I need to be more consistent, more focused on following through with a theme until I’ve exhausted everything I know to say about it. But then, things come up. Interesting things that catch my fancy like beautiful sunrises on the beach, orangey pink flamingoes at Zoo Atlanta, classes to teach, and marvelous books. About the latter, have you ever read Patricia Highsmith’s Strangers on a Train?
I know, I know. Those are all just excuses. This time I’m going to follow through with the writing tips that I began a couple of weeks ago. I’m not a writer of any renown. No fame and fortune have come my way. Still, that doesn’t mean that my tips aren’t beneficial. They’re all either borrowed from the pen (or computer) of a famous writer, picked up from members of my writing group, or learned from personal experience.
Since it’s been a couple of weeks since I posted the last tip, here’s a brief recap of the first five:
- 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.”
- 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 pro.
- Just do it. Do it every day, even if it’s just scribbling a few words in a notebook. 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Develop a thick skin. People will rip your work apart. Rise above it. And remember Aristotle’s quote: “To avoid criticism say nothing, do nothing, be nothing.” And personally, I think people would then criticize you for doing nothing.
I recently read Anne Patchett’s State of Wonder and was disheartened by the number and tone of the negative reviews of this book. While it wasn’t the best book I’ve ever read, it was amazing in many ways. I learned a lot about the Amazon rainforest, met some interesting characters (including a 73-year-old pregnant doctor), and was reminded of the Yanomami, the “fierce people” who live in Brazil and Venezuela. I hope Ms. Patchett isn’t disturbed by the almost ruthless comments of some of her readers and that today she’s working on a manuscript.
Even Jane Austen had her critics, among them Mark Twain. “I haven’t any right to criticize books, and I don’t do it except when I hate them. I often want to criticize Jane Austen, but her books madden me so that I can’t conceal my frenzy from the reader; and therefore I have to stop every time I begin. Every time I read Pride and Prejudice I want to dig her up and beat her over the skull with her own shin-bone.” I’m glad she didn’t know about Twain’s serious dislike of her work. And speaking of him, some of my colleagues have been discussing a growing backlash against Huckleberry Finn. From Professor Poole’s review, “It’s been called out for its rather sloppy narrative structure and is often reviled and banned for its inherent racism.” http://20thousandroads.blogspot.com/2013/06/this-aint-story-i-thought-it-was.html
Closer to home, a writer friend was recently upset over a comment about her delightful novel. The reviewer was disappointed in the book and stated that even her fourth grader could have done a better job. Geez Louise. How likely is that? A fourth grader? And is it necessary to make such vindictive judgments? Hasn’t this person ever heard of Karma?
I need to take my own advice and develop a tougher skin for all writers. I’m working on it. And if you have aspirations to be a writer, then you’ll need to do the same.