It’s back to school time, a time that conjures thoughts of new beginnings and, with any luck, renewed vigor for our writing. To celebrate fresh starts, we thought we’d share with you some of the best writing advice we’ve ever received.
‘Set the book aside and let it rest for as long as you can.’ I can’t remember who told me that, or if I read it, but it makes a huge difference to the final story. When you’ve been away from the manuscript for a few weeks, the mistakes jump out at you. When you’re working on it day after day, you can’t see the forest for the trees, so to speak.
If we’re talking the BEST advice over the long run of a writer’s life – I’d say it’s three little words: WRITE OUT LOUD!
This is #2 in J.R. Ward’s list of writing rules from her book The Black Dagger Brotherhood – An Insider’s Guide, and I interpret it variously as “take out all the stops”, “go for it!”, “don’t get in your own way”, “don’t let that inner critic dry up your words and ideas”. Ward certainly follows her own advice in many of her Black Brotherhood books.
Basically it comes down to Freeing the Writer Within, and Natalie Goldberg gave the best advice I’ve seen on HOW in her book Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within.
I often fight with my inner critic about writing out loud, and the result is that I get stalled in my writing, and end up doubting my own story ideas and my choices in direction. Ironically, I’ve found that the more I learn about writing and the business of writing, the more I am in danger of getting tangled up with my inner critic.
My version of “Write out Loud” and “Free the Writer Within Me” would be to head off by myself to the West Coast of Vancouver Island where the sound of the ocean surf on the shore washes cares away, take long walks on the edge of the ocean between sessions on my laptop, and forget everything in the world but the story blossoming inside. Don’t correct spelling, don’t fidget over the best words, don’t look back, don’t listen to that pesky inner critic, just tell the story.
Once it’s written, I would head back home, put what I’d written aside for a few days or a couple of weeks. Then I would return to the story with an eye to craft: focusing on tension, suspense, pacing, clarity, powerful characters, and the perfect ending and – and make it the best it can be.
I would have to say hearing Nora Roberts in a Chat with Session in Boston in 1989 gave me the understanding that writing is hard work and the best way to succeed was to write every day. She is very inspiring and I’ve done my best to emulate her work ethic. The idea that you can’t revise a blank page resonated with me and that bit of knowledge has kept me going many times.
There are no guarantees. Award-winning children’s author Michael Morpurgo once told me he was often surprised by the reception his books received. Those he expected to do well (because they were timely or particularly well-crafted) didn’t always, while other books he thought might make only a modest impact on publication ended up making a huge splash. “Just write the best book you can and send it into the world and let go of expectations because you will often be surprised,” he said. He was right!