By Sonja Stone
WRITING TIPS FROM THE EXPERTS (Not Me)
|A few of my favorites|
I feel horribly unqualified to offer writing advice. Not because I’m a bad writer; I don’t think that’s the case. But because A) I’m a terrible teacher, and B) I have no idea how people write books whilst maintaining any semblance of life balance.
THOSE WHO CAN’T TEACH… JUST SHOULDN’T
A) Fact: I am a terrible teacher.
I know, I know. This is the point in the conversation when you say, “Oh, I’m sure that’s not true.”
Rest assured, it’s true.
HERE’S AN EXAMPLE OF HOW I TEACH:
Me: One-fourth is equivalent to 25%.
Unfortunate Victim (aka ‘student’): I don’t understand.
Me: *shouts* ONE-FOURTH is EQUIVALENT or EQUAL TO TWENTY-FIVE PERCENT.
Victim: Yes, I heard you the first time. But I don’t understand how you came up with that number.
Me: *throws hands up* I can’t talk to you when you’re like this.
This is not a joke. I’m a published author and to this day my children will not ask me to proofread their papers. From the tender age of eight or nine, the scene followed a predictable pattern: violent slashes of red ink; harsh words exchanged; tear-stained faces as mother and child stormed from the room.
B) Fact: I work obsessively. Or not at all.
For the second time, my editor has offered a deadline extension. Here’s what my day looks like: Wake at 4:30, start the coffee, sit at my desk. Open my manuscript. Work on the draft for ten solid hours (with occasional snack breaks). Stumble away from my office bleary eyed and frustrated, nuke dinner, go to bed by 9:00.
As my deadline draws ever nearer, the chatter in my head roars to a deafening volume. My inner critics drown out my characters and clamor for attention.
The voice of the responsible employee says, “For the love of God, just get it done.”
The perfectionist answers, “Tsk, tsk. Embracing mediocrity, are we?”
The impatient child screams, “This isn’t fun anymore!”
The impulsive teenager adds, “Let’s go catch a movie…”
PLOTTING VS. PANTSING
Friday’s post, I’M A PLOTTER, THANK YOU VERY MUCH, by Francine Matthews, raised a question writers are often asked: do you outline your story before you begin, or make it up as you go along? (For those of you unfamiliar with the term, ‘pantsing’ refers to writing without an outline, aka, flying-by-the-seat-of-your-pants.)
My first novel, Desert Dark, took about eight years from start to finish. I had no plan; each day I’d sit at my computer and type whatever came to mind. If you’ve read any of my blog posts you’ve probably noticed that my thoughts are often scattered, disjointed, and seemingly irrelevant to whatever came before. The same is true with novel writing; thus, the eight years.
I’m currently working on the sequel. As I’m under contract, my publishing house (reasonably) asked for an outline of book two. I found the process both helpful and excruciating. The spontaneous joy of an unfolding story is missing; however, I do anticipate that I will need substantially less time to finish. But it’s still taking longer than I think it should.
So is the problem lack of planning? Too much planning? Maybe the wrong kind of planning.
I solve problems one of two ways:
1) Immediately jump in, having very little information and no understanding of the magnitude of the issue, get three-quarters of the way through, realize I’m in over my head (or bored), and haul ass out; OR
2) Conduct EXHAUSTIVE research, studying all angles, issues, factors, and possible solutions, and then either:
A) Decide the problem is insurmountable and don’t even try, OR
B) Get bored because I’ve already solved the problem in my head.
As you might imagine, this makes novel writing difficult.
ADVICE TO SELF: SEEK HELP
Now that I’ve convinced you of my lack of credentials, perhaps you’re wondering what I could possibly add to the plethora of helpful writing tips offered by my blog sisters in the last few weeks. Fear not: I won’t be teaching you anything at all. Instead, I’ve compiled a short list of my favorite writing books. This list is by no means all-inclusive, but the pages of the books listed here are highlighted, underlined, and lovingly dog-eared.
1. On Writing, by Stephen King
2. Manuscript Makeover, by Elizabeth Lyon
3. Save the Cat, by Blake Snyder
4. The Art and Craft of Storytelling, by Nancy Lamb
5. Fiction Writer’s Workshop, by Josip Novakovich
6. Make A Scene, by Jordan E. Rosenfeld
7. Stein on Writing, by Sol Stein
8. The Fire in Fiction, by Donald Maass
9. The First Five Pages, by Noah Lukeman
10. Revision & Self-Editing, by James Scott Bell
OMG, Sonja, you so captured the frustration and angst of the writer. In many ways it gets easier, and in other ways it remains the hardest work ever — at least for me. A friend once called it ditch-digging of the mind. But the joy of it can be so effervescent and lasting that it keeps us glued to the desk. And the fact that all of us keep wandering until we make our own paths. What a fantastic list of books!
Thank you, Gayle! I look to you and the other women in our group as shining examples of authors who successfully balance life and work. I'm still searching for the path! 😉
Oh Sonja, what a great, "honest" article you wrote about the frustrations of writing — however, once the project is finished, you know the elation of seeing your work published and distributed….and then glean the great reviews. While you talk about a plan vs. no plan…I say, "Whatever works" — and while you say it takes a long time, I say that you create wonderful stories In fact, after all those years, DESERT DARK was the result. I'm currently reading it and it's terrific. Now, I can't wait for the sequel!
Thank you for the encouragement, Karna! I think plotting (outlining) is likely the most efficient means to an end, but I still haven't gotten the hang of it. I'll keep plugging away!
OMG, Sonja, you are just like me. I've had deadline extensions. I've screamed at my kids when they didn't "get something" I thought they should, and red lined their papers. I've gone to the movies when I should have been working. And I've used research as an alternative to writing. You will get this! Your first book was fabulous and I can't wait for your second. And I'm thrilled to get your list of How-to books. I've read three of them, but that leaves me seven new titles to check out! Thanks.
Thanks for sharing your work habits and the great list. There are a few there I will have to add to my collection.
The best book I have ever read on writing by a long shot is Steven James' Storey Trumps Structure.
Christine, I'm SO HAPPY to hear about our similarities! It gives me such hope to know that a successful author has struggled with these same issues! And thanks so much for reading Desert Dark!
RJH, thank you for the recommendation! I'll check it out.
Love this list and several on it I haven't read. Thanks for the list!
I heard at work(DEC) that the "Elements of Style" by Strunk & White was the best editing/style book other than the "Chicago Manual of Style" I agree.
Book Lover, book writer: I totally agree! Strunk & White's Elements of Style is on my desk next to Mignon Fogarty's The Grammar Devotional!