Many of you have written me asking my advice about writing.
I think William Faulkner said it best. In accepting the 1950 Nobel Prize for Literature, he declared:
"...the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself ... alone can make good writing because only that is worth writing about, worth the agony and the sweat."
Here are some more thoughts of my own:
When I first began to write, my thoughts would get jumbled and I struggled to put down on paper what I wanted to say. I thought I could never get past the first page, but I kept trying. Eventually I reached out for help. With the encouragement of friends, I managed to commit to finish what I started.
Find people who believe in you. Surround yourself with people who will give you confidence and build you up as a writer. Encouragement is so important.
Have you ever been to a museum and seen an art student with an easel copy a painting hanging on the wall? They do that in order to learn. The equivalent applies to writing. Take a book that moves you and copy your favorite parts. It'll reveal to you much about what makes good writing. It's a great way to learn by experiencing how different writers write.
In addition, read your work aloud--to yourself and to others.
When you write, appeal to as many senses as possible-visual images, sounds, tastes, smells, colors, and textures.
In terms of characters, with each paragraph, ask yourself: What is each character thinking? What is each character feeling? How do they show it?
Use dialog sparingly. Actions really do speak louder than words.
What to write about? Write what you care about. Write what you're most scared and embarrassed to write. Write what you would like to read and can't find. Give voice to those who have no voice. Write the unique story only you can tell.
Don't worry about being published or finding an agent. First, write and finish your book!
If you are writing a book for teens or children, join: http://www.scbwi.org
Have courage, be true to who you are, reach out for help, and follow your dreams!
Take heart from these words by Agnes DeMille describing her conversation with Martha Graham:
I confessed that I had a burning desire to be excellent, but no faith that I could be.
Martha said to me, very quietly: “There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. As for you, Agnes, you have so far used about one-third of your talent.”
“But,” I said, “when I see my work I take for granted what other people value in it. I see only its ineptitude, inorganic flaws, and crudities. I am not pleased or satisfied.”
“No artist is pleased.”
“But then there is no satisfaction?”
“No satisfaction whatever at any time,” she cried out passionately. “There is only a queer divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others.”
Kurt Vonnegut's eight rules for writing a story:
Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted. It's the writer's job to stage confrontations, so the characters will say surprising and revealing things, and educate and entertain us all.
Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.
Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water. Characters paralyzed by the meaninglessness of modern life still have to drink water from time to time. When you exclude anyone's wanting anything, you exclude the reader, which is a mean-spirited thing to do.
Every sentence must do one of two things — reveal character or advance the action.
Start as close to the end as possible.
Be a sadist. Now matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them — in order that the reader may see what they are made of.
Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia. Every successful creative person creates with an audience of one in mind. That's the secret of artistic unity.
Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To heck with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.
And if you would like to explore working with me as your editor/ mentor, please visit my mentoring page.