“How do you go about writing a novel?” Rosa asked.
“I don’t know for sure, never written one.”
“Yes, but you’ve written books before. Where do you start?”
“Yeah, I’ve got this great book idea, and I don’t know what to do first.”
“Like I said, I’ve never written a novel, but I imagine that whether writing fiction or nonfiction, some things are the same.”
“Like pick up your pen and start writing. Or open you laptop and start pecking away.”
“Huh? I mean, how do you know what to write first?”
I could see that she was 100 percent serious so I gave her a couple of tips that I’ve picked up from writer friends, authors, and personal experience. Within a couple of minutes, Rosa probably wished she hadn’t asked. I was on a roll, for sure!
A day later, I’m still thinking about our conversation and have decided to write some guidelines for her and anyone else who is thinking about putting words on paper (or computer screen). That said, I don’t claim to be an expert, just a person who’s picked up a few things along the way and is willing to share them.
Read. Good readers make good writers. To quote Stephen King, “Can I be blunt on this? If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.” I underlined those words of wisdom from King’s On Writing. He further states that “reading is the creative center of a writers’ life.” Remember when I said that I’m no expert? I’m not, but Stephen King is.
Learn all you can about the art, craft, and mechanics of writing. This seems obvious, and yet some people want to hop to it without understanding misplaced modifiers and pronoun antecedents. I’ve been a teacher for 35 years, and the only reason I had the privilege of practicing that profession is because I jumped through the hoops and did what I had to do to qualify to teach. It’s no different for nursing, accounting, plumbing, hair styling, or counseling. You have to learn the basics and pass the tests.
Lately I’ve been thinking of experimenting with fiction. Just about everything I’ve ever written is nonfiction, and I think that’s probably because of my teaching background. Teachers have to read a lot and then present information to other people in a clear, organized way. I’m fairly decent at doing that, but I’m not so good at telling stories. I want to be though. And so I’ve started learning more about foreshadowing, plot, and character development. I’m working on the basic “show, don’t tell” instruction too. And Saturday I’m going to an Intensive Writing Workshop for one reason: I want to learn how to be a better writer.
Just do it. Do it every day, even if it’s just scribbling a few words in a notebook. Sometimes people will wail, “But that’s easy for you to say. You’re retired.” Yes, I am– at least semi-retired. BUT, I still think that if you truly want to write, you’ll find a few minutes every single day. I understand that Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote Uncle Tom’s Cabin while taking care of six children and doing all of the other household duties that homemakers have to do. Nor did she have a room of her own in which to work; she did most of her writing at the kitchen table.
I wrote the above and six more guidelines while waiting at the Toyota dealership to get my car serviced earlier this afternoon. Thank goodness I had a notebook with me and was willing to follow my own advice and Just Do It. Right now I need to do some writing of a different kind AND finish The Misremembered Man for book club tonight.
I’ll post the other six guidelines/suggestions next time. In the meantime, what is some of the best writing advice you’ve ever received? (I’ve been told that I use “to be” too often, and I see that I used that expression three times in the above post. How would you rewrite those phrases?)