WRITE ON

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I’m receiving a number of comments and messages from readers looking for help becoming writers. Some of them lead me to believe you haven’t been keeping up with the Writing Process section here on the blah-g. Check this out first in case any of your questions have already been answered in depth: Blah Blah Blah Writing Process

And a few of you have asked me for some tips and tricks. Tips and tricks for writing, huh? I wish, sisters. I’ve said this before, but there aren’t any tricks. You have to write every day. It’s that simple. Read books in the genre you are writing so you can see how other people do it. Stephen King says if you don’t have time to read, then you don’t have the time–or tools–to write. So do it. Read and write as much as possible. Keep a notebook with you and write down amazing details you stumble on during the day. It’s these details that will bring your writing to life. And read about writing. Books on the actual craft are very helpful and inspiring. Be sure to check out my Tumblr I devote entirely to writerly things (okay, okay, there are some pups and Internet memes thrown in there, too) that I update every Tuesday and Thursday. It’s full of great writing tips for character development, story structure, inspirational words, and anything else you need to spark your creativity while honing your craft.

Writerly Words

Most of all don’t try to sound like anyone else. It’s your voice we want to hear because no one sees the world like you do. Neil Gaiman has my back on this one, albeit his version is a little more harsh:

Start telling the stories that only you can tell, because there’ll always be better writers than you and there’ll always be smarter writers than you. There will always be people who are much better at doing this or doing that — but you are the only you.

― Neil Gaiman

Which reminds me, developing a thick skin is step 1 in becoming a writer. Harper Lee agrees:

I would advise anyone who aspires to a writing career that before developing his talent he would be wise to develop a thick hide. — Harper Lee

Now hit it.

 

TTYW,

Lisi

 

Grit or Get Off The Pot

im/possible

“Before you diagnose yourself with depression or low self-esteem, first make sure you are not, in fact, just surrounded by a**holes.” – William Gibson.

Have you ever shared your life’s grand plan with someone and in an instant your dreams were dashed with negativity? We all encounter discouraging naysayers on our path, but it’s particularly difficult to stay focused in reaching our goals when those closest to us can’t or won’t be our support system along the way. Danielle is experiencing this right now and commented about it on my Facebook page. Here’s her story: I’ve wanted to become a writer for quite some time. The only problem is my family doesn’t support me in my decision. They say things that really make me feel like I won’t be able to make it. I get tons of support at school with my teachers and I’m grateful for that, but my family makes jokes at my expense that make me feel self conscious for wanting to write. It’s gotten so bad that I don’t think I’ll be able to become a writer anymore. Any advice?  People who try to talk you down from a dream are usually working from a place of fear. It isn’t necessarily their fault. They might be repeating discouraging words said to them long ago, or they might be too scared in their own life to follow their passion. It’s crucial that you keep this in mind. Remind yourself it’s their insecurity and like a virus, you will catch it if you don’t build up your immunity. Here’s how:

Shut them down.

Tell them to keep their negativity to themselves. If they keep this up you will never dedicate a novel to them. Ne-ver! You could also try giving them a taste of it. Crush their goals and dreams just for fun. See how they like it. Infect them with their own negativity. Then (wait for it…) write a short story about it. Everything you experience—better or worse—is material. At the very least take notes on their behavior. The sound of their voices when they judge. Their facial expressions. The sound of their laughter. Show them, with your writing, how antagonistic they are.

Become Boobs. Now Find Your Bra.

Like a pair of boobs you need support. So go find a few bras. By this I mean people who support you. Share your writing with the teachers who believe in you. Join or start a writing club. Become an online member of a writing community. Read about writers. Read about writing. Surround yourself with other people who share the vision. That’s the bug you want to catch.
goals

Don’t dream it. Do it. 

Right now writing is your dream, but you should make it your reality. Decide upon smaller tasks instead of focusing solely on the final work. Write them down, tack them up on a wall near your desk. Look at those reminder notes every morning and put at least one of them into effect. Maybe that means writing a short story, putting a book of poems together, completing specific writing exercises each week, studying two books on the craft per month. Your family will see you working at achieving your goal and hopefully will respect your vision more and more. Or they won’t. (See: Shut Them Down.) The most important thing a writer can have—more important that talent, skill, education—is GRIT! Stick with it. Thicken that skin. Shut out the noise. Cliche? Yes. But oh so true.

butler quote Now go kick some ass. TTYW, Lisi

Writers Musing

The aspiring writers who follow my blah-g often ask what I’m inspired by. The answer? A lot. Inspiration comes in any number of forms and if you pay close enough attention, most mundane aspects of life can spark the idea for a new character or a dramatic scene. But looking around with intention takes some effort and isn’t always a quick fix for when you need to feel inspired fast. The most fool-proof method in finding that creative spark when you need it is to simply pick up a book and read. Read everything: fiction, nonfiction, poetry. Read interesting blog posts and the inside of book jackets; read technical descriptions on boxes and definitions of scientific words. It will all inform you and may lead to something valuable in the next piece you’re working on. When I need that extra oomph on a particularly dry creative day, I turn to my journal where I store quotes by writers I respect. This always does the trick. And more often than not, these quotes are just as much about life itself than the act of writing alone. I’m sharing 25 ah-mazing quotes on writing, creativity and life by writers I love in the hope some of these words will help you the next time you sit down to create.

