Tag Archives: writing advice

Honestly, Just Write and Stop Worrying

I am no stranger to anxiety. Anxiety may even be something of a close friend, but it’s one of those friends who talks on and on about themselves during your coffee date together and maybe you don’t even realize it until you’ve hugged and you’re walking home and then finally you think, “I didn’t even say that my dog died/I’m breaking up with my partner/I got a new job/something momentous and totally wortpart of an interview I did with PQMonthly as a winner of their Brilliant List awards programh mentioning.” I’ll put it this way: I hate my way through my relationship with anxiety, one miserable unwanted thought at a time.

That said, I am a product of no fewer than half a dozen terrific therapists and my neuroses are down to a dull, annoying grumble in the back of my head. I recognize frenemy Anxiety as soon as it pops itself into my consciousness, and sometimes I can stamp it out even when it’s bumbling about in my semi-conscious, because things like my body will send up an alert, and then that decade of therapy kicks in, and well, if I have to Goldberg Machine my way to functionality, so be it. It’s working for me. I’m even past the point where I tell myself to fake it till I make it. Read More…

Make Time to Write

When I was an intrepid tween writer I came across a quote by Stephen King that went something like “Writers write. I meet people all the time who say they’re writers, and when I ask what they’re working on, they tell me they’ve never written a word. They’re not writers. Writers write.” Apologies to Mr. King for the paraphrasing, but that was the gist of it. What this did to my consciousness as someone who really wanted to be a writer was set an external expectation on me. If I ever stopped writing, I could no longer call myself a writer. I had to be a shark, always swimming, always moving, or poof! I’d disappear in the mist of my own failure. So I wrote and wrote, terrible stories but interesting to me, and definitely definitive in setting up the foundation of my craft. Early on I was fascinated by ordinary people in near-extreme circumstances, and the relationships between them. I submitted to summer writing programs between my high school years, getting rejected a lot and accepted a couple of times, and then I absorbed as much as I could from the other writers around me.

I saw that folks each had their own rituals for writing, their habits, good and bad, and their tendencies, like being a night owl or a midday writer. They also took on the specific task of writing differently. Some wrote and rewrote through their first draft, others plowed through and got to the nitty gritty in later drafts. One woman spent months writing backstory and plotting reveals and twists before she ever got into the manuscript, and another friend jumped in and let the words take her wherever they happened to go. There were tradeoffs for every strategy of course, but taken in aggregate they led to a literature among us. That is what literature should do—provide an avenue for people who need to tell a story of importance to someone else. If the process of writing is varied, so is the access to writing. So it behooves us who care about the characters in our heads to open a space for the writing to happen. Here are a few of my ideas, humbly offered with no expectations for agreement. Read More…

The Monsters that Eat Motivation

If only writing were just about writing. If only the time we could dedicate to delicious production would fall into our laps and procreate making oodles of more writing time that we could carry around like a jar of marbles. But barriers to our own prolificacy are real, and grotesque, and numerous. They’re sneaky buggers, shutting us down even when we’ve established a groove, or are in mad love with our story, or if this is the only day of the week where we can carve a new canal into the manuscript. There be monsters here, in the world, with the best of intentions of a writer’s project their preferred fare. To defend oneself I have cobbled a list of such wickedness in the hopes that we all can identify them more quickly and banish them back to their lairs.

General self-doubt–Ah, the pernicious beast, this one! It loves to creep up at the worst hours, especially as writers are sitting down to their keyboards. You can’t do this, it whispers. You’re not good enough. Leave the writing to the “real” writers. What a mean message, because it has the power to unravel confidence in many areas beyond writing talent itself. The best defense against this monster is to find distractions, a.k.a. do something that makes you feel good. Your favorite music to set the writing mood, enough sleep each night, a quick walk to generate endorphins, anything. In the case of last defense, tell the monster to go away. Seriously. I am evidence that this can work. I suggested a long, around-the-world vacation for my inner critic, and it really did go away. Read More…

What We Talk About When We Talk About Revisions

Editors signNational Novel Writing Month is upon us, and whether or not we’re keeping up with our word count, we probably keep hearing the advice to put all edits aside and just lay down the first draft. This is good advice, because 50,000 words is impossible to achieve if the writer is focusing on perfecting the first 2,500. And yet people may not know what we mean by revisions or edits. How will we know when to start editing? More importantly, how will we know when to stop?

