The young girl who lives across the street from us writes. Her dad’s so proud of her. She brushes it away. A brainy kid. A little private. Prickly. I like her. Her dad knows I’m a writer, asked me to sign one of my books for her. The two of them came over with a poinsettia plant for us in early December and he asked, “Any advice you can give Bailey?” And the only thing I could think of right away was “Keep writing. Do it for the love of it.”
After they left, I thought of what else I could have told her, but she’s young. She doesn’t need to be bogged down with a lot of details of how to write a story or a book. Show don’t tell. Hooks. Goal, motivation, conflict. For right now, she just needs to let her imagination flow. The only other advice I wish I’d have thought of was–READ. Anything that speaks to you. It doesn’t matter if it’s comic books or the Bronte sisters. Read what feeds your soul and calls to you.
If I were to give advice to any beginning writer, no matter the age, I think I’d tell them the same thing. There’s no better escape than reading or writing. Do it because you want to, because you love it. Now, once a writer gets serious and decides he or she might want to sell what they write, things change up a bit. They did for me. All of a sudden, you want to do it RIGHT. That’s when I bought Jack Bickham’s book to teach me the basics. I gave that book, that I’d kept for years and years, to one of my grandson’s friends who was serious about writing a fantasy. And he’d come to visit me once in a while to ask me about this or that, and we’d talk writing for a while. I like that kid, too. He’s moved now, but I wonder occasionally if he’s still writing. I hope so, but once you want to sell, it’s time to change things up and get down to the nitty gritty. What did I tell him?
- Be true to yourself. Never lose the joy of writing. Because eventually, it gets hard. It’s easy to get discouraged. But if you still hit those keys because telling a story excites you, you can persevere.
- Learn the basic rules of writing so that you know them. Grammar. Structure. Spelling. And then if you break a rule, it’s because you meant to. If you’re writing your book in first person, you can’t change POVs on a whim and pop into someone else’s mind or know what they’re thinking. Even though I’m reading a famous writer who just did that in the book I’m reading. But there’s the rub. She’s a famous writer. She can break the rules and get away with it. Beginners probably won’t get that lucky.
- The book has to be about SOMETHING. It can’t just be thoughts that wander around page after page. It helps if it poses a big question at the beginning of the story and doesn’t answer it until the end. But I’ve read books that do just that. They wander aimlessly from page to page. And when I do, I never pick up that author again.
- My other advice? Write what you love to read. If you love thrillers, write a thriller. If you love fantasy, too, try writing that. And if you get stuck, then try writing something you’re NOT as comfortable with, something you’ve only read a few of. But KNOW the genre you want to write. If you read a few of them, you get the idea of how they work, what readers expect. One of the best things that ever happened to me was when my agent asked me to write a romance. I felt like she’d hit me in the head with a two by a four. I’d never, ever considered writing one before. But those six books taught me so much. I had to concentrate on hinging scenes on misunderstandings, unspoken words, hidden feelings, and relationships when I’d mostly concentrated on clues and plots before. So, once in a while, if you’re mired down, stretch yourself and write something out of your wheel box–maybe just in short story form. And if you do that, you’ll learn your limitations, too. I will forever suck at writing horror. And believe me, I’ve tried.
- The internet is full of sites with advice on how to improve your skills. There are myriads of books, too. I read Story Empire three times a week because each writer there tries to give good, solid writing posts, like this one by C.S. Boyack: Turmoil | Story Empire (wordpress.com) I’ve written for a long time. Do I need this advice? I sure do. It makes me think craft and reminds me to pay attention. I hope my writing keeps improving for the rest of my life.
My last advice? JUST WRITE. The longer you do it, the better you’ll get. But never lose the joy of it. Keep challenging yourself to be better, but enjoy that, too. So, ending this year and going into 2021, HAPPY WRITING!