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, I 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! : )