I just received a very sweet email from Sophie S. (hi Sophie) who asked for 101 tips on being a writer.
It took more time (and headaches) than I thought, but here you go, Sophie!
I should point up right up front that anyone who tells you “this is how you write a bestselling novel” is lying to you. There is no magic wand or proven formula. There is only opinion.
What I share here is what I have learned and experienced—so far. Take what you like and leave the rest and remember that the only way to learn to write is by writing.
1. Write. I know this one should go without saying, but I’ve met a lot of “writers” who spend far more time talking about writing than they spend actually putting pen to paper (or fingers to keys). Seriously, folks. Being a writer isn’t about talking about it–it’s about doing it. So do.
2. Read. Read everything and anything, and when you figure out what you like to read, then that’s probably what you will like to write.
3. Don’t be afraid of ugly first drafts–even the great classics had a first draft. I promise.
4. Don’t worry about length–tell the story as well as it can be told and then figure out if it’s a novel (usually 50,000-80,000 words); a novella (shorter); a short story (even shorter); or a mammoth tome (100,000 words or more).
5. If you start your “novel” and figure out it’s only two pages…well…then it’s either a short story (and that’s okay), or you don’t have enough conflict present within your story, or you’re glossing over things that shouldn’t be glossed over. Go deeper.
6. I heard it said once that the first 100,000 words anybody will ever write will be bad words. I call those the “dirty water” words. (You know how when you turn on a garden hose, the stuff that comes out first is dirty water?) Well, the only way to get to the good stuff is to let the water run. So, back to #1 and #3–just WRITE!
7. Everything ties to character. Everything. Take THE WIZARD OF OZ for example. If Dorthy were a street-smart bully then that would be a very different story, would it not?
8. Write steadily. Now, I don’t necessarily prescribe to the “write every day” mantra (although that’s not bad advice if you’re up for it, I personally, need to take writing vacations from time to time). But I do think you need to write steadily. Don’t put it off by saying “I’ll start during spring break” or “I’ll write when we go to the beach” or whatever. Those are excuses. See #1–writers write.
9. Pick an idea that you love and then commit to writing it from start to finish–don’t let yourself give up in the middle. Middles ALWAYS look like the land of no return. Push through. (See rule #3–it’s okay if it’s terrible.) Just FINISHING a book/story/novella is a good process to go through. Just FINISH.
10. In order to pick your story idea–or to really get at the center of what your story is truly about–try filling in the blanks of the following sentence:
It’s about a _____________ who ________________s.
That’s it. That’s all a book/story/movie ever is–the story of a ___ who ____s.
Here are some examples. (For fun, let’s see if you guys can guess the novels/movies to which they refer.)
a. A student at a spy school who falls for a normal boy.
b. A girl who challenges the gender bias of her boarding school by secretly taking over an all male secret society.
c. A group of three friends who take a road trip to discover who they really are and what they really want.
d. A Southern Belle who refuses to be defeated by the Civil War.
e. A child prodigy who has been in love with 19 girls, all of whom were named Katherine.
(all the correct answers are in the comments of this post–good job, guys!)