Wednesday, September 24, 2008

fifteen tips for writers

I am celebrating the past extremely successful week of writing (over 5,000 words... and I am officially on the last chapter of my book - WOW!) by sharing these 15 writing tips that I can, for once, almost be smug about.

First, I need to mention that I may get in trouble at some point for copyright infringements, since these 15 writing trips that tickled my fancy come from the 'extras' at the end of Thrity Umrigar's book, The Space Between Us (published by Harper Perennial). The reason I'm going ahead with it is because a) I would be honored if someone spread the word about anything I wrote or advice I gave; b) it may inspire you to purchase and read her book; c) nobody really reads this blog anyway so I'm probably safe.

I've also taken the liberty of adding my own comments.

1) Ask yourself why you want to write... are you just doing it because it's a trendy, intellectual pursuit?...remember it is possible to have a perfectly happy and balanced life without ever writing a book, short story, or even a poem

2) If you are a true writer, you will find what I just said laughable. [and yes, I did guffaw loudly after reading #1 and before reading #2, so does that qualify me as a true writer? Yeah!] Because for you, writing is a way of surviving in the world, the medium through which you make sense of your life. [partially true for me, but I also have the Bible and direct access to the God of the Universe to help me make sense out of my life primarily. But writing plays a big part in figuring out my life. I often work out my frustrations in my journal. I often write my prayers to Him in my journal, too.]

3) Ask yourself what you want to write... the problem writers often have is that they have too many stories that they want to tell. But usually there is one story that haunts you... [yes, it's been haunting me since I was 12 years old. Seriously. Thank goodness I'm almost finished writing it... I think]

4) Write in the shower. Get away from the tyranny of the blank screen... many people think that when they turn on the computer, they're also jump starting their brains. But that's not the way the subconscious works. You have to tap into it more frequently than that. That means thinking about your story all the time, living with it, never letting it wander too far away from you. A story is like a newborn - you have to tend to it, feed it, be aware of it all the time.... [this is where I dismally fail. I go for a few weeks at a time gloriously working/thinking on my story all the time, to months and months without thinking about it all, except perhaps occasionally with a twinge of guilt. Which explains why it's been haunting me since I was 12 years old... sigh...]

5) Make time for yourself. It's a good idea to work at the same time every day, if at all possible... Find out the time of the day when your writing flows the best and then keep that time for yourself. But writing is also preparing the subconscious to be ready. So you need to find more alone time for yourself even when you're not actually writing. Solitude is really important for a writer. [Ouch! double ouch! okay here is where it gets tricky for mothers with small children, not to mention four children, not to mention two of those children are 21 month old twins. Then it gets even trickier when you try to live a truly Christian, New Testament-modeled life, where solitude just about equates to selfishness. Unless it's solitude set aside for praying/meditating on the Word. There is some hope, however. I learned last November that I could accomplish absolutely amazing things during one hour in the evening after everyone else has gone to bed: if I spend time with God First. He enables me to accomplish so much more than I could on my own]

6) Most of us don't have the luxury of finding large blocks of time to write. That's why God invented flash drives. Carry that flash drive with you at all times. Whenever you have any time during the day, say, a lunch break at work, write your story... [my problem is if I start during lunch, I will guiltily exceed my allotted lunch time]

7) Saying that you don't have time to write is an excuse. The fact is that nobody has time to write, other than the miniscule number of writers who make their living from writing full-time. Most writers make the time to write. Their lives are no less busy than anyone else's. They too have dentist appointments and kids who need trips to the emergency room and pets who puke in the kitchen and gardens that have to be watered and weeded....[they are just better disciplined than I am]

8) Read extensively. Reading everything, from the New York Times to billboards to cereal boxes. Read the classics and read new books by unknown authors. This will help you two ways - not only will it make you a better writer but a great book can serve as an inspiration. Everytime I read a great book, it makes me want to drop everything I'm doing and work on my own stuff. [so true! so true! so many books, so little time!]

9) Believe in your work. Remember that every person on this sweet blue earth has a story to tell. The sad truth is that most of us will never write like Shakespeare. We will never be Toni Morrison or Leo Tolstoy or Charles Dickens. All I can try to do is be the best Thrity Umrigar that I can be... [hurrah! well-written, Thrity!]

10) Turn off the soft sinister voice that's forever telling you, 'This is crap. No one will ever want to read this.' ... it is the devil trying to paralyze you so that you won't write. Turn that voice off. There will be plenty of time to heed that critical voice later and even make it work for you. [But not during the first draft! For an excellent motivation on this subject, check out the NANOWRIMO web pages]

11) After you're done with the first draft, you can reread your work in a loving but critical way. [I'm surprised she didn't mention anything about writer's groups or some other form of critiquing. If you find a truly honest and supportive group, they can help you weed out the useless stuff with a minimum of pain]

12) Live a large and active life. Meet different kinds of people. Put yourself in unfamiliar situations. Expose yourself to diverse experiences that challenge you. All of this will make your writing more interesting [This is what I want to do more of. I want to pay more ATTENTION to life. To details. I go through so much of life in a fog of distraction. Even while waiting in line at the grocery store you can pick up some fascinating details about people. Carry a notebook with you everywhere and make yourself write down things as you go]

13) Love someone deeply and intensely. You will learn more about yourself - your flaws and your strengths, your limits and expansiveness - through this experience than any other.... [I have been given the opportunity 6-fold to do this very thing. Husband, step-daughter, my own four daughters. Interestingly, it is in the relationships that do not come naturally - my stepdaughter and also to a degree my husband - that you learn the most from the challenge of loving deeply and intensely (and I might also add, unconditionally)].

14) Be gentle with yourself. Great writing is always compassionate. The same compassion that you bring to your observations about the foibles of humanity, you must grant to yourself...

15) And finally, write for the right reasons. This is a bit of personal superstition, I suppose. But the ability to write is a gift, a special grace. It should not be abused... [I absolutely believe this. Ultimately I write because I have to; because it is part of me and it would still happen even if I tried to prevent it. But we should all strive to become more than what we simply are. I strive to turn my writing into something beautiful for God's glory. I am determined that my stories will always, somehow, someway, point to God.]

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