How Many of These 12 Essential #Writing Tips Do You Use?

All writers – authors, bloggers, journalists, screenwriters – have writing tips that help them.  I feel these twelve are essential for all writers.

1. Write

It may seem obvious that writing is the best way to improve your craft,  but without deadlines, it’s easy to slip into the habit of not writing. I’ve recently picked up an old habit of handwriting something, however short,  in a notebook each day. Most days it’s not the only writing I do, but some days it is, and that very act keeps me in touch with who I am – a writer!

2. Read

Read anything and everything you can find the time to put your hands on. Listen to books or articles if it’s not possible to read. Reading is the second best thing you can do to learn how to write well. Check out my post on #Authors, an Infinite Resource. which shows how we have an endless resource from the world of books and authors in print.

A.K. Andrew,akandrew.com a Writer's Notebook,writing tips, books

3. Explore the World Around You

Inspiration can come in many forms, but most characters whether in fiction or non-fiction are based on real people, however larger than life we end up making them. So sit in a cafe and eavesdrop. Public transportation is a perfect way to overhear what people say, and if you’re lucky you might glean a few different accents too.

4. Embrace the First Shitty Draft

I love the phrase “First Shitty Draft” and first heard it from Catherine Smith , my tutor during my initial semester at my Creative Writing Certificate course at the University of Sussex, UK. It’s such an appropriate phrase and an essential part of the process. Just write the thing down before you do more than a cursory edit, otherwise you’ll slow the process and potentially lose your train of thought & interrupt the creative flow.

5. DON’T Share Your Work in Progress with….

…friends and family. Generally speaking , and there are always exceptions, I think it’s a bad idea. They are not going to give you impartial advice and if you’re unlucky may even become a negative influence on your self confidence.

6. DO Share Your Work in Progress with ….

… other writers. There’s a point where we need to write alone, and not be interrupted by other peoples views of what we’ve written. But after a certain point, it is good to get feedback from other writers you trust, and who’s opinion you value. These impromptu editors will be more and less skilled in the ability to critique. Jeri Walker -Bickett wrote a great post about The Necessity of Critique Groups which I recommend you check out. You will find at the very least a camaraderie about the process you are going through, and most likely the fresh eye your work needs.

7. Be Passionate about Your Work

If you’re not passionate about your subject matter it will show in your work. And for a novelist, it will be an unbearable long slog to get the book finished. So choose your subjects carefully if it’s anything but a short article.

8. Exercise

Writing is a usually a sedentary practice, and makes it even more more important for writers to get physical exercise. Murakami wrote a great book called What I Talk about When I Talk about Running, which is mainly an insight into his writing habits. But exercise does a body good in many ways, not only your heart and lungs etc, but your brain, as well. Who knows what you might see on your morning walk? The other morning I saw a snake!

9. Don’t Give Up

It’s hard to finish projects sometimes – any projects actually. Garages across the world are a testament to unfinished projects. But it’s even easier with writing to say it’s not good enough or I’m bored, or it’s too hard, or whatever. Sound familiar? The world is full of people who have lots of great ideas, and lots of half finished manuscripts, short stories and articles stuck in a drawer or file gathering dust on their computer. Do you want to be one of them, or do you want to put your work out in the world? If so, don’t give up.

10. Write New Creative Work During the Revision Process

If you’re a writer, you’re going to spend a lot of time revising or editing. After all  “All writing is re-writing”. But if you’re a novelist you may spend years in the revision process. I think it’s important to write new creative work even during your big edit. It’s realistic if you stick with a short work – flash fiction, or a short story. It’s a very different skill set to edit than to write new work, so don’t get too out of practice with the latter.

A.K. Andrew, akandrew.com, writing tips

11. Don’t Become an Isolated Writer

I feel it’s essential to seek out other writers, not only to help with critiques, but also to not feel isolated. Find other writers where you live if possible and talk about your work, or problems that might arise because of it. Social Media is also a great place to meet other writers and I’ve made good writer friends through a variety of online groups. It’s another way of being out in the world, and hearing new voices, opening yourself up to new information and experiences.

