a man of a million questions. If you have a story, he will drag it out of you. Over the years, he has become friends with waitresses, plumbers, every neighbor in a five mile radius, and much to my chagrin, the people in the rows in front of and behind us at every movie we have attended. But what he uncovers are human truths. And those truths are worth writing about.
My fifteen minutes of fame may never come, or I might just get five minutes. But I am a writer. I love words. I make myself laugh. I just keep on typing. And my advice to all of you out there who want to be writers? Write something. Wait. Revise it. Wait. Revise it once again. Think about your life.
Then repeat the process.