10 Things I Learned about Writing in 2017

1) Beginnings are the hardest part. You have to figure out where to start your story (right as the action is about to happen) and how to seduce the reader to commit to more. And the blank page is intimidating as hell. You might spend more time on the first chapter than anything else, and that’s okay. Once you get over it, it gets much better.

2) Endings are the hardest part (unless, of course, you are talking about beginnings). Trying to wrap up an entire plot is like wrestling a rabid bear. Just as you think you’ve got subdued the beast, tied up all the limbs and muzzled the jaw, a giant paw will lash out and a mouthful of sharp teeth will bite you in the butt. And you’ll have to wrestle the bear some more and now your butt is aching and now you have rabies. Thanks bear.

However, one tip that saw me through my ending was realising that my protagonist had to step up and become the hero. I’m not a huge fan of disappointing endings full of setbacks. Or worse, endings where the protagonist is in the same position as she was in the very beginning (I’m looking at you, second books of trilogies!). That meant my protagonist had to rise to the occasion and triumph (at least sufficiently).

3) You have to get over how people who know you will react to your writing.

For instance, my husband teased me relentlessly about the kissing scenes. It was embarrassing even though he’d directly inspired those scenes (perhaps that’s what made it especially embarrassing). It was mortifying. I turned bright red.

On the other side of the coin, you also have to get over the scenes that people who know you will be shocked by. Since I’m a very anti-violence and anti-gun person, the intensity of my action scenes might surprise those who know me. Oh well.

Also some of your writing will touch on issues that people may interpret oddly. Obviously, your story exists independently of people and events that happened in your life. However, your experiences do impact your art. Still, your story isn’t a carbon copy of your life in the real world. Unless of course, you’re writing a memoir–in which case, good luck!

4) Three things need to be happening in every scene. This advice changed my life. If your scene just is there for one reason, like only setting or only characterisation or only plot, it isn’t good enough. Or worse, if nothing happens in your scene at all! Like your character is sleeping or sitting around being bored. When you first start writing, you may think that your novel should mimic real life as closely as possible. You might end up with tons of these habitual scenes, since you’re trying to understand your protagonist as a human being. Fine. But those scenes are boring. Novels need to be dramatic!

For example, in one scene, you can push the main plot along, hint at an upcoming romantic subplot, and describe an interesting setting. All that together becomes compelling. Suddenly your story begins to read like a real book.

5) Every sentence has a purpose. This only comes along in later drafts when you have the whole work banged out in one document, but it’s important. One sentence needs to lead to the next, which then needs to lead to the next, and so on. If you have two to three sentences saying the same thing, condense them into one. Your writing becomes more focussed, and then the plot moves forward. When a novel has too many filler sentences, it is hard for the reader to ground themselves in the story and know where the story is taking them. Your sentences have to flow like the current in a river, pulling a reader along to the rising action or, at least, the focus of a scene. If you have too many sentences saying the same thing or nothing at all, the writing is stagnant and the reader doesn’t know what kind of journey the book is taking or why they should care. Harsh, but true.

6) Your novel probably will deal with some sensitive stuff or some emotionally charged topics. In the politically correct world we live in, it can be tempting to leave these topics alone for fear of not doing them justice or offending someone. Don’t. This sounds like your story’s about to get real. And that’s what art’s for.

Your characters won’t always make the morally correct choice (if such a choice exists) and sometimes they will be downright offensive. Your characters, like people, are flawed. They make mistakes.I’m not saying to write the most offensive thing possible because you should try to totally get away with it. I’m saying, if your characters aren’t always PC and seem somewhat limited in their views, you as a writer can do a lot with that. Talk about things that are real in a real way. Our world is full of ugliness. Your readers know this. Show them the ugliness, but do it for a reason.

Sometimes you won’t be able to show every aspect of a social issue as in depth as you’d like. It’s only one story. Just do the best you can with the story you have.

7) On a lighter note, this year I learned how to use commas. At least, I learned how to use commas better than I did in days of yore.

Does anyone else struggle with with commas? If we ever covered commas in school, I wasn’t there–either physically or mentally. I vaguely remember some teacher saying “you put a comma where you take a breath.” This works on some intuitive level until it doesn’t.

So, I pulled out the Chicago Guide to Style and read the entire section on commas. Although I’m not claiming to have become some mythical comma guru and mastered every case in the universe, I have become way more confident about their placement. In fact, I’m going to do a series of posts about how to use commas correctly to help others who also get confused about whether to comma or not.

8) Writing without an outline can brings great joy. It’s fun to watch the characters make decisions of their own and come to life in the document and surprise you. However, writing without an outline can lead to drafts without direction and purpose.

Outlines have their time and place. Eventually, as unromantic as it seems, sometimes you have to go through every scene and figure out what has to happen so that you can reach the end. But there is a balance. Spontaneity is valuable. If you have an intuitive feeling that you are heading the wrong direction, you probably are. Hit the drawing board, re-evaluate, and try again.

9) Writing routines are great, but it’s okay to take breaks sometimes. All over the internet, there’s loads of advice about the virtues of a writing routine where you write everyday and don’t wait for an elusive inspirational moment to come. I agree with this. The problem is, I FORGET TO CHILL.

A creative process takes a lot out of you and if you keep working everyday if you are tired, you will burn out. So, you need to unwind. Some people have personalities where their default state is one of chill. I envy these people. They know to watch lots of TV and play video games and don’t take things too seriously all the time. They don’t stay up all night with insomnia worrying about random stuff. They turn off the lights and fall asleep immediately. If you’re one of these people, please. Tell me your secret.

See, I don’t tend towards procrastination. I have the opposite problem. I try to do everything at once. I need to schedule time where I watch bad TV, play Kirby’s avalanche, and google endlessly whether it’s better to own a rabbit or a guinea pig even though I can’t own either because my apartment doesn’t allow pets. If I don’t schedule these things, they don’t happen. And then my life isn’t balanced.

Anyway, if you have my personality type and you read these articles about writing constantly, it’s okay. If you take a breather to chill, you aren’t procrastinating. You actually are helping your writing by making sure you don’t burn out.

10) Twitter has a large writing community. I was hesitant about joining Twitter this year, because of its spammy nature and my shyness and paranoia about posting stuff to strangers on the internet. However, I’m so glad I did. Twitter has a huge writing community where people are at all stages of their journey, and they share their progress and their struggles. It’s great to connect with other writers that are going through the same things as I am.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *