Elizabeth: Writer’s Rules of Engagement

writing_typewriterRecently I’ve been going through things in my office/library – sorting, organizing, trashing – in an attempt to make the space both useful and inviting.  It’s a step in a larger project that includes building and installing a wall of built-in bookshelves to hold those old-fashioned dead-tree books that I’m still so partial to.

Realistically, there is only so much potential shelf space available in an 11 by 11 foot room, which is an incentive to reduce the amount of stuff that needs to be shelved.  This weekend that meant wading through several binders full of writing notes, articles, and blog posts.  Not a trivial task.

Over the years, I’ve amassed a substantial collection of “how to be a writer” advice from a wide range of sources.  After reading through a binder-full of it, I was able to reduce it all down to a short list of common bits of advice.  Based on the discussions we’ve had on the blog in recent weeks about our writing goals and plans for the rest of the year, I thought it might be a good time to share them.

Write

No matter what other advice there may be, “write” seems to be on every list.  If you are (or want to be) a writer, then you need to write.  Simple as that.  Whether it’s 50 words or 5,000 words, or something in between, just write.  If you can carve out blocks of time to write, that’s great, but if you only have stolen minutes here and there, that’s okay too.  The point is to get words on the page.  However many words you wind up with today will be that many more than you had yesterday.    If what you write is good, that’s great.  If it needs to be re-written or deleted, that’s fine too.  Writing is a process, and just like any other activity, the more you do it, the better you will get at it.

Think

When you aren’t sitting down and physically flexing your writing muscle, you can still be thinking about your story.  In line at the grocery store, stuck in traffic, folding laundry – all great opportunities to do a little brainstorming and mentally work on your stories.

Read

Like peanut butter and jelly, writing and reading are made for each other.  Besides being enjoyable, reading gives you a chance to learn from other others, to see how they handle character or plot or whatever elements you might be interested in.  Read fiction, non-fiction, magazines, blogs, news stories – whatever you can get your hands on.  The wider the range of your reading material, the broader your base of knowledge will be, which in turn will influence and enhance your own writing.  Besides, you never know what might trigger a new story idea.

Persist

Writing isn’t for the faint of heart.  It takes time and commitment and sometimes can leave you feeling discouraged.  Just like anything else, it’s a skill that takes practice to develop, which means making and putting in the time.  That said, if you’re writing and it’s making you miserable or it just doesn’t work with your current life demands, then take a break.  Try again tomorrow or next week or next month.  There’s no one “right” way to be a writer.

So, how’s your writing going this week?  Do you have any nuggets of writing advice that you’ve found particularly helpful?

4 thoughts on “Elizabeth: Writer’s Rules of Engagement

  1. Today I got up, opened my manuscript, and deleted the first 700 words I read. Then I sat there for 30 minutes, thinking, if not that, then what? And then I closed the file and wrote some checks. There! That’s some writing that shows progress, at least. Bills got paid!

    That’s all to say that this week, writing sucks. I’m just not sure why I can’t wrap my head around this story. I think I have enough characters and subplots, and occasionally I have spurts when I think it will start to flow again, but then it doesn’t. This book has just been super difficult to work on.

    At this point, I’m ready to blame just about anything, including my outline, which for the first time ever, I put in an Excel spreadsheet instead of a Word doc. Yeah, that must be it.

    But, your advice on the persist, write, and read—these are the key points of being a writer. Later today I’ll try again. I might even move that outline to a Word doc! And maybe all the pieces will fall into place.

  2. Persistence really is the big thing, I think. I did a tiny bit of writing, and it wasn’t bad work, I don’t think. Mostly shaping what I already had, though.

    (-: I’m re-reading Pride and Prejudice this week. Such an amazing book — it still is interesting and engaging after 15 or so reads. How did Austen do that? I have whole passages half-memorized, even, but there’s something about the language that is always bright and fun. Austen is so economical with her descriptions and expositions, too. Plus, she abuses POV and gets away with it. I know she’s writing omniscient, but she still HIDES THINGS FROM THE READERS. And yet, I feel no resentment, just curiosity. Sigh.

    • You’re right Michaeline, persistence is key, and any amount of progress is still progress, right?

      Glad you’re enjoying Pride and Prejudice again. It’s great to have books that you can re-read and still find engaging and interesting. I have a number of them though some I refuse to look too closely at in terms of craft and “how did they do that” because I don’t want to spoil their magic. 🙂

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