Tuesday, October 5, 2010

10 Things I've Learned So Far

Here are a few things I've learned since I started writing seriously. Now some of them I should have learned in my High School English classes but . . . well . . . Ahem, anyway, here goes in no particular order:

(Disclaimer: If I preach about something and then automatically turn around and fail to accomplish it in this post--I only said I'd learned it, I never said I'd perfected it. You've been warned. I don't want to hear no friggin' guff from any of you.)

1. I've learned the difference between their/there/they're as well as your/you're etc. There is no excuse for not learning grammar basics. This is my craft and I have to be a master of my craft before I can turn it into compelling prose.

2. Adverbs = evil. Words ending in 'ly not only can be overdone to the point of annoyance, they also cheat you out of a chance for more vivid description. Example: I angrily typed this diatribe. Or: My skin flushed with rage as my fingers pounded the keys until stains of blood littered the letters on the keyboard. (Note: However, if you leave adverbs out entirely, someone will notice and also be annoyed. The idea is to make the words invisible. A little evil is okay.)

2. There is always a comma within the quotation marks before a dialogue tag. No dialogue tag, no problem. Put a period within the quote marks.

3. Speaking of dialogue tags, they should be few and far between but in no way eliminated completely. When necessary only use the basic ones: he/she said/asked/whispered. Creativity will not get you points in this case. All the barking, choking, gasping, crying, yelling, laughing, coughing etc. will only make it sound as though your characters are animals in a zoo.

4. Active vs. passive writing. Repeat after me: This sentence is being far too passive. Wait . . . go here for more information on active vs. passive. It may be complicated but it's a super hero concept that might just save your novel.

5. Dialogue should not meander outside of what is completely necessary to move the story along. A little meandering to make it sound real is fine. Too much and the reader starts rolling their eyes and begins flipping through the channels on the TV to find Hawaii 5-0.

6. Speaking of dialogue, each speaker gets to have their own paragraph. Don't let different speakers crowd into each others paragraphs. Separate those little snugglers or else they'll procreate until all you have is one big-a block of text.

7. Don't use twelve words (especially adjectives) where one word will suffice. (Note: I'm not talking about adverbs. By all means use twelve words in place of an adverb if that's what it takes to kill the sucker.) I don't like seeing any knarled, brown, rough, lichen-covered, fungal, buggy, holey, crevassed, ancient, magical trees. (Fine, I could only come up with ten. You get the picture though, right?)

8. Allow your characters some freedom but don't let them take over. By all means you should let the story evolve naturally instead of trying to force it into a box. However, when your characters start acting out of . . . well, character, then it's time to take back the reigns and guide them to safer waters.

9. Writer's block is simply that evil internal critic telling me I'm a failure. (Okay maybe this is just me.) There's no need to listen to snarky voices like that. Better to just finish that !@#$ novel and start listening to real voices like the feedback from beta readers and friends.

!0. There's no substitute for beta readers and critique groups to help to find the flaws, holes and punctuation errors. Of course there's no substitute for a few friends a family (okay and maybe even distant acquaintances) to tell you you're brilliant.

And there you have it. The top ten things I've learned so far as a writer. They are all pretty basic and hopefully things all you writers have learned as well.

What's something you've learned since you started writing?


  1. Oh how I love the list... and oh how I love the link embedded inside the list even more! Is it November 1st yet? I'm rarin' to GO! Or should I say NaNoWriMo is highly anticipated by me? Muhahahaha

  2. Great list! I think the one thing I've learned recently is to trust my instincts. And also: everything can be revised. The two usually go hand in hand :)

  3. Some great grammar lessons here! I've definitely learnt that when editing a good writer needs to be brutal. Not necessary to the story? Then get rid of it (unless you have a REALLY good reason!)

    PS - Hello, I'm a new follower :)

  4. Thanks for coming over, Katie. I also agree. Kill your darlings. Isn't that what everyone says? And what's more brutal than that. Also if you can't trust your instincts on your own work, where can you trust them?

  5. These are great! Simple rules to follow for clean, effective writing. I especially like where you say that a little evil is okay. And thanks for the bonus tip w/ two #2s, you tricky devil.

    I gave your blog an award at my page! You can "pick it up" there. ;)


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