12. Learn to Accept Criticism

This is absolutely essential for any writer who wants to have their work published. Not only as I mentioned, will you get constructive criticism from your critique buddies, but you will also -hopefully – get feedback from your readers, and not all of it will be positive. So develop a thick skin early on in the process. I was surprised how unnerving I found blogging when I first started, as it puts your opinions out into the world. I’ve been lucky that I’ve had a lot of support from other bloggers. But I’ve made mistakes, and had a bunch of rejection letters from prospective agents for my novels too. You just do the best you can, change the work as necessary, and realise people will have different opinions to yours, which only makes life more interesting.

Believe in yourself. Isn’t that the most important thing of all that will help you continue your life as a writer?    ~   A.K. Andrew

What writing tips do you use?  What good one’s do you have that I’ve not listed? What have you found the best or most difficult aspect of being a writer? 

Come join the discussion, and please share this post on your favorite social media. 

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Do you Want to Start #Writing Like #Steinbeck?

John Steinbeck Photo,A.k. Andrew,akandrew.com,A Writers Notebook

John Steinbeck 1962

 

This week marks the 75th anniversary of the the film release of Grapes of Wrath so I thought it was appropriate to re-purpose this post. If you want to start writing like Steinbeck, then take a look at some of the things he found important and include them in your writing.
 “Learn from the best”

John Steinbeck’s writing methodology was stringent and meticulous. When writer’s you love talk about how they write, it’s hard not listen.

Steinbeck really wanted Grapes of Wrath to be good  – exposing the exploitation of people in 1930’s Southern California, was a story he thought needed telling. I re-read the novel a while ago, and the style blew me away.

It’s incredibly refreshing to read a book with such valuable social commentary that’s also just a damn good story. Part of its success lies in the fact that we live, eat and sleep with the Joad family. Everything is personal, so we care about what happens to the characters, and it allows us to see the injustice very clearly, without the point being hammered home. Steinbeck simply tells a story.

Below is part of John Steinbeck’s interview in the Paris Review*

(Please note: Steinbeck died in 1968. A lot of the quotes were compiled in Steinbeck: A Life in Letters and published in October 1975 by Viking. Hence the Paris Review article was not until 1975.)

The comments in italics are mine.

 ON GETTING STARTED
Now let me give you the benefit of my experience in facing 400 pages of blank stock—the appalling stuff that must be filled. I know that no one really wants the benefit of anyone’s experience which is probably why it is so freely offered. But the following are some of the things I have had to do to keep from going nuts.
 1. Abandon the idea that you are ever going to finish.

Lose track of the 400 pages and write just one page for each day, it helps. Then when it gets finished, you are always surprised.

This is the most important one & can’t be said too often. One page at a time.

 2. Write freely

…and as rapidly as possible and throw the whole thing on paper. Never correct or rewrite until the whole thing is down. Rewrite in process is usually found to be an excuse for not going on. It also interferes with flow and rhythm which can only come from a kind of unconscious association with the material.

 Don’t worry about anyone looking over your shoulder. Just get the work written. Good tip for all of us procrastinators.

 3. Forget your generalized audience.

In the first place, the nameless, faceless audience will scare you to death and in the second place, unlike the theater, it doesn’t exist. In writing, your audience is one single reader. I have found that sometimes it helps to pick out one person—a real person you know, or an imagined person and write to that one.

I’ve heard this before, and I think it’s an excellent way to keep yourself on track. You can’t write for everyone. So write for one.

4. If a scene or a section gets the better of you

…and you still think you want it—bypass it and go on. When you have finished the whole you can come back to it and then you may find that the reason it gave trouble is because it didn’t belong there.

Rewriting – its all there is. But don’t be afraid to write non-sequentially. Sometimes one just isn’t in the mood to write about a dramatic moment, so switch gears and go to a section you do want to write today.

