Things I learned about writing
When I inherited my parent’s old typewriter, the first thing I did was write a terrible mystery story. I think it was 40 pages long and I even did a pencil cover illustration. I remember something about a car, an old house, and ghosts. There wasn’t much I could draw on from 12 years worth of personal experience.
All of it has since been lost to the dusty summer days of my childhood, but the important part was remembering how satisfied I was being able to take all the stories, characters, and ideas from inside my head and put them to paper.
I am proud of my younger-self. I was doing something that every writer is told. Write and write a lot. I had spiral bound notebooks and at least a dozen floppy disks with stories, poetry and whatever else I wanted to pound out on my keyboard. I enjoyed the simple act of writing; creating a world that was a reflection of what I saw.
At the end of the day, it’s not so much having a physical product, but having the satisfaction that you are building your writing muscles. Perhaps there will be a piece that will be worthy to share or to even be published, or this is a strictly cathartic personal exercise for you. It doesn’t matter. There is room for people to write for writing sake. What is the worst that can happen? Become a penniless writer living in some efficiently closet in New York, right?
What helped me to grow up from the shy 6th grade girl to the person who sits in front of my computer writing today can be reduced down to 5 elements: Voice, Authenticity, Word Choice, Clarity, and Succinctness.
And I am not talking about the thing you hear when someone opens their mouth. Voice is what a reader hears when they are reading your work, or what is termed as narrative. Find your voice and refine it. This includes word choices, your tone, and ultimately the themes you use in your work.
Does your voice match your subject? Does it make sense to the reader? They will know when you are B-Sing (more importantly if you are not self-publishing, your agent or publisher will). You should be aware of how candid or not you are in your work.
3: Word Choice
This goes for both the body of the piece as well as the title. I was once called on for using the word “proceed” too much. The piece was reading more like a police report than a fictional description. Opps! If I ever learned anything from working in journalism, the most important part of your article is the title. Don’t think for a moment you can give a hook about Hot Beach Babes and then talk about circuit systems. Sorry, try again. However, you can say Some Like it Hot and talk about the rising trend of sauna use. With the right combination of words, people will be more likely to read your stuff.
There is a difference between writing for writing sake and writing to share a specific message. Make sure the ideas are clear and easy to follow. You don’t leave the reader scratching their head trying to parse out what they just read. I am not talking about the essay formula you learned in school, but how to create flow from one idea to another. Think of it as being a guide in a museum or city. You are leading the reader to what you want them to see and understand. The only questions you want them asking is why you chose your subject, not what you are trying to saying.
I touched on this in clarity, because in the end, in order to have succinctness, you need to be clear in your intent. If it takes you two sentences to describe your message, then keep it at two sentences. This takes practice and keeping in mind your purpose of the piece. Make your length appropriate to your subject and your audience. Again, people can tell when you are padding your work or dwell too long on any particular detail.
Know who your audience is. Writing a YA novel? Want to offer advice? Open up a discussion about poignant topics of modern life? Know who the people you want reading your piece and write accordingly. Writing a dense technical paper about nano-particles is not going to fly for most 12 year kids and neither is a picture book about a cute field mouse being appropriate for political discussion (though I suppose if the book is about the environment or is a metaphor– but we are going to assume is about Harry Mouse and his friend Grey Pigeon and them needing to protect their home from Omnipotent Owl…). If this means researching published works, talking to successfully published authors, and even talking to the people for whom you are writing for, do it. It will help maintain your authenticity in the eyes of the reader and your peers.
Writing is just as much about the process as it is reaching the last page, or having the printed book, or the successful blog. It is a journey in which you can learn about yourself, where you want to go, and ultimately where you want to take your audience. Whether it is to a dusty old house with ghosts or an inner personal journey, that is up to you. All you have do is write it.