The answer to the first question is relatively easy–when the first draft (what I like to call “pass through”) is done. And by “done,” I mean every scene that needs to be in the document is written. I point out the scene inclusion because when I’m writing my first draft I often put in place holders like this:

<<STORMY goes to ALLISON’S house, steals her car>>

So when those are all filled in I mark it as ready for editing. Revisions begin as soon as I’m ready, in the next minute, a few hours later, or after a break if I think I need one. Generally I jump right back in after a coffee, because I’m not fond of getting back up to speed on a book; I’d rather stay swimming in the characters, storyline, and themes. Before edits can begin though, I need to think about what my goals are for the second through twentieth pass throughs. Yes, twentieth. Revisions are the real work of writing, as the first draft is the feel good phase. This is the heavy lifting, but look at it this way: you spent this much time building up momentum, you can’t let the project crash and burn now.

At least that’s what I tell myself. Read More…

NaNoWriMo for Everyone

This is reblogged from amwriting.com, a truly wonderful site for writers and writing.

NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month, is a month-long extravaganza where writers push through as many words as possible toward a 50,000-word goal. Sounds simple, and yet there are thick, twisted layers of mystery surrounding NaNoWriMo, usually stemming from some consternation that the writing process will be attacked by zombies. No wait. Not zombies. By writer’s block. That’s it, yes. Fifty thousand words feel insurmountable, impossible to achieve in 30 days. NaNoWriMo asks us to take a deep breath and jump in to our stories, even when they stop and start in mad fits, or run into brick, comical walls, or flick off the lights and force us to quandry wander. NaNo is a challenge, it’s true, but it’s also an experiment of will, a daily game of chicken against our fluctuating sense of authenticity as writers, and it’s up to us to stand firm in the face of whatever literary metaphor for irresistible force comes our way.

Here it is, Day 1 of NaNoWriMo. Heck, half of planet Earth has been typing away in earnest while we Western Hemisphere people are just sitting down with a warm mug of something and a working keyboard. This brings me to my first piece of advice, having gone through NaNo some eight or nine times now. NO EXCUSES. The road to a poor NaNo experience–and thus, everlasting sadness–is paved with excuses. I don’t have enough time. I’ll catch up next week. It was a bad idea anyway. I’m not good at this. Excuses almost never motivate good writing and almost always destroy process. So the moment you feel an excuse bubbling to the surface, shut it down with that rule number one: NO EXCUSES. Or to pull from a well known narrative–The first rule of NaNoWriMo Club is no excuses. Read More…

What Would Ev Do?

Dear Abby photoA writer friend of mine sent a question to me, suggesting I should have a column. So let’s pretend I have an advice column for writers. Feel free to add your own advice in the comments! Here’s our exchange:

Dear Ev–
I’ve been working on a science fiction novel for most of the summer, having fun and seeing where it goes. I’ve got about 20k words, two fleshed-out protagonists, and an endpoint in mind. My usual approach to writing is to just plow ahead and get it done, then go back and revise for plot consistency, etc. But! I recently had a realization about the plot that will completely change what I’ve already written and will change how I proceed. Should I go back and change it now and risk getting caught up in endless polishing ruts? Or make a plot outline that reflects how I will re-shape the plot in the second draft and push forward? I’m leaning towards the latter.
Thanks a bunch!

5 Mistakes Emerging Writers Make

Everett reading in San FranciscoDepending on how I tabulate my time trying to get published, I’ve either been at it for 26 years or 4. (Long story.) At long last I found a publisher for my memoir, and a few journal editors who agreed to publish short work of mine. I’m grateful for those opportunities, understanding that all of this work amounts to a series of tiny steps toward making my writing a part of LGBT literature, however miniscule that part may be. When people come up to me and thank me for creating something that resonated with them or with which they could identify, I am beyond pleased. Writing is not about making money, after all, at least not for me. It’s about connecting people and adding what I think is a rare voice in the market. I neither apologize for being transsexual or bringing humor into my delivery, because both of those aspects are sorely missing in literature about people in my community.

