Sunday, April 11, 2010

COMPLETELY UNSOLICITED ADVICE

I am most certainly not a famous writer. But a writer I am, and as a result of a year of blogging, I have begun to get a few questions about writers and writing that I do feel qualified to answer. Just this week, someone asked me how on earth I came to write a blog in the first place.

So here goes: advice to writers from a writer who is not famous, not published, not represented by a literary agent, and probably not destined for greatness. But in the “you can learn something from just about anybody” school of life, here are my writing tips for aspiring authors:

WRITE WHAT YOU KNOW. I know my husband better than anybody else. I can finish his sentences for him, and often do. I have spent forty years plumbing the depths of his wondrous mind, and I have discovered a writer’s gold mine there. I could no more write a treatise on the economy than win a Nobel prize, but I have found enough fodder in my husband to fuel blogs aplenty.

KEEP IT SHORT. The best writers get an idea, and then say it. Period. A few great ones can throw in adjectives and adverbs that make their writing sing, but the rest of us hang ourselves by adding too many modifiers. It truly is the thought that counts, not how uniquely you can say it.

MAKE IT COHESIVE. Get one good idea. Build a piece around IT. Too many ideas expressed in one place are confusing, confounding, and just plain muddy. Outlines are the greatest things since sliced bread! Figuring out what you want to say before you write makes writing flow. Or, as my small daughter said once, “I didn’t like that story. It didn’t have a skeleton.”

GET GRAMMAR. Man, oh man, if I had a dollar for every punctuation error, misplaced modifier, or misused apostrophe I see, I would have my own butler. Good writers are understandable. Grammar is what makes the written word understandable. James Joyce and a few others could ignore it, but I think that grammar is a writer’s best friend!

THINK OUTSIDE THE BOX. If it is a beautiful day out there, you can be sure that there are hundreds of would-be writers writing about the breeze, the rays hitting the daffodils, or the beauty of their children as they tumble in the park. On beautiful days, I see all the dog poop in the yard, my husband coming at me with a power washer, and an opportunity to acquire four new pairs of Capri pants. Don’t write about the obvious.

PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE. All good writers write a lot. I pride myself on a grocery list well done. It doesn’t matter whether it is a note to the teacher, a letter to the editor, or an email to a friend. If you are going to write something, do it as well as you can. Then do it over. Writers write. It doesn’t matter, really, what you write, as long as you are practicing.

EXPERIENCE MAKES THE WRITER. The layers of one’s life are what make a person interesting. Are you an adventurer? You are fortunate; you will have a lot to draw on as a writer. Are you housebound? No excuse; it didn’t stop Emily Dickinson. Are you just a kid? Well that is a whole world you can explore. I do feel that I have found my voice just recently as an older woman, but for me, life got in the way of my writing. Don’t let that happen to you.

LEARN AS MUCH AS YOU CAN FROM OTHER PEOPLE. My husband is a man of a million questions. If you have a story, he will drag it out of you. Over the years, he has become friends with waitresses, plumbers, every neighbor in a five mile radius, and much to my chagrin, the people in the rows in front of and behind us at every movie we have attended. But what he uncovers are human truths. And those truths are worth writing about.

My fifteen minutes of fame may never come, or I might just get five minutes. But I am a writer. I love words. I make myself laugh. I just keep on typing. And my advice to all of you out there who want to be writers? Write something. Wait. Revise it. Wait. Revise it once again. Think about your life.

Then repeat the process.

25 comments:

  1. Well said. Some great tidbits in here! I had to tweet it.

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  2. Awesome!!! This is great advice. (And I've got to tweet it too! lol) Thank you! :)

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  3. I appreciate all this tweeting! I had a lot of hits on the site today, thanks to friends like Duane, Carolina andd Kristen! xo

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  4. very good advice, I will keep in mind

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  5. Very good post, good lady. All of it is true, especially the bit about grammar. You can't wield the language properly until you understand the rules. When you break them, do so deliberately and with full knowledge of what you're doing... otherwise you're just screwing around. Says I, anyway. :)

    Two modifications I'd make, 'cause I can't leave well enough alone... :)

    1. Write what you know and can imagine, as long as what you imagine is grounded in what you know.

    2. Feel something, and preferably something big. Then take those feelings and put them in your writing. The best writing makes us laugh, cry, shudder, empathize. That's much harder to do if you're closed off to feeling.

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  6. Simon, great additions. My husband, the man I write about with such sarcasm, in truth suffered a major stroke ten years ago that robbed him of speech, the ability to understand language, the ability to read and to write. He triumphed. That gave me enough emotional depth to last a lifetime...thanks so much for visiting. molly

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  7. That's a fabulous list, Molly! I think it's true that we have to practice so much what we're learning!

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  8. This is a fabulous blogpost. Loved it. Thanks.

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  9. "Don't write about the obvious." --That's brilliant.

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  10. Jody, Melanie and Katherine, my head is now so swelled that I cannot remove my T-shirt. Thanks so much. I appreciate all who visit my blog! molly

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  11. You can indeed learn something from just about anybody. A great post Molly with some good tips, many thanks for sharing them.

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  12. Loved this post!

    Yes to everything you've said.

    Here's how I look at the first tip: Write what you know or what you can imagine or what you want to know! The research part is usually a fun thing. Especially if it involves a trip to some paradise...

    Erhm. Sorry.

    You are correct in saying that ALL writing is practice, whether it's on email or Twitter or Facebook, or grocery lists!

    And practice makes for good writing.

    Uh, this is not an example of that last sentence but I made an undrinkable pot of coffee and all I drank was water so ...

    Anyway, thank you for the reminders!

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  13. Agree, agree, agree! With all of your sound advice. Excellent post!

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  14. Marisa, good point! If you do the research, then you are writing what you know! I am not a fiction writer, so I was referring to blogging-you got me there! Thanks, T. Anne, for visiting!

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  15. I think your advice is spot on! I think blogging is a great outlet for us wannabe writers to practice our craft, get feedback and exercise our writing muscles.

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  16. Laughed at your grammar comment. so true!!! You do write a well organized readable blog. Found you from Melinda's tween Tuesday and glad I did!

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  17. Great post! I am a writer also and everything you said is so true, particularly "Think Outside the Box." Following you now and tweeting this post as part of my Tweet Me Tuesday! ;0)

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  18. What great advice! Thanks for sharing it! I'm looking forward to reading more as I follow you on Twitter. Plus I'm tweeting this post as part of Tweet Me Tuesday! :)

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  19. Those are all wonderful tips! I think so often many of us try to do things that get us noticed immediately. If we write about what we know the recognition will come.

    Tweeting it out for you!! ;-)

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  20. Wow. Who thought that I could generate so much discussion by telling people what to do? Thanks everyone for tweeting, reading, and commenting. I love you all.

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  21. I love this post. Good advice and great humor. Came to this post through a Tweet and liked it so much I went back to RT the link.

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  22. Absolutely funny. You hit the nail on the head. I've enjoyed reading your blog. Thanks for visiting me on mine and good luck. You are a truly down to earth person, and fun to read. I am going through the mixed emotions of "empty nest syndrome" and I loved what you had to say. It really lifted my day. Thanks. Kathy Mehl kscollier1.blogspot.com

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  23. Love this! Your husband sounds like my kind of guy. Thanks for sharing!

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