Wednesday, April 14, 2010

RTW: Writing Advice

It's Wednesday, and you know what that means. Okay, maybe you don't, but I do, so I'll tell you. Road Trip Wednesday, courtesy of YA Highway! In which I join many others in answering a writing/book related question. And this one's a good one.

What's the best writing advice you've ever received?

I'm warning you right now: I am going to cheat. I have several gems I'd like to share, and I can't pick just one. I may have mentioned them before on the blog, but they're worth repeating, I think.

Item 1: The Backpack

"The backpack" is a piece of advice that one of my writing professors gave me. She said that writing a story is like climbing a mountain. When you pack your backpack, you want to take only what you need to reach the top; when you write a story, you want to insert only details/characters/story elements that you are going to need to reach the story's ultimate conclusion. For example, you wouldn't pack your hair dryer if you went mountain-climbing, unless you expect to find a naturally occurring outlet, or unless you plan to use it as a blunt object to defend yourself against angry bears. Likewise, you do not need the scene in which your main character goes to a water park and almost chokes to death on Twizzlers if it never becomes relevant. This philosophy will give you a streamlined draft. (Here is the post I wrote about this earlier, if you want more of an explanation.) If I hadn't received this advice, D would be a heck of a lot clunkier than it is now. Thanks, Shauna.

Item 2: The Internal Editor

Turn. It. Off. For those of you who have perfectionist tendencies, like moi, you find this extremely difficult. But I'm pretty sure that this piece of advice is solely responsible for cutting my 1st draft writing time from 8 months to 1 month. When I wrote TM (may it rest in peace), I let the internal editor run rampant over my draft, pointing out all problems and demanding that they be fixed IMMEDIATELY. And it took me FOREVER, and I still had to do huge revisions at the end anyway. When I wrote D, I told the internal editor "screw you," and just made notes of the problems in the draft as I went along. I finished in 40 days, and then revised everything at the end, and it was far less frustrating.

I mean, think about it. The IE doesn't know where the story is going to end up, so how solid is their advice anyway? NOT VERY.

Item 3: Snippety Snip

I wrote a guest post about this over at Steph Bowe's blog. Basically, what it says is: don't be afraid to cut things. And: know what to cut. Easier said than done, right? But the advice that has transformed my writing came to me on a line-by-line basis: cut the words you don't need, like "take a" in the phrase "take a sip," for example.

As I was thinking about this, though, I realized that I know exactly when and how I learned this, and it's really cool, so I'll tell you. Months and months ago when I submitted my first MS (TM, may it rest in peace) to my current agent-who-was-not-then-my-agent (the stunningly talented, part-time insomniac, Joanna Stampfel-Volpe), she sent me five pages of line edits along with the revision notes she gave me. At around the same time, my critique group buddy Lara gave me extremely similar line-by-line feedback on the rest of the MS. When I looked at both sets of edits, I realized just how much I could trim from my writing. And after applying the new trimming philosophy to the rest of the MS, which I later trunked, I was able to figure out how to write cleaner from the get-go. This resulted in the much crisper D.

How awesome is that?


Item 4: Don't Take It Personally

This tidbit comes from my mother, who didn't say it in relationship to writing, but it has certainly helped in that arena. I repeated this phrase to myself every time I got a rejection, and it definitely helped me stay positive. Plus, it's really NOT personal. If it was, JSV would have deleted my second query instead of reading it.

Item 5: A Clear Head

Unclear writing results from unclear thinking, is the advice. Therefore, clarify the vision you have for your character/scene/story, and your writing will improve.

I could go on like this forever, but I think five pieces of advice is enough rule-breaking for one day. Got anything to add?


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