Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Best Writing Tips Ever

by Cat Woods

“... I thought of the lesson, only lesson I learned and remembered from two years of a creative writing class…”

This quote from one of my commenters on my home blog got me thinking about the resources we tap into on our writing journey and the lessons we take away from them. For instance, each book I read leaves me with one memorable lesson, while each class I’ve taken teaches a new concept or solidifies an old adage.

I have more writing books than a duck has feathers. I have listened to speakers at writer’s conferences who impart great advice. Some of it works for me and some is just out of my reach.

Probably the most common advice I have heard is to “Write every day.”

I would love to, but it just isn’t realistic for me at this point in my life. I have kids who need a taxi driver mom and a dog who demands my affections. I love spending weekends with my DH and nights get crowded with bedtimes—mine included. Every day does not work for me.

“Write what you know.”

What if I don’t really know enough about anything, but I know a lot about everything? To me, this advice is pretty vague. I write for kids. Do I know them? Sure, I was one–30 years ago. Things have changed. I love gardening, but in my own willy-nilly way. Not the Garden Guru kind of way.

As writers, we read blogs and books, attend conferences and cozy up in the comfort of writing communities and critique partners–all in the hopes of honing our craft and getting our byline out there.

So, my question becomes: what have you learned? What is the single most valuable lesson you have taken away from a mentor, teacher or kindly rejection letter? What words do you live by to be the best writer you can be?

My all-time favorite words of writing wisdom come down to this: Create characters readers can care about. If they don’t care, they won’t read. I live by this lesson. It drives my novels.

As people commented on my blog, I compiled a list of their tips. Please add yours to further complete ...

The Best Writing Tips (Ever)

  1. Leave out the bits that readers might skip.
  2. Create characters readers can care about. If they don’t care, they won’t read.
  3. Two words changed my life: “Precise and spare”.
  4. Finish something, even if it’s terrible, get to “The End”.
  5. Edit, edit, edit and then edit some more.
  6. “Cut the crap” was one thing a prof used to always say. It made me smile, and works.
  7. Don’t just kill your darlings; kill your gerunds. Die, “ing” clauses, die.
  8. Mind your misplaced modifiers.
  9. Know your characters. Interview them.
  10. Type, don’t think.Thinking comes later after you get it on the page.
  11. Open your brain–to learn about writing and to let your characters in.
  12. Write, get it down on the page. You can edit crap. You can’t edit a blank page.
  13. Be true to your vision as a writer.
  14. Of criticism, know what to take and what to leave behind.
  15. Do what works for you and your story. It frees me to use any words I want in any way I want whenever I want.
  16. Don’t compare. My writing journey is mine, not yours. I enjoy my journey and celebrate with others along theirs.
  17. “Find out what your hero or heroine wants, and when he or she wakes up in the morning, just follow him or her all day.” Ray Bradbury

Cat Woods creates lists every day. Some of them work, while others—like "Piano practice at 4:30" don't always help. To read about her whimsical walk through the writing life, you can join her at Words From the Woods.

18 comments:

Andrea Mack said...

These are great - thank you! One of my tips is to every once in a while stop and think: what would the reader want and expect, and then put in a twist.

LJ Moz said...

Super list!

#4: Finish something, even if it’s terrible, get to “The End”.
[Great exercise and I find it truly stretches one as a writer. Push through. You may just be amazed at what you can achieve!]

LOL! #5&6 can be combined.
[Editing cuts the crap :~D]

#17: I'm so with Ray on lurking in your characters' world.

Cat Woods said...

Andrea~ that's a great tip. Even though much of our writing just "flows" we do need to take time to consciously think about what we are writing and why.

Great reminder!

Cat Woods said...

LJ~ the beauty of this list is that it comes from writers. These nuggets can help so much in keeping us grounded.

Mr. Bradbury did have some pretty sweet advice!

Jean Oram said...

Great advice. I think I agree with all of it! But what would I add? Hmm.

Maybe: Be kind to yourself. And: Never stop learning.

Teenage Bride said...

when I give book talks at high schools I always say to write what you know!

Thanks for the love over at Unedited!

Matt Sinclair said...

I've also been leaning toward "Write what you love reading." My reading has changed recently, and I find myself almost a new writer.

Cat Woods said...

Jean, we can all use a friendly reminder to be kind to ourselves, can't we? It's easy to beat ourselves up when those rejections start rolling in.

Teen Bride~ great advice to keep in mind. If we don't know, we either shouldn't write about it, or we should learn about it.

Matt~ Interesting. I've found that my reading tastes have also changed over the years. I'm not sure if this has affected my writing yet or not. I'll have to pay attention to it and see if this has made an impact.

I also feel like it's important to clarify that this rule of thumb is different than read what you write.

Great input all! Thanks for stopping by and adding your tips of the trade.

Lynn Proctor said...

i really love #'s 4,10 and 14--thanks

Cat Woods said...

So many great things on this list, Lynn. I have to admit to really liking #14 myself. I think it's so important to let critiques guide us, but not sway us.

Thanks for chiming in!

Sharon Stanley said...

I am so new to the idea of being a real "writer", but I am finding I need to trust my gut more than I thought. It's brought be this far, I need to remind myself. I think the books and critiques and opinions and experts and writer's groups are excellent tools, excellent. But I also think the gut, that little voice that keeps hounding you is important too.

Cat Woods said...

Sharon, great reminder! That little voice is so easy to lose at times--particularly with large online forums or crit groups where so many differening opinions are doled out. We tend to try to please everyone and end up losing the magic.

Doesn't mean we can't use some help along the way, but we must always remember that our writing is ours.

momto8 said...

I am in the dreaming stages of writing...I love this list!! it is full of experience! thank you.
I am your newest follower..pls follow back if you can.

Jemi Fraser said...

Great list! For me, it was really important to learn that the RULES are most like guidelines - and that I'm not everyone else, it's okay to take my own path :)

Afsaneh said...

Thank you! I know I need to edit, edit, edit but somedays I get up and think 'what's the point?' Then these lists remind me that it isn't supposed to be easy. But it will be worth it!

Cat Woods said...

Momto8~ and here I thought four kids was a lot! LOL, if you can write with your full household, you have amazing skillz. I hope some of our tips and tricks of the trade can help shorten your learning curve!

Hugs and thanks for commenting.

Jemi~ I love the rule about rules being guidelines. Love it. There are no absolutes in writing, and we would do well to remember that. Thanks for sharing such a valuable piece of advice with your fellow writers.

Afsaneh~ it is worth it. I promise. Editing can be a joy if we come to it with the right attitude.

Keep on keepin' on, my dear.

Susanna Leonard Hill said...

What a terrific list! Thanks so much! For me, I think #s 1-4 are the words to live by. I write picture books, so precise and spare is really necessary - but so hard! :) I wish I had something wise to add, but at the moment, I'm just grateful for this list!

Mars-Bar said...

Great list. I love it!!