Writing Tips Tuesday

Illustrating pen

We asked Illustrator, Steve Bjorkman, “What happens when the illustrations just aren’t coming out as you think they should?”

Here’s his tip:

I will take a drawing and ask someone who has no idea what I’m working on and ask, “what is happening in this drawing?” If they don’t get it I change it or begin again. Other times there will be an undefined “something” wrong with the final art, and it can only be fixed by starting over with a clean sheet of paper.

Thanks, Steve!

Writing Tips Tuesday

Picture of Ammie-Joan Paquette

We asked Ammie-Joan Paquette from Erin Murphy Literary Agency, “What is your best writing exercise to help someone get stronger as a writer?”

Here’s her writing tip:

This will sound insufferably trite, but I strongly believe that the best exercise to strengthen a writer’s writing is the reading. Immerse yourself in books, language, words—fill yourself up until they flow in you and rush through you and come out of you all on their own. You can analyze and dissect and take apart books that you love, figure out what makes them tick and why they make you feel the way they do. Or—you can just read. Read for love and for joy and for pleasure. The words push in and form their own channels in your mind, I firmly believe it. Fill it up and it will overflow right back out. Stronger, richer, more creative. That’s all I got!

Thanks Ammie-Joan Paquette!

NaNoWriMo Tip #3: Concrete Writing

Do you edit as you write? While NaNoWriMo is a time for “write now, edit later,” keep in mind that what you write is as important as that daily word count. This Writing Tip comes from WIFYR assistant Lisa Sledge.

The WIFYR assistants recently met to plan the 2015 conference. Can I just say how excited I am to go back to a conference that has done so much to save my writing and build my confidence? I wish it was June already.

Cheri Pray Earl gave a great presentation on how to improve our writing. One thing that really stuck with me is the importance of concrete rather than abstract writing.

William Carlos Williams (1883 – 1963) had a bit of an obsession with concreteness. And I love him for it. Here is my favorite of his poems:

This Is Just To Say

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
saving
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

Beautiful, isn’t it? For me it conjures up all sorts of feelings, emotions, and even memories. A note on the kitchen table. Plums, icebox, cold, sweet, and that little bit of guilt that makes pleasure run deeper.

There is a chance, I realized, that not everyone knows or understands what “concrete writing” means.

I’m an English teacher. This is what I love. Indulge me for a moment.

Concrete writing relies on nouns, verbs, and vivid adjectives. It is a way of helping the reader look at ordinary things in a new light, makes the mundane stand out, and breathes life into what is easy to overlook.

Abstract writing is the cheap and lazy way to try and conjure up emotions in our readers. And guess what? It often doesn’t work. For example, I might write, “I ate the last plum and it tasted so good.” The phrase “so good” is empty. What does it represent? What emotions or feelings does it create? Nothing. And the “last plum”? Who cares if it was the last one. It doesn’t mean anything to me.

Inject power into your writing. Avoid abstract words such as “amazing”, “awesome”, “terrible”, “bad” or other vague constructions. Look through the world of your novel and highlight small objects and details in a way that will carry specific meaning and emotions to your readers.

Be concrete.

Writing Tips Tuesday

stick in mud
We asked A.E. Cannon, “When you are stuck in a particular place in a book that you can’t seem to get through, what do you do?”

Here’s her writing tip:

“I often wish I were more linear–a more linear thinker, a more linear writer, a more linear everything. Think how much more efficient I would be. However! Every now and then a person’s weakness can actually be her strength. When I am stuck in a particular spot I don’t stress much. I just go, “Oh well! Let me jump to another spot and work on that.” And eventually after I’ve done that a few times, I have some clarity where the problem area is concerned.

The point is this–no one is going to give you a prize for gritting your teeth and powering through something that’s not working. Feel free to let yourself jump ahead or behind and work on another scene.”

Thanks, A.E. Cannon!

NaNoWriMo Success Tips

notebookIt’s November third. If you’ve planned to write a novel this month, have you started?
I know, November snuck up over the weekend. Maybe you had sugar crash after Halloween.
But it’s not too late.

Here are your first two tips for writing a novel in a month:

1. Start. Then Be Consistent. If you made a goal to write two thousand words a day and haven’t started, don’t decide you have to write six thousand today. A study of people who didn’t floss their teeth showed they feared the discomfort of starting to floss and wouldn’t do it. But those who were told to floss just one spot were able to get past their fears and begin flossing.
Sometimes starting is the hardest part.
Just do something.
Then make daily writing a habit.

2. Wear Your Story on Your Sleeve: I owe this thought to Nicole Valentine, my workshop leader at the Highlights Foundation Full Novel Workshop. When she has a busy day, she puts on a certain piece of jewelry that reminds her to think like her character. Then she jots notes in her phone when she has a spare moment.

Think of your story as you commute to work, paint props for the school play, stand in line. Write notes to yourself when you can. This process also solves that fear of staring at a blank computer screen. When you sit down to begin, you’ll already know what to write. Then the ideas stored in your head should just flow onto the page.