"The pages are still blank, but there is a miraculous feeling of the words being there, written in invisible ink and clamoring to become visible." -Vladimir Nobokov

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Putting Advice into Practice

I was looking at the tags on my posts the other day, and I realized that it has been a VERY long time since I actually talked about writing in any kind of helpful, organized way. There's also the fact that the tag "life" pops up more than "writing in general," which bothers me a little bit since, well, this blog is supposed to have at least some useful information on it. So, without further ado, here's some advice... about taking advice.

For the record, I LOVE advice. I'm the one who is constantly wasting time I could be using to write (or, you know, do homework) by looking up writing advice. But of course the one caveat of knowing how to write well, is that you actually have to put that advice into practice. In order to help you do this, I've gathered up a few of the most generic writing tips on the internet and am giving you my own perspective on what they mean.

Write Every Day
Ah yes, this seems to be the standard piece of writing advice. It 's simple. You want to write? Well then, what are you waiting for! But if you're anything like me, just being told to write isn't enough. I need details. How long should my writing sessions be? Should I set a word count goal? How do I write everyday without severely jeopardizing my grades? What if I only write two sentences every day for a week? What happens if I skip a day? Two? Three? You get the gist. Now, this is going to seem a little counter intuitive, but let's just forget about the whole "write every day" thing for a minute. Sure, setting a schedule for yourself is great, but you really only need to write every day if just getting yourself into your desk chair is a struggle. If you're more confident with your writing, you start to feel guilty after you've gone a long time without writing anything. Hopefully the urge to write will naturally occur. That doesn't necessarily mean you should write only when you feel like it. Use your time wisely; if you have a small stretch of time where you would normally watch Youtube videos, try writing instead. By using whatever available time you have and also freeing yourself from the cycle of guilt that is trying to write every day and failing miserably, you are going to be a lot happier with yourself and with the result of your efforts.

Show don't Tell
You've heard this one a million times, I know. In describing this technique most people use an example like this:

Showing: Julie was getting angry when James walked through the door.

Telling: Julie's face turned beet red. He eyes bulged and an insult was already forming on her lips when James walked through the door.

Even when I'm given an example, I have a really hard time showing instead of telling. While first drafts will always be riddled with places where telling is rampant, one thing I've noticed that has helped me learn the difference is taking time to notice things. If you make a conscious effort to observe the details of your life, then writing them will be a lot easier. Pay attention to the way people act when they're happy, angry, sad, tired. Pay attention to the way the first day of summer smells, or the feeling your get when you're sitting in an empty movie theatre waiting for the film to start. As you do this you will discover that you are more inclined to include the details of your character's emotions rather than just telling your readers their state of mind.

Write What You Know
There is a lot of truth to this phrase. Where would we be if Anne Frank or Louisa May Alcott or Harper Lee had decided not to write what they know? However, when I first tried to follow this advice I couldn't think of anything in my life that would be worth putting into a story (obviously I got over that and started a blog). What I've realized is that writing what you know doesn't mean you have to write a memoir about your life, or that you can't work in a fantasy or sci-fi genre. It just means that, whenever possible, you should ground your stories in a reality that you know something about. Why have a character who is a genius chess player if you've never played a game of chess in your life? Sure, you can acquaint yourself with the world of chess by teaching yourself how to play, attending chess tournaments, etc, but wouldn't be nice (and a lot less work) to have your main character love the same thing you love? This also serves as a good rule for writing about things you can't possibly "know". Say you've set your story in New Orleans during the 1920's. If you want your story world to be authentic, you need to know as much about that place and time as if you were actually living it.

Well, that's all I have time for today. Since I don't do very many of these writing advice posts, I'd love to hear if you thought this was helpful or not. Feel free to leave questions, comments, and constructive criticism in the comments!


  1. Laura,
    I've been reading your blog quite a bit recently. This is very helpful and encouraging! Thank you!

    - Juliana

  2. Yay! I'm so glad you've been enjoying it! Thanks so much for reading and commenting :)