Wednesday, January 7, 2009

10 Tips to Better Writing in 2009

Find fiction easier to read than write? Welcome to the club - but I've compiled a list of the top ten things you can do to improve your writing in 2009.

1) Write to the right audience
You have an amazing story - now picture yourself telling that story, reading it aloud - to an empty cow pasture. The story is fantastic, but no one is listening. How can you ensure your story will find an audience? By knowing your audience before you write. Part of it is to understand the genre you write in, but it goes beyond that to the actual people who will read (and love) your story. Knowing your audience will sharpen your fiction, keep it on track, and help you say exactly what you want to say.

2) Let go of your inhibitions
A sure-fire line to kill a great story? "Oh no! I could NEVER write that!" I'm not talking porno or profanity, we're all sick to death of being bombarded with those things. I'm talking about holding back from asking the bigger questions, poking evil in the eye, having a character act in a way that you would never act, or think things you would never think. By avoiding difficult conflict, you're killing off the best parts of your fiction, the parts that examine questions we all have. I say, "Let 'er rip!"

3) Make space
Grab some real estate in your home and make it your writing space. Guard it. Don't let junk mail pile there, don't let kids toys and other people's cell phones clutter your space. You don't necessarily have to have a whole room, just a space to call your own. By taking your writing seriously, you'll train everyone in your household to take it seriously too.

4) Clear your mind
A writing life can be a cloistered one - all that tip-tapping away on a keyboard, deep in thought, lost in a storyline that doesn't quiet make sense yet. Make a habit of getting out there in the world. My Dad calls it, "Blowing the stink off" and every writer needs to do it. Writing is a reflection of life and it's issues and you need to experience those things in order to write about them. Take breaks, call a friend, get out of the house and clear your mind - it sets the stage for fantastic fiction writing.

5) Read dense books
Like to write zippy cozy mysteries? Got a passion for chick-lit? Great! But you owe it to yourself to get out of the wading pool and swim in deep waters. Get lost in a classic book, or discover a shining new literary talent. Find a book that challenges the assumptions of your life, examines questions you've never asked and boggles your mind. Wrestle with the text, suffer through the passages you don't understand, or care for. Your writing will blossom.

6) Be passionate
Find the things in life that move you, thrill you, anger you, enthrall you. Then chase them for awhile. Rub up against people who aren't like you. Find that gutsy, lusty, go-for-the-gusto part of you and embrace it. Great fiction is filled with passion for living, for people, and for stories. Throw open the doors of your heart and embrace your red-hot joy for living.

7) Stop trying to explain
Fiction must be about human experience. Many writers, in an earnest attempt to convey a meaningful message, resort to heavy-handed, neatly wrapped packages (especially endings) and hollowed out characters who only exist to serve the message. Give your characters depth and let them live out the story instead of trying to live up to your message.

8) Be Unique
Every writer looks to other writing for inspiration - each of us stands on the shoulders of writers before us. But there comes a time when you must leave the road others have travelled and forge your own path. You must tell your story your way - not the way your favorite author would, not the way your Pastor's wife would, not the way your Great Aunt Bea would. Your way. Dig deep, and trust your instincts.

9) Try something new that scares you
It's been said, "Fiction is conflict". Writers love to dream up characters and then throw them into all sorts of harrowing circumstances. But when was the last time you had a heart-pounding adventure? How can you recreate the feelings, sensations, and inner dialogue of someone in peril if you haven't left your house for ten years? Find something that makes your pulse jump and go experience it!

10) Admit life isn't simple
Okay, you have a great story, wonderful characters, a theme, an outline - everything is ducky! But check again - have you tied too neat a bow on the whole package? Have you let your characters get sloppy, make mistakes, and put their foot in their mouth? Is your story a journey with pit-stops? Life isn't a simple tale, and your fiction shouldn't be either. We all like happy endings, but it's so much more interesting to leave a few threads loose.

Here's to better writing in 2009!
I bid you good writing.


Judith Leger said...

Thanks Bonnie! I needed this.

lynnrush said...

Awesome. I love these suggestions. I'm one who has always avoided reading the classics. I must work through that it seems, to become a better writer. Makes sense, though.

Bonnie Grove said...

Judith: You are very welcome! Happy to hear it's of use to you.

Lynn: It is amazing what a study in literature can do for a writer. Whenever a brand new writer asks me for advice on how to become an author, I suggest he/she take a university lit course. Creative writing is fine, but to understand historical connection between literarture and culture, history and poetry, is a spiritual experience. Highly recommended! Wrestling with dense text at home is the perfect way to start. I'd love to hear which books you begin with - and if you'd like some suggestions, let me know, I'd be happy to provide you with some classic and modern starting points.

Sharon K. Souza said...

This is a very insightful and helpful post, one I'll refer back to as I write. You're amazing with all the things you juggle and still manage to do everything so well. It's an honor to know you!

Bonnie Grove said...

Sharon: Bless your heart, my friend. Thank you for your kind words, you're so sweet.

Kathleen Popa said...

Bonnie, wow what a great post, and what fabulous advice. I'll hang on to this one.

Hey, I know! You wanna start a group blog?

Cathy Bryant said...

Thanks for this post--it's very helpful to this aspiring writer. I especially loved the part about "blowing the stink off." I have workaholic tendencies, so I really tend to "stink" after a while. Thanks for the reminder to get out and live a little!

Bonnie Grove said...

Katy: You're on!

Cathy, so glad you stopped by! Yep, it can get pretty stinky sitting behind that keyboard. So happy to hear you enjoyed the post.