I admit there are many ways for an emerging writer to keep her/himself from reaching the market, however. And I speak from experience on several of these points, as I’ve fought against making them or have actually gone full bore into materializing these errors. I’ll also note that this is certainly not an exhaustive list. Feel free to add on in the comments. But as I have lived it, the big missteps are these:

1. Grousing–There is so much stress associated with being an unknown writer, I get it. We worry if our work is any good, if anyone will notice our value, we incur piles of rejection slips, even while we watch vapid celebrity book projects get tons of hype from traditional publishing (hey, ghostwriters need to make a living too). One expert will tell us our book is too long, another says it’s not long enough, and so on. But if you’re working on establishing an audience, remember that readers–seasoned readers in your genre especially–have no tolerance for complaining. Nothing will make you look unprofessional faster and with less effort than negative statements about how crappy the publishing industry is or how blind agents are to your talents. Complain in private, among your most solid friends. Read More…

Writing without a Map

old world mapNot only are jokes on the skids as humor goes–apparently there are more 21st Century ways to make humor than old stand-up one-liners–but coupled with the rise of GPS systems, and jokes about how men never ask for directions sound positively archaic. With a smart phone or in-car positioning system, one never need be mapless again. If our sense of direction is sub-par, no worries. In a new neighborhood or city, instructions for orienteering are just a few clicks away.

I admit it; I am a fan of plans and outlines and the writer’s equivalent of a blueprint for works in progress. But sometimes my standard process doesn’t unfold, and I find myself writing into blackness. If I prefer having character descriptions in front of me, a knowledge of the major plot points and an intermediate grip on the themes as I sit down to write, then I have to manage my disappointment when identifying the tale to be told is a murkier process. This new novel will only reveal itself to me in word-sized chunks–no matter how I try to stir up bigger portions of the narrative, I can only clutch at one scene at a time, like trying to get at the most excellent plushy animal at the bottom of a seaside toy grabbing crane. I will take what I can get, succumbing to this impromptu apprenticeship in authorly creativity and patience. Read More…

Writing Through Stress

penWe adult-type people recognize that life is hectic, tilted toward entropy, and full of aggravation. Big moments, unexpected problems, and the aforementioned garden variety pressures get us stressed out, and I know that is an understatement. But the writing (and the dinner making, diaper changing, phone call returning, toothbrushing) must go on. Of course nothing resolves stress like actual problem solving, but let’s presume that some stress is ongoing or can’t be eliminated before one needs to spend quality time with their project. Just what is in my particular box of tricks? For writers like me, having a toolkit of tactics to deal with chronic stress so the creative whatnot can flow is critical stuff. Check out the following:

Do something that relaxes you, and have time set aside for writing immediately thereafter–Book a massage, read something by your favorite author (always also good for inspiration in general), go for a walk to release some stress-killing endorphins, and while you’re still in the afterglow, tackle your writing project. If you’re still staring at the screen in frustration, hit up other sections of your brain by picking up a pen and making notes, jotting down back story, writing in longhand a description of the protagonist, and so on. Often one successful creative jolt fuels the next. Read More…

Writing Under Water

IBM Selectrix typewriterThe advice is to write every day, if you’re calling yourself a writer, that is. Every day. It’s a model of dependency because hey, writers love their stereotypes about being alcoholic. Or it’s a model about routines, the creative equivalent of tooth brushing. No, no, it’s about opening a space so the words can flow . . . into the drainage ditch of bad ideas. Okay, wait. Telling people to write every day is about injecting seriousness into what would otherwise be a simple hobby or a flirtation that never gets off the ground. Certainly there are a lot of people out there who talk about someday writing a book, but the last time they sat down to type it was on a brand new IBM Selectrix typewriter.

Stephen King, prolific author that he is, put it simply in the last millennium: writers write. Writers don’t talk about writing and not write. They write. (Apologies to Mr. King for my awful paraphrasing.) Read More…

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