 5. Beware of a scene that becomes too dear to you,

…dearer than the rest. It will usually be found that it is out of drawing.

Tough to give them up isn’t it?

 6. If you are using dialogue

…say it aloud as you write it. Only then will it have the sound of speech.

Excellent tip. If you read it out loud it will sound strained immediately if it’s not working.

On my writers resources page I refer to his book Working Days, which is the diary he kept while he was writing Grapes of Wrath. (He wrote his first draft in 6 months BTW!). It’s a great book for writers if only to show how persistent one has to be to make the end product worthwhile.

Signature of John Steinbeck,a.k. andrew,akandrew.com a writer's notebook

Signature of John Steinbeck (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Are these methods  you can work with? Do you have different ways of attacking the same problems?

 

Come join the discussion, and please share this post on your favorite social media. 

 

Many Thanks!

 

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*Paris Review has rich resource material in their decades of interviews of famous people, writers included.

I first saw part of this particular interview in one of my favorite blogs www.brainpickings.org

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Can We Compare Steinbeck’s East of Eden to Breaking Bad?

Trailer of Steinbeck’s East Of Eden

“I remember my childhood names for grasses and secret flowers. I remember where a toad may live and what time the birds awaken in the summer — and what trees and seasons smelled like — how people looked and walked and smelled even. The memory of odors is very rich.” John Steinbeck from East of Eden

Steinbeck is well known for his work Grapes of Wrath, but East of Eden is an incredibly powerful work, which many of you may know more from the film with James Dean that the novel itself. The clip of the movie above, is great because it is of such an era where both the music and the fonts across the screen portray the the film in a very time specific dramatic way. The trailer itself is relying on our senses to make us believe something is a particular way.

Trailing the Senses

Some of you may be familiar with the TV show Breaking Bad that finished it’s final season earlier in 2014. It was anything but a light show. It focused on Walter White (played by Bryan Cranston), a science teacher who starts cooking crack cocaine initially to pay for his medical bills. But his family’s life deteriorates as Walt becomes more and more involved in the violent life of hardcore drug manufacture. Hardly light fare, or full of fields of green, childhood memories.

So back to our title:  Can we compare John Steinbeck’s East of Eden to Breaking Bad? They are both about families, and failures within those families; fathers failing their sons. But that’s not what drew me to look at the two together. What brought me to the comparison of the two films were the two trailers I’ve put in this post, and how we as the audience are manipulated by what we see and hear. Through our senses we draw conclusions.

Here’s another video where the accompanying music completely changes the conclusions we draw about what we see. This trailer is a spoof of Breaking Bad as the serious, violent show it actually is.

Try Breaking Bad as a sitcom

I was stunned by how my perceptions could be manipulated by what I heard – the accompanying laugh track, and happy comedy music intro soundtrack.

The Senses Made Me Do it

 

As the audience you are drawn in by what writers, and film makers, want you to hear and see. Just as Steinbeck drew on the senses he remembered from his childhood, in this spoof trailer of Breaking Bad, we are seduced by our associations and memories induced by our senses to look at something in a completely new way.

My conclusion is that the works may both have their similarities in terms of family dynamics being integral to the plot, but aside from the trailers, I think that’s where there comparison ends. I touch more on using the senses in writing in my post Savouring Taste Treats: Using the Senses in Writing

What is the strongest sense for you? What memories are the most easily sparked and by which sense?

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How to Avoid 7 Deadly Sins of Short #Story #Writing

This post is a reblog from a Bridget Whelan Post. Click here for the original post

This post grew out of an article I originally wrote for the Hysterectomy Association when I was writer in residence of their annual writing comeptition earlier this year.

seven deadly sins of writing a short story

I recently came across the WikiHow entry on how to write a short story. The actual article contains good advice, but I arched an eyebrow (see above) when I read the introduction.

