"Becoming a writer is largely a journey of self-discovery. By all means, take classes and read books on writing – these can be enormously helpful. But you are the one who needs to beat out a new path through the wilderness".
Hi, Adventures in YA Publishing! Thanks for letting me write a blog post for you. Writing about writing is an easy job because writers brood about process so much that we’ve all got opinions.
Since I sold my first book nearly twenty-five years ago, any step-by-step advice I might offer to new writers is nearly worthless. I operated without an agent for years – something that is rarely done today – and the Internet has changed publishing in as many ways as it has changed the rest of the world.
There are, however, some pieces of advice I can pass on. Okay, here’s an oldie but goodie: Read. Read voraciously, constantly, thoughtfully. Read serious literature, genre fiction, nonfiction and trashy novels. Read the backs of cereal boxes and the fine print in contracts. Read. Any author will tell you the same thing, because it is important.
"While you are reading, pay careful attention...Ask yourself questions...Force yourself to articulate your views"
While you are reading, pay careful attention. Yes, you can be swept up in the plot and characters, but nevertheless keep one eye on the mechanics. Ask yourself questions. Why do you like the book? What is it that engages you? If you were writing this book, how would you do it differently? Are there individual sentences that please or displease you? Force yourself to articulate your views: “It’s dumb,” is not sufficient.
Also, as you read you will be both consciously and unconsciously absorbing the rules of grammar and spelling. You will notice it is sometimes okay to flout the rules – to use an incomplete sentence, for instance. Mastery of language is essential. No editor or agent will take seriously a writer who cannot use it correctly and confidently. A good copy editor can be very helpful – don’t worry, she’ll find mistakes however competent you are – but she should be working with a manuscript that is sound to begin with.
Along those lines, be mindful when you write – even if it’s a Face Book post or an informal email. Check it over before you click “Send. “ Make a habit of looking up words. Learn to use the very helpful grammar websites available online. This is the lowest, most basic requirement for publication by a mainstream commercial publishing house. Those who can spell may never get a book accepted; those who can’t, almost certainly never will.
Accept rewriting philosophically. Okay, nobody likes tearing up and tossing out work that took hours to do. But nobody’s pen pours out a stream of golden prose at the first attempt, either. Your material has to be worked and reworked to achieve the final result. You’re a big girl – so woman up and admit that rewriting is inevitable if you’re going for quality.
"Nobody likes tearing up and tossing out work that took hours to do. But nobody’s pen pours out a stream of golden prose at the first attempt."
There are two schools of thought on rewriting, and the way you deal with it depends on the type of writer you are. Many people are so self-doubting and self-critical that trying to rewrite while working on a first draft results in cutting their story off at the knees. These writers need to tell their internal critic to pipe down until the tale is told and the first draft done. Then they go back with a razor-sharp editing pencil, cutting and reorganizing as they go.
There is another kind of writer. I am what is known as a plunger. Not, I hasten to add, a toilet type plunger, but a jump-off-the-cliff or leap-into-the-sea type plunger. I do not come up with an idea and then think about it for a while, perhaps sketching out a tidy little synopsis or outline before beginning to write. No, I type any old thing that comes into my head, just to get started. Sooner or later this begins to take shape, and I say, yeah, okay, this could work. After a bit I stop and read what I’ve done. Hmm, I think, that’s kind of a mess … Wouldn’t it be better if…? At this point I start all over again. I do not throw out my original attempt, or not until I have something much more satisfactory with which to replace it. Don’t worry, I reassure myself, you can always return to the first version.
For some people, polishing as they go results in tight, self-conscious writing. For me, polishing as I go is the only way my work achieves intention and form. My writing is so goose-on-the-loose to begin with that it needs a firm hand to shepherd it into intelligibility. And, since I begin my work every day by jumping off the same cliff, it is soothing to reread the work I completed yesterday and see a cohesive, respectable bit of narrative. Not bad, I think complacently, as I prepare to commit some more random gibberish to my computer screen.
"One of your tasks is to discover what kind of writer you are. Figure out what works for you and then honor your own process. Don’t feel that you have to change who and what you are in order to have people take your work seriously. The whole point of being a writer is to add your unique voice to the chorus".
So one of your tasks is to discover what kind of writer you are. Figure out what works for you and then honor your own process. Don’t feel that you have to change who and what you are in order to have people take your work seriously. The whole point of being a writer is to add your unique voice to the chorus [N.B.: the word “unique” is not supposed to be qualified – something cannot be “very unique” or “somewhat unique.” It’s either unique or it isn’t. Period. Well… okay, it can be “almost unique.” But this is what I mean by paying attention to words].
Another thing I recommend is to carry a notebook with you, and to keep one by your bed. Whenever you get an idea, write it down, however foolish. This gets you into the habit of paying attention to your own ideas. If you keep it up, sooner or later you are almost bound to write down something worthwhile. Also, when in public you should be listening to and recording conversations. That weird interchange you overheard on the bus and wrote down in your notebook may never come in handy for a novel, but collecting it sharpens your ear for the rhythms and give-and-take of dialogue.
"A word of warning: do this as inconspicuously as possible. I would not want my advice to result in your being punched in the nose or thrown in jail. So, be discreet, please."
In the end, becoming a writer is largely a journey of self-discovery. By all means, take classes and read books on writing – these can be enormously helpful. But you are the one who needs to beat out a new path through the wilderness. And for that enterprise the best I have to offer is: Be of good courage, and I hope you find your way.
ABOUT THE BOOK
Don't You Trust Me?
by Patrice Kindl
Published by Atheneum
by Patrice Kindl
Published by Atheneum
But would a normal person switch identities with some wet mess of a girl at the airport, just to get her to stop bawling about being separated from her loser boyfriend and sent to live with some distant relatives? Nope, she wouldn’t. Yet I did. I’m not as normal as you think. And you’ll just have to trust me on that.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
She only began writing seriously when she was in her late thirties and was first published in her early forties. While she worked on OWL IN LOVE (her first book) she became involved in a program called Helping Hands, in which she raised two monkeys to be aides to quadriplegics. You can check it out here.
Her husband Paul is president of Encotech (that’s where she met him). Her son Alex is 25. He and his art rock band Bible Study (no religious connotation) live with us part-time. They rehearse directly over her office, so it is lucky that she thinks they are great musicians.