Free writing advice–and worth every penny!

I’m a university professor. I don’t teach writing or English or anything of that ilk–I teach criminal justice, in fact. But now and then, when my students areĀ groaning about having to write a term paper, I mention that I’m also a fiction author. “In the span of time I’m asking you to write a 10-page paper,” I tell them, “I will probably write a 200-page novel. While working more than full-time and dealing with my family. So no complaints!”

They sort of sigh. But I think some of them are impressed. They ask me about my writing later. And now and then, some will they tell me they’d love to write fiction too, and they ask for advice.

So here are some tips I shared recently with a student.

1. Read a lot. It doesn’t matter if you read slowly–nobody’s timing you! Nowadays, I do a lot of my “reading” listening to audiobooks while I do my daily walks. Pick some authors who are really good at their craft. Some of my favorites are Isabel Allende, Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, and Kurt Vonnegut, but you can choose anyone. Christopher Moore is one of my favorite funny authors [this student wants to write comedy]. And while you read, notice the nuts and bolts–the way they’ve used language, pace, etc to build the story effectively.
2. Write a lot. Don’t try to write the best thing ever on your first (or hundredth!) try. And remember, nothing is ever perfect at first. It’s better to get crummy words on paper and edit them later than to get nothing at all.
3. If it works for you, consider National Novel Writing Month (http://nanowrimo.org/). I do well with charts and goals and deadlines, so it worked well for me when I was starting out.
4. Find a writing style that works well for you. Some people plot out everything ahead of time; some people, like me, start out with a vague idea and make stuff up as they go. I like to write my story in order, but I know some people who write bits and pieces and stitch them together later. I also make myself finish the first draft before I allow myself to go back and edit or tinker. That keeps things moving.
5. If you’re having trouble getting started, consider some writing exercises or guides to writing. Stephen King has one. Anne Lamott has a good one called Bird by Bird. Chuck Wendig’s site is terrific and also funny (http://terribleminds.com/).
6. Find some people to critique your writing honestly. Some people like writing groups, but that doesn’t work well for me because of my schedule. But I have friends who are authors and editors, who I can trust to give me honest feedback. You want people who can really tell you the truth. And you have to be prepared to listen to it!
7. Revise. When I write a novel, I tinker with it myself until I’m pretty satisfied. Then I send it to my editor friend, who goes through 2 complete rounds of edits on it. After I submit it and it’s accepted, I usually have 2 or 3 rounds of edits with the publisher, plus 2 rounds of proofreading.
8. Write what you enjoy.

 

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