4 Questions Beginning Writers Need to Answer

4 Questions Beginning Writers Need to Answer

The internet is great for finding opinions on writing techniques and story elements. But how often do we seize on advice without thinking about what we already know? Let’s square away a few basics before rushing off to learn more.

A Few Good Questions

1. What am I working on?

Easy enough, right? But we can get so caught up the excitement of what-could-be or what-will-be and actually forget to write.

Also, if you like straight-forward answers like I do, labels can be troublesome. Are you see-sawing on a decision to abandon a short story? Or scribbling ideas about a new adventure novel? Does that count as work?

Yes, but frankly, I always felt odd admitting it.

If you’re in a fuzzy place when describing your current work, try pinpointing exactly what creative work is going on. Maybe that’s a “duh” for most of you, but I forget it pretty easily. Just a brief moment of clarity makes a big difference in my understanding.

2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?

Discovering how your writing is different can come by listening to others. Feedback from writers or avid readers gives us insight to how we surprised them. Are you funny? A wordsmith? Clever? It’s hard to see those things for yourself, but your readers will notice.

If you’re getting feedback but the comments focus on style, then your technique may be overshadowing your voice. That was true for me. I had many suggestions about improving my tendency to underwrite a scene (specifically settings!) before my readers noticed a bent of humor in my manuscripts.

3. Why do I write what I do?

Malorie Blackman, author of Noughts and Crosses, says British children’s books are too white. “Very, very few picture books are published in [England] that feature children of colour.” Her young adult books challenge stereotypes and racism. Clearly, Ms. Blackman knows why she writes what she writes.

Trouble is, you may be thinking, I don’t have that clear-cut vision. Or perhaps you don’t see your goal (i.e, just want to pay the water bill) as noble enough.

If fixing on a purpose is difficult, imagine yourself in a conversation with a trusted friend. Daydream through your answers about why you write. Which resonates with you as authentic?

4. How does my writing process work?

I collect writing processes like my nephew collects shoes.

In fact, my favorite fantasy is imagining one day I’ll start and finish a manuscript following a perfectly linear path.

Figuring out our best work habits brings clarity and energy to our writing. But obsessing over how we ought to work zaps us and is counter-productive. Avoid getting hung up on how other writers write.

This is a major struggle for me. I feel inadequate, even stupid, because I rewrite so often and so heavily. Each time I start a new draft the voice in my head tells me real writers don’t do this.

But when I shared my fear to my writerly daughter, she told me John Green wrote 284 drafts of AN ABUNDANCE OF KATHERINES and 192 drafts of THE FAULT IN OUR STARS.

So, maybe I need to rethink my attitude on rewriting.

If you’ve overloaded your brain on good advice from others, take time to remember what you already know. Let’s clear the brain fog!

P.S. By the way, these questions came to me through a fun blog hop. Back in March, my teacher writer friend Suzanne Lily, author of GOLD RUSH GIRL, included me in her blog hop. And then, last week, I got another chance to join in through my sweet friend Martha Brady, who blogs at Gritty Grace, where the grace of GOD and grit of life intersect. (Isn’t that a great tag line?) Thanks ladies!

P.S.S. If you know a child who’d like a short summer read – only 14 pages – consider THE LITERATURE CLUB PROJECT. A short story for ages 9+. Only 99 cents! : )


How to Guarantee an Unsuccessful Fiction Research Trip

How to Guarantee an Unsuccessful Fiction Research Trip

Have you ever embarked on an interview or research trip perfectly prepared? You’re confident, and organized, perhaps even holding court to admirers of your work and those awe-struck by writers in general?

Not you? Me either.

Instead I’ve stumbled through more awkward interviews, factory tours, and lunchtime conversations than I care to document. In fact, I’m certain my mistakes have disillusioned men and women, even a few children, across the United States (and parts of Canada) from all writerly stereotypes.

I’m more jester, than royalty.

Instead of hiding my blunders, I’ve decided to highlight the top 7 and share, so others, like you, can guarantee your 1st, 2nd, or 30th interview will be as unsuccessful as many of mine have been.

{The tricks for confusing, giggly banter remains a speciality which I’ll save for another post.}

1)      Don’t take extra batteries for your recorder. Because that Energizer Bunny from 2009 will never quit.

2)      Don’t use a digital voice recorder. Instead rely on your mobile phone. The quality of a mobile phone call is excellent, isn’t it? Your smartphone microphone will produce a robust recording, not a tinny far-off one that also captures wind, crowd noise, and machine screeches at the exact same level. Or even better, take a notebook and pencil. Nothing says “I’m a hard-core journalist-type” as whipping out a pencil to scribble on a piece of paper, right? You’ll decipher those acronyms that are completely out-of-context with noooooo problem later on.

3)      Don’t take pictures.  Your memory is good enough. So what if you have trouble remembering your firstborn’s name. This research is important. No way you’ll forget the color of the brick inlaid flooring of the wine cellar. Especially if you come up with some mnemonic trick. Because even though you’ve only got a story outline, you know exactly which details you’ll need two or three months from now. We are professional writers remember.

4)      Don’t use a real camera. Again a smartphone works! Because a magazine editor will never hear through the grapevine about your visit to a remote craft beer brewery and offer a front-cover full spread article for a behind-the-scene look. (Psst.Just as long as you have photographs he can use to go along with the impersonal professional ones the brewery provides.)Things like that don’t happen. Eh-ver.

5)      Don’t ask for a tour. People hate to talk about their work. Absolutely hate it. Anyway, you can learn the same information by eavesdropping on co-workers’ conversations. No one will call security, I promise.

6)      Don’t ask for business cards or use the back of the card to jot identifying information. You know how to spell Tiffany/Tifani/Tiphanie and you’ll remember her last name Cyley/Kylely/Wiley/Miley if you need to call for clarification. If you can’t quite remember her name, describing her to the receptionist is always an option. How many medium-height, medium-build, brown-haired Tiffany/Tifani/Tiphanie Cyley/Kylely/Wiley/Miley could possibly work there? The receptionist will know everyone! And, if the receptionist is a computer, you can go through voicemail database search of 350 employees to listen for the name that triggers your memory. It’s fun!

7)      Lastly, don’t write down your thoughts immediately. Wait weeks, even months, to open your notebook and puzzle over what the stars surrounding “wine barrels” and the words VERY IMPORTANT might refer to. Just meditate on those notes for a few days instead of trying to make deadline. (Deadlines are overrated, don’t you think?)

So there are my top 7 ways that keep me – and now you – from suffering from envy, backstabbing, and jealousy with the public. As Lorde tells us, we’ll never be royal.

QUESTION: Do you have a tip for an unsuccessful interview or research trip? Would love to read it below. C’mon and share. Or have I hit them all? : )

And, before you go – please take a moment to sign up for my very infrequent newsletter. By signing up you can stay updated when my new books are released. (Got two coming out this year: one in the fall, one in the winter.) 

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