 

1. Anne Lamott from her book Bird by Bird

“Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft. I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won’t have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren’t even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they’re doing it.”

 2. Zadie Smith, author of White Teeth

“Try to read your own work as a stranger would read it, or even better, as an enemy would.”

3. Donna Tartt, Pullitzer Prize winner and author of The Goldfinch

“Storytelling and elegant style don’t always go hand in hand.”

4. Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche, acclaimed novelist, short story writer and speaker

Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche

5. Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love and The Signature of All Things 

“Creativity itself doesn’t care at all about results – the only thing it craves is the process. Learn to love the process and let whatever happens next happen, without fussing too much about it. Work like a monk, or a mule, or some other representative metaphor for diligence. Love the work. Destiny will do what it wants with you, regardless.”

6. Tina Fey, comedy writer and author of Bossy Pants

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7. Kurt Vonnegut, author of Cat’s Cradle and Slaughterhouse-Five

Vonnegut

“To practice any art, no matter how well or how badly, is a way to make your soul grow. So do it.”

8. Diane Ackerman, author and poet

ackerman

9. Judy Blume, author of Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. 

“Each of us must confront our own fears, must come face to face with them. How we handle our fears will determine where we go with the rest of our lives. To experience adventure or to be limited by the fear of it.”

10. Joan Didion, author and essayist

didion

11. Amy Poehler, comedy writer and author of Yes Please

Poehler

12. Anne Lamott from her book Bird by Bird

“You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.”

13. Nora Ephron, journalist, essayist, playwright, novelist, all around ah-mazing creative force 

Ephron

14. Jim Thompson, author and screenwriter 

“There is only one plot—things are not what they seem.”

15. James Baldwin, author of Giavanni’s Room

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16. Joan Didion from her book Slouching Towards Bethlehem 

“I have already lost touch with a couple of people I used to be.”

17. Ray Bradbury, American science-fiction author 

“Let the world burn through you. Throw the prism light, white hot, on paper.”

18. Alice Munro, winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature 

munro

19. Raymond Carver, poet and novelist, author of What We Talk About When We Talk About Love

“You’ve got to work with your mistakes until they look intended.”

20. Mark Twain, American humorist and writer 

“I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.” Ha!

21. Margaret Atwood, acclaimed novelist, poet, essayist and environmental activist 

atwood

Atwood

22. Zadie Smith

“Tell the truth through whichever veil comes to hand – but tell it. Resign yourself to the lifelong sadness that comes from never being satisfied.”

23. Jeanette Winterson, author of Written on the Body and Gut Symmetries 

“If you continually write and read yourself as a fiction, you can change what’s crushing you.”

24. Ray Bradbury

“To sum it all up, if you want to write, if you want to create, you must be the most sublime fool that god ever turned out and sent rambling. You must write every single day of your life. You must read dreadful dumb books and glorious books, and let them wrestle in beautiful fights inside your head, vulgar one moment, brilliant the next. You must lurk in libraries and climb the stacks like ladders to sniff books like perfumes and wear books like hats upon your crazy heads. I wish for you a wrestling match with your Creative Muse that will last a lifetime. I wish craziness and foolishness and madness upon you. May you live with hysteria, and out of it make fine stories — science fiction or otherwise. Which finally means, may you be in love every day for the next 20,000 days. And out of that love, remake a world.”

25. Nora Ephron, Wellesley College Commencement Address, 1996

“Whatever you choose, however many roads you travel, I hope that you choose not to be a lady. I hope you will find som away to break the rules and make a little trouble out there. And I also hope that you will choose to make some of that trouble on behalf of women.”

The last two may have left me with a tear in one eye. Leave me with some of your favorite quotes on writing and life below in the comments.

 

TTYW,

Lisi

Writer’s Roll

Writers Roll
Hi friends. I received a question from Rhema Joy recently on writer’s block. I replied to her directly, but it seems a lot of the aspiring writers who read my blah-g struggle with this so I’m elaborating to pass on what I know about getting the ball rolling and words flowing when you’re feeling stuck.

