I've read a lot of writing advice discussing how to get your muse to talk to you. While this seems to be helpful to some, my problem is mostly I can't get mine to shut up. Ever. Muse, in this case refers to a little bit of constantly running internal commentary, often a source of … Continue reading On getting my muse to shut up for a bit…
One of the best pieces of advice I've ever gotten was if you want to get good at something, Keep your tools with you all the time. A writer should never be without something to write with. A photographer should always have a camera. A musician should keep their instrument close and so on. While this is probably easier for a flute player than a cellist, it should be even easier for a writer. All you need is a pen or pencil and a small notebook. Or even just your phone (I wrote the draft of this on Google Docs on my phone on the subway).
I follow a lot of writer's personal blogs. Initially I did so because I was waiting impatiently for the next tidbit of news about their next book. But as I became a regular reader I "discovered" that many professional writers often write about - writing.
A grab you by the seat of your pants timed writing app that is great for getting words down, just be sure to revise what you’ve written. Screeching Violins and screaming babies a bonus. Splurge for the paid version for even more options and incentives, plus the ability to backup your timed writings so you never lose a word.
Roy Peter Clark’s The Art of X-ray Reading: How the Secrets of 25 Great Works of Literature will Improve your Writing was the other direct inspiration for this blog and probably actually better at explaining how to learn from a text than Science Fiction 101 ever was. I’m borrowing pretty heavily from his terminology so far so it’s only fair that I write about how I’m doing that before we go much further.
I know what you’re thinking. Emily, isn’t Goodreads a site for readers? And you’re right. But good readers make good writers. It is hard to write without having read extensively. And it is hard to read extensively to good purpose without keeping track of things. Which is why I’m arguing that Goodreads is a tool for writers, even more than readers.
A few weeks ago I was reading a book from a series who's promo text promised “Magic. Romance. Rivals. Perfect for fans of Throne of Glass, Falling Kingdoms, and Tamora Pierce.” And it was feeling familiar. Too familiar. Halfway into the second book I realized why - it had basically the same structure as Tamora Pierce’s Protector of the Small series. Which, in itself, is not inherently bad. But this book was doing it badly. Not awfully, just enough to be subtly, and increasingly, annoying. It got so bad I put the book down.
When I was about thirteen, I discovered in the depths of a Vroman's bargin bin a thick* book with the title: Science Fiction 101. Well that’s clearly a book meant for me, I thought. I had only recently decided that writing was something I'd like to do and this book came with the byline "where to start reading and writing science fiction." Perfect.
Spend enough time bouncing around writing forums and reading writer's manuals and you will start encountering a lot of the same advice. One of the biggies - at least for me - has been the suggestion that writers learn best by dissecting writing they admire. It works on the principal that a beginning writer's taste is already good but their execution still sucks. By breaking down and imitating writitng that they find good, new writers find the building blocks of good writing for themselves and therefore incorporate it into their own writing.