10 Things I’ve Learned About Writing This Week

Reflections on a writing life and never giving up the dream

I’ve decided to give this whole writing thing a shot. I have to say, for a while I was pretty depressed about not finding work in Vancouver. Getting pregnant made that search even harder, if not impossible. Now I see it as a blessing. Being home bound with a little one has reinvigorated me to put my head back in the writing game, which is where it should have been the whole time. Why I ever stopped writing is beyond my comprehension at this point. I love doing it. Love it. In my pursuit of what makes me happy, I have compiled a list of ten tips I’ve (re)discovered this week about the writing process.

Write In Journal by Walt Stoneburner Creative Commons (CC BY 2.0)

1. Write every single day. Even if you spend no more than five minutes at a time, just sit down and do it. Write a blog post, a narrative grocery list, what the room you’re sitting in looks like, a scathing letter to an ex. Anything. Something. If you don’t write, you’ll never hone the skill. Writing is like anything else, and if you don’t practice, it won’t get better. After a while, you’ll find those five minutes has dissolved into a half-hour, then an hour.

2. Examine your writing. Take something that you have written, and find a single paragraph or stanza, and look at each word. Look at them like your life depends on it. As if each word is the only word in the entire universe, and refine. Look at your phrasing. Is the voice passive or active? Is your imagery vivid? Are you saying exactly what you desire to say?

(Editing a paper) by Nic McPhee Creative Commons (CC BY-SA 2.0)


3. Cull the unnecessary. Take the same paragraph you just so lovingly reworked, and delete the hell out of it. Remove any words that aren’t completely necessary. Make the paragraph as minimal as possible, saying what you intend in the fewest words. Most of us like to be verbose, but editors and publishers hate it. When I was in college, I had a professor who had students write a one-page, single-spaced synopsis on fifty to sixty-page essays. Topics ranged from The Cannon to What is Art? If you think writing a thirty-page paper is hard, try writing the same paper in a single page. It was brutal, but one of the most valuable lessons in saying exactly what needs to be said to get your meaning across.

4. Read like a writer. Look for the inner meaning the author was trying to convey. Read for characterization. How do you feel about the characters? Are you rooting for them, or wishing them to be killed off? Look for subtle hints the author has given into their characters’ motivations and descriptions (hint: this is usually found in dialogue). Pick out plot points (rising action, conflict, resolution). Look for the author’s individual style, not to copy, but to learn from it.

Skydiving_1034 by Philip Leara Public Domain (CC0 1.0)

5. Leave your comfort zone. I don’t mean jump out of an airplane or dance with venomous snakes, but stretch your writing. Do you write YA romance? Try writing science fiction. Only write prose? Write a short story. Trying something new, even if it’s just for fun. It will help boost your confidence as a writer, and hone your storytelling skills. Renee and I have been choosing random genres to write short stories on for several months now, and it has been a great exercise.

6. Find a reader(s). Whether you join a writing group, take a creative writing class, submit your work, or have a friend read your new short story; you need to have someone read it. Giving your work over to someone is an anxiety-producing endeavor. So much so that many aspiring writers never do it. Even if no one likes what you’ve written, at least you received some basic criticism. From there you can move forward and produce even better work the next time around.

Image from page 27 of “The book of gold, and other poems” (1878) via Internet Archives Book Images Public Domain

7. Keep writing. Even if you receive rejection letter after rejection letter, and it seems like no one is behind your dream of authorship, keep writing anyway. I was in a fender-bender once, and after the doctor’s exam, the first thing she asked me was, “Have you driven yet?” The longer you take to get behind the metaphorical wheel after a collision, the more likely you are to give up altogether. If writing is what you love to do, then keep doing it. Even if it’s just for pleasure, or for your kid’s and grand kid’s bedtime stories, keep writing!

8. Have your art imitate life. This goes with the adage, “Write what you know.” By sprinkling your writing with bits of real life experience, characters can become more three-dimensional. Use your old work history to build believable scenarios for your characters. Take the mundane and recreate it into something exciting through the use of literary devices and techniques. However, if you happen to have a real life story that is too crazy for fiction, write non-fiction instead.

9. Make your setting a character. Is your story set in a place you currently live or once lived? Do you have a first-hand perspective of the layout and geography? Are you writing about a place you’ve never been to? Creating a whole new world? Whatever your location may be, make a detailed outline of the places your characters will be going. Create a map. Jot down information about each place: where is it in relation to other areas in the novel, atmosphere, landscapes or man-made structures, old, new, sacred, brick, wood. Make the setting breathe.

Image from page 383 of “British bee journal & bee-keepers adviser” (1873) via Internet Archive Book Images Public Domain

10. Submit. If you want to be a professional writer, you have to submit your work to publishers, editors, contests, and magazines. How else are you going to get noticed? Bask in rejection. Writers who aren’t receiving rejection letters aren’t submitting their work. You’re one step ahead of the game. Also, if you’re one of those people who find they need a deadline to complete a project, submission deadlines might be just the flame you need under your writing chair. I’ve tried making arbitrary writing deadlines, but I find I’m more accountable to others than I am to myself. It’s a sad truth, but a truth nonetheless. In addition, submitting to literary journals and writing contests will help you build your writing credentials. Having a few short stories or poems published in a journal will make prospective publishers or agents sit up and take notice when they see your bio on their desk.

All right, I’m off to do more revising for upcoming submission deadlines. I hope some of the information here will be helpful aspiring writers out there. Cheers!

Originally published on Dueling Librarians Jun 27, 2014

Cynthia Varady

Cynthia Varady

Cynthia Varady is an award-winning freelance writer and co-owner of the book review website, DuelingLibrarians.net. She currently resides in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband and son. Cynthia has her BA in English Literature from Sonoma State University, and her Masters in Library and Information Science from San Jose State University. Occasionally, Cynthia can be found voicing characters in casual video games, including Stella in the Aveyond series. She is presently working on a young adult fantasy novel.

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