Here’s what Rhema said:

Dear Lisi,
I’ve been reading your books since I was eight or nine. I’m now fourteen and I love writing. I have a question though… more like a problem. I’ll have these amazing characters and plots and ideas; I’ll write bit, get writers block &and never finish it! It’s a sick cycle I’ve been on since I first started writing at age seven! Any ideas as to what’s my problem and how to fix it? Thank you x

1) The truth about writer’s block

Okay, Rhema, here goes: First, I don’t believe in writer’s block. There. I said. People give a lot of power to this term, but what I believe happens when they say they have writer’s block is that they simply are not interested enough in what they’re writing, or they haven’t given enough thought to where they want the story to go. I’m a huge supporter of OUTLINING first, as I’ve mentioned here on the blah-g. The outline can and will change, but you’ve got to give yourself a route to travel while writing, otherwise you’ll never make it to the final act. Some writers say they simply sit down and let it all flow out naturally, then edit later. It’s a very small percentage of writers who can successfully do that, and while you’re honing your craft I suggest you try to work from outlines first. Practice. Then be among that small percentage when you’ve developed the writing chops.

2) Give yourself a break

Got an outline and you’re still feeling stumped? Take a hike. Or a walk. Or just step away from your story for an afternoon and get some fresh air and eyes for the next time you sit down in front of your draft. Sometimes we think we have to dedicate every waking moment to our novel in order to get it done, but that isn’t always realistic or helpful to everyone’s process. Sitting in front of your story day after day can make it feel stale and cause you to lose inspiration and steam. Keep your perspective sharp by giving your draft some space when needed.

3) Don’t get too attached

Maybe that scene you had your heart set on writing simply doesn’t advance the plot. Cut it. Try something new. Don’t get bogged down by events or details that don’t drive the story forward. Remember, you are the ultimate creator of your fictional world. Your characters will tell you where they want to go, but you decide their fate.

4) Be imperfect

Avoid perfecting your early drafts. Your first, second, third, etc. drafts aren’t there to be pristine. They’re there to get down the story in all its gruesome form. Get the words down on paper and give yourself something to come back to and edit. You’ll never make it to the end if you keep stopping to fix details along the way. Trust me, I know this one from experience. Get the story down first, then polish it to perfection in your final drafting stage.

Rhema and all the other young writers reading this, I hope those tips help! If you have any advice to add, let us know in the comments section.

TTYW,
Lisi

Building Books

Hi friends. I promised I’d read you an excerpt from Judy Blume’s Forever…, my favorite banned book in continued celebration of Banned Books Week, but I’m holding off on that until next blah-g post. One of your comments on writing caught my eye and I’m addressing it today since I’m also neck deep in my own process finishing the Dirty Book Club.

Here’s what Lydia said:

Lisi you always give the best advice…
I’ve been writing a book since March and I’m only on Chapter 4. My process is pretty slow, but I want to get it moving a least a little bit. If I can’t think of anything for my current chapter, I write little bits and pieces in my notes. I also feel like my writing style is inconsistent. I try to use descriptive words here and there, but it seems too sporadic. Plus my witty retorts and personalities for the characters remind me of “The Fault In Our Stars” and feel too dated. How can I find my own style of writing without letting the books I read influence it too much? 

 

Lydia, I feel your pain here. Based on what you explained is happening it sounds like you may not have started with an outline. WRITE AN OUTLINE FIRST. Is there a specific message or idea you want to explore? Is the book plot or character driven? Have you thought about how you want the story to resolve? Characters and some plot lines will probably end up changing along the way, but get down the basic skeleton of where you want the story to go. It’s a must. It will save you days if not months of agonizing over the turns you want to take in your book.

As for your descriptive words feeling a little sporadic, are you peppering in adjectives or are you fleshing out a scene based on the senses? Show, don’t tell. Give your reader a feel for the scene by describing the taste of air on a muggy day, the smell of a character’s home, or the texture of the worn-in hoodie she always wears.

Develop your characters as much as possible. Get to know their dark secrets, their driving motivations, their quirks, worries and fears. If it helps your mind to stay organized, create a doc for each character and include everything about him/her down to their favorite snacks, sayings and what nervous ticks they have. All of this will inform you while you’re fleshing them out. It will also make it easier to imagine what your characters might do in the situations you’re creating for them, which will help with your momentum.

I’d usually say to read as many books as possible by your favorite authors to get familiar with the tone and structure of stories you like, but you’ve mentioned you might be too closely mimicking another writer’s voice. While you’re honing your craft and finding your voice, this isn’t the worst thing in the world to do. You come with an entirely unique set of experiences and will approach TFIOS diferently than John Green did writing it. Even if you’re basing some characters’ personalities off of the ones he’s created, you’ll naturally insert your own twists, which will engender new variations. Play around with that. See which parts of them you like, which parts can be edited back and try to develop what will make your characters complex and memorable.

With all that said… four chapters since March? You’re doing great! Keep it up and let us know how the book is coming along soon.

TTYW,

Lisi