For several years, Terpsichore and I have been coaching semi-finalists in Athanatos Christian Ministries’s novel competition. We spend 3 months or so working with authors on revisions, polishing and working on the art of story telling. We work one on one with each author to provide specific criticism and advice. At the end of the revision period, authors re-submit their revised work and some hard working chap wins and has their book published by Athanatos. Pretty sweet, eh?
Well, every year I write a wrap up email with advice for how to keep working to be the best author possible, and every year the general advice is the same. Terpsichore has also found some patterns, so we thought we’d share the more universal advice. Here’s mine. Pursue your writing with deliberation and purpose. How?
Read books about writing. Style guides like Strunk and White go a long way, but a book like John R. Erickson’s Story Craft make a big difference to seeing how to apply the ideas. I’ve also heard that Stephen King’s On Writing is insightful.
Write every day. Pout. This stinks. Finding time, being disciplined, focusing on something! For pete’s sake, we’re not medieval monks! But, there is good news here.
You don’t have to write for hours, or entire chapters. Set manageable goals for yourself. Got 15 minutes? Write for 15 minutes. Can you reliably write 250 words before dinner? Do that.
Also, you don’t have to write NEW words every day. Nor must you sit down and write the very next 250 words in your current project. Re-write yesterday’s words. Plan a different plot that’s been niggling you. Write about how you’re going go berserk if your upstairs neighbor slams the door and wakes the baby one. more. time. Just remember to file everything carefully, and never, never delete anything. You never know when you’ll need those loose words.
(oh, and, this isn’t a salvific matter. you ain’t going to hell if you miss a day or 9, so just pick it back up.)
Be a picky reader, in order to train discernment. Pay close attention to what you’re reading, and if it’s not very good, stop reading it. Is the plot flimsy, or only carried along by sensational occurrences? Are the characters boring or implausible? Is the prose itself varied, interesting, and stylish? If the answer is no, the book is not worth your time. You must give yourself the very best examples so that your “ear”, and “eye” for what is valuable and good is trained to judge between good and bad. When you can trust your well trained instincts, you will find the whole process easier.
And read Egotist’s Club! We’ll turn you towards those good books and share our thoughts on writing.