Do this. Don’t do that. When I first joined a local writing group, I heard those phrases more than I like to think about. Let’s be honest; I still hear those five little words at just about every critique meeting. I’ve always been a “decent” writer, but being a part of this group has helped me become a better one…or at least a more cautious one. I think twice before thinking “done” and submitting a piece to the group for critiquing, fully aware that it will be reworked several more times.
There are dozens of things I’ve learned from my writer friends that I had no inkling of before getting to know them. Here are just a few:
- Watch those “ing” words. Many are gerunds, and you want to avoid their overuse.
- Use passive voice sparingly. Use action verbs to add punch to your story and move it along. Say, “He hastened to the barn,” and not, “He walked to the barn.”
- Show, don’t tell. Don’t tell the reader that your protagonist is sad. Let him see the tear running down her cheek or hear her monosyllabic responses.
- Make sure your dialogue is “real” and don’t add filler words even if that’s what the person really said. Although speech between humans consists of lots of words like “uh” and “you know,” don’t include them unless they add to the story.
- And while I’m on the subject of words, don’t repeat the same one in the same paragraph…or even on the same page if you can help it. Sometimes you can’t. Once I read some advice about the folly of using a synonym for banana. Try it. No matter what you write, it sounds strange and stilted. Just say banana. That sounds so much better than a curved, elongated, edible fruit, typically yellow.
- Remember the importance of time and place. I once got called out on the staleness of a pick-up line one of my characters used in a bar. “How old are these people?” my writer friend asked. “And when did this story take place? No one talks like that anymore.”
- Read and follow guidelines from style guides such as The Chicago Manual of Style. Until our anthology, Serving Up Memory, was edited, we didn’t realize the importance of choosing and sticking with a consistent method of telling time, capitalizing words such as Marine, or spelling out numbers less than 100. I recently learned that degrees such as BA and BS should include no periods.
- Develop a thick skin.Good writers and well-known writers (not always the same) still get criticized. Earlier this week, I listened to a podcast on which Malcolm Gladwell was being interviewed. He admitted that although writing books could be a “pain” the hardest part was the aftermath when some “jackass” had some negative comments to make.
You might think all of the rules and helpful hints would have dissuaded me from writing by now, that I would have given up all hope of ever writing something “decent” again. But no, I’ve accepted the fact that writing is hard work IF you want to produce something of quality that people will actually want to read.
I’m working on it, Folks. Blogging (oops, an “ing” word) is good practice.