I’m jumping right into a continuation of Friday’s post on writing tips. Granted, I’m a novice, but I have picked up some excellent advice over the past couple of years and am willing to share it. Perhaps it will help some other writer and prevent her (or him) from making some of my mistakes.
Here’s my fourth guideline: Be prepared to work hard. It’d be nice if your muse mojo visited every time you write, but it doesn’t happen like that. Rather than try to come up with something original, I’m lifting something directly from Crossing the Bridge: Succeeding in a Community College and Beyond to illustrate this point.
The Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell (2007) is a book filled with story after story of talented, intelligent people who do things that are out of the ordinary. All of the outliers shared a key element in their success. They were talented and smart, yes. But they didn’t let their gifts lie fallow. They worked and worked and worked. They didn’t just work harder than the average Jane or Joe; they worked much, much harder.
Gladwell reports that researchers have settled on what they think is the magic number for true expertise: ten thousand hours (39). After stating that talent plus practice is what leads to achievement, Gladwell goes on to relate numerous instances. The Beatles, for instance, were just another talented band until they spent (you guessed it) ten thousand hours in Hamburg playing and performing for hours on end (47-50).
“But I don’t have that kind of time,” you might lament. “I have a job, kids, sick grandmother, _____________.” (You fill in the blank).
You wouldn’t be telling me anything I don’t already know. However, I sincerely believe that if you don’t do the time, you won’t make the grade (the award, the championship, the degree, or the promotion). This applies to every area of life. Could Tiger continue to win unless he practiced?
So true, Folks. Whether you write, sing, or play ball, you have to work at it. Yesterday at a conference I attended, one of the speakers told us about a writer friend of his who works eight hours a day perfecting her craft. Most of us aren’t committed or free enough to give that kind of time, but we all need to give a little every day if we want to improve.
The fifth suggestion is to find a group of writer friends. In South Carolina, we’re fortunate to have a statewide organization with local chapters. Although it varies from community to community, most meet at least twice a month to share ideas and critique each other’s work. Because of the comments of my writer friends, I’ve learned about the no no’s of overusing gerunds, adverbs, and exclamation points. I’ve also learned not to use terms such as “exclaimed” but to stick to “said” instead. And then yesterday, one of the speakers said it was just fine to leave out all of those terms when you have lines of dialogue.
If there isn’t a chapter in your town or city, perhaps you can start one. In my circle of friends, there are many with the desire and aptitude to write, but they don’t have the confidence (yet) to trust their own voices. Some might not even understand that term. If you’re one of those people, don’t be embarrassed. Yesterday at a writing workshop, I heard voice defined twice. But back to the point, if you’re reading this and want to be part of a writing group but don’t want to join what you perceive as a formal group, start your own. In fact, I’m in the process of starting another writing group with a few church friends who are interesting in journaling. Want to join us?
And lest I forget, there are several writing groups that you can join online. I must admit that while I’ve joined them, I haven’t participated except for the reading aspect. Why? Because there’s so much good stuff out there to read and learn, and concentrating on that aspect is quite time consuming.
I’ve done my time or this morning, made my drop in the bucket towards 10,000 hours. And yesterday I spent the day with some talented folks in SCWW. Later today, I’m going to rub shoulders with some people who want to get together as writers. And you? Will you string together a few sentences today? Will you consider joining a writing group?