While writing a novel can be a Herculean task, just about anybody can craft and, most importantly, finish, a short story.”  wiki

No, they can’t – unless the writer means that almost anybody can produce 1000+ words of grammatically correct sentences that somehow link up together, but that’s no more a short story than a roll of material pinned into a tube is a dress.

I resent the idea that short stories are an easy option. The very size means there’s nowhere to hide flabby ideas and weak sentences. A clunky phrase stands out as brashly as if it had been highlighted in neon yellow. Usually a short story has a very restricted range of characters and the action takes place over a relatively short period of time – days rather than years – and there’s no room for time slips or flash backs. Usually. As soon as you try to formulate any rule of writing you can think of brilliant exceptions, but I read a lot of short stories by emerging writers and here are some of the most common problems I come across.

1) Too much information

I don’t need to know that the head gardener is called Barry and is a veteran of the Falklands War if all he does is knock on a door. It may sound like being a member of a spy ring, but everything’s on a need to know basis. If Barry only has a walk on part readers don’t need to be introduced.

2) Too many names

Not every character has to be named. They can be refered to as their occupation: the vicar, the postman. Or by their relationship to others: grandad, his wife, her teacher….

3) Too much back story

Sir Angus Wilson who helped set up the first UK Masters in creative writing at the University of East Anglia in the early 1970s thought that short stories and plays were similar.

“You take a point in time and develop it from there; there is no room for development backwards.”  ~ Sir Angus Wilson

I think Alice Munro, the Canadian short story writer who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2013, was saying much the same thing when she described short stories as ‘a world seen in a quick glancing light. ’

4) Too much description

If you think of a story as a journey, description forces the reader to stop. It’s as if the author is saying hold on a moment, I know you want to find out what happens next, but I’ve created a whole new world for your enjoyment: stop and look at the sun reflecting on the water, the child’s soft curls and the cold blue of the spring sky… Too much description and the reader might not bother to wait for the journey to start again. Too little and the reader might not care where the journey is heading.

5) Too timid

Safe stories about safe subjects don’t linger long in the memory. Once you’ve got an idea ask what if? and keep on pushing the boundaries…Avoid timid titles too. Think of it as the first line of the story – which is most likley to make you want to find out more: The Party or Jiving with St Joseph?

6) Too Over the Top

too over the top,A.K.Andrew,akandrew.com

You can’t encapsulate the complexity of a novel-length idea in a few thousand words without losing something vital. Accept that you have a small canvas.

And finally…

7) Starting in the wrong place
Do you really need to set the scene? And do you need to do it in the opening paragraphs? Introductions are needed in academic essays – not short stories. The great American writer Kurt Vonnegut said start as near to the end as possible. Experiment – see how far you can push that idea.

And here’s the rest of Kurt’s rules for what you should put into a short story.

photo credit: FLASHFLOOD® via photopin cc

photo credit: Urban Woodswalker via photopin cc

A.k. Andrew,akandrew.com,A Writer's Notebook,Bridget Whelan

Bridget Whelan is a London Irish novelist and Creative Writing teacher. She has taught at the prestigious Goldsmiths Collegein London, UK as well as other locations in both London and Brighton. Her first novel is A Good Confession, and this year she released a fantastic book called Back to Creative Writing School which is now OUT IN PAPERBACK! as well as an ebook. Click the link below.You can reach Bridget at Bridgetwhelan.com  and on twitter @agoodconfession

Can you think of any more sins?  What other problems do you have writing short work?

Come join the discussion, and please share this post on your favorite social media. 

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Do You Need the Ideal Time and Place to #Write?

Do writers need an ideal time and place to write?  Is it the right time or place that gets you going? We all have our different routines and rituals when it comes to writing, so there is no right or wrong answer here. That said, some writers feel the reason they are not more successful in their work is because they are constantly fighting an uphill battle in seeking out an ideal time or place to write. Let’s look at the different factors involved.

