Monday, May 04, 2015

Ten Tips For Writers

I stumbled across these notes from an old workshop I gave on writing and thought that, instead of letting them molder in my files, I would share them here. (And even if you're not a writer, there's still some good tips in here.)

1. Notice. Pay attention. To smells, colors, sounds, tastes. Compare them to other things-- similar and different.

2. Listen out for interesting words. Look for alternative verbs and other ways to say things. Get an old thesaurus and thumb through it. Words are your friends; make some new ones.

3. Keep a list of first lines as you think of them. Even if you don't have a use for them yet. The best first lines immediately draw the reader into the story question-- inviting them in by intriguing them so much they simply must read on. When you're reading, notice first lines that do that for you. Why?

4. Watch people. Potential characters-- and character traits-- are all around you. The young. The old. The beautiful. The undesirable. Soldiers. Teachers. Librarians. Cooks. Artists. Service people. How do they carry themselves? What do their faces tell you? What tics or idiosyncrasies do they have that you can steal borrow?

5. Keep a journal. Write down quotes that capture you for their poignancy or spot-on observation about life, God, writing, story, etc. Use the journal to capture your life as it is right now. There is no right way to journal. Pick a journal that doesn't feel too formal, too big, too official, etc. Make it work for you. And find a good pen that writes well so you will actually want to write.

6. Read widely. Fiction. Nonfiction. Memoirs. Cookbooks. Biographies. Newspapers. Magazines. Let the reading inform you on everything from what other people are concerned with to story ideas to what good writing looks like, as well as what bad writing feels like.

7. Ask yourself "what if?" often. The what if is a muscle and it gets stronger as it is worked out. Ask yourself "What if?" after you read a newspaper story, a Facebook status, a blog post, a story a friend tells you, a tv show you watch, etc. This two sentence question can generate more ideas than you can ever write.

8. Go to live writer events. Pay attention to who's coming to your local indie bookstore for a signing, what literary events might be going on in your town or a nearby one. Subscribe to stores' newsletters so you can stay informed or subscribe to your favorite writers' blogs or follow them on Twitter or Facebook so you can stay up to date. Other writers can encourage, inspire and inform you, injecting that shot of enthusiasm at the perfect time.

9. Eavesdrop. Listening to the flow-- or lack of-- of real conversations can help your dialogue read better. Most every writer I know admits to eavesdropping.

10. Pay attention to good grammar. Good writers know the mechanics of language. And if you didn't pay much (any?) attention in English class back in the day, well then get some books like The Forest For The Trees or The Elements of Style and teach yourself. It's never too late.

I hope these tips encouraged and inspired some of you.
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1 comment:

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