Where do you most like to write?
The Ginger House Petaluma, A.K. Andrew,akandrew.com

The Ginger House, Petaluma by A.K. Andrew

Where you most like to write will be different for everyone.  I think place can both influence and be influenced by what we are writing. Many people talk about the ideal being the ability to go on a writer’s retreat – whole days of  doing nothing but write, often in a country setting which may or may not include other writers , depending on the situation.

That sounds great, and it may work for some people. Personally I like the comforts of home, and I’m fortunate enough to have quiet if I need it, or at least an uninterrupted space. I like to work in an easy chair, or even propped up in bed with pillows. That said, I also enjoy being in a cafe having the buzz of people around me, which doubtless drifts into my subconscious and effects what I write.

It’s nice to be able to put yourself in an environment where you can completely accept all the unconscious stuff that comes to you from your inner workings of your mind. And block yourself off to where you can control it all, take it down…  Bob Dylan

What time is it? Are You a Morning Person?

In “What I Talk About When I Talk About Running”, Haruki Murakami tells us that he starts working at six, and his best writing time is early morning. But he is very clear on noting that his most fruitful time is when he’s finished writing and he goes out into the world.

We all have different circadian rhythms which determine the sleep and feeding patterns of animals, including human beings. There are also clear patterns of core body temperature, brain wave activity, hormone production, cell regeneration, and other biological activities. In short, with regard to writing, we all are at our most productive at different times of the day. So it makes sense that if we had no other commitments, we would have a time of day that we work best. Of course, many writers have day jobs which interfere with that lovely theory, and have to squeeze in an hour in the morning or perhaps after the kids have been put to bed, if there is any energy left. I generally think of myself as a morning person, but in truth I do most of my writing in the afternoon, in part because I consider it a reward for the chores of daily living that need to be done.

Sounds of Silence or the Sound of Music?
English: Street scene of Peru, Indiana, birthp...A.K. Andrew,akandrew.com

English: Street scene of Peru, Indiana, birthplace of songwriter Cole Porter. Image courtesy of the Yale University Manuscripts & Archives Digital Images Database, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut. Retouched by MarmadukePercy. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We all have different needs when it comes to sounds, and I think just like place, ambient sound can effect how we work and the work itself. This post was prompted by Maria Popova at Brainpickings.org when she was discussing Robert Kellog’s book, The Psychology of Writing.

“The lack of interruption in trains of thought may be the critical ingredient in an environment that enables creative flow. As long as a writer can tune out background noise, the decibel level per se may be unimportant. For some writers, the dripping of a faucet may be more disruptive than the bustle of a cafe in the heart of a city.”  The Psychology of Writing (public library) by Robert T. Kellogg

Some people find music is essential, whereas other people like to write in silence. I’ve experimented with both, and discovered that for me it depends on what I’m working on. When I was writing my first novel set in WWII, then I listened to 40’s jazz or “Trio Lescano” an Italian trio similar to The Andrew Sisters. Cole porter was another favourite. It was particularly important as music played an key role for both the protagonist and the antagonist. Much of the time though, I write in silence, or I find if someone else is in the room listening to the radio or the TV, it doesn’t bother me either way.

Do You Need The Ideal Time and Place To Write?

I feel the important thing is to not worry too much about the situation being ideal. Life doesn’t always work like that. So make the most of whatever time and place you have. Whenever I have to frequent a waiting room whether it be at the airport, hospital or the mechanic’s, I like to have a notebook, or at least a phone to take notes, or actually write sections.  I find these situations more conducive to planning, or changing a plot point, or how a scene ending might change. But the actual work is possible too.

Some people are able to create an ideal time and place to write on a regular basis. Fabulous if you can, but I think unrealistic for many of us. But it’s good to notice what we do like in terms of time and place for our work. Sometimes even a small adjustment might lead to more productivity. After all, writing should be enjoyable shouldn’t it? Ok , so it’s sometimes just hard work that  needs to get done, but why not make the most of it while we’re there?

 

Where do you like to write, and what is your best time of day? Do you write with music, if so what really get’s your muse going? 

Come join the discussion, and please share this post on your favorite social media. 

Many Thanks!

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