Monday, May 3, 2010

Writing Life: A Short Guide

(The following advice was attached to my sole YA book, The Witch's Boy. It's meant for that age group.)

Someone once said, "Writing is easy. All you do is sit down in front of a typewriter and open a vein." Of course, nowadays we use computers so it has become even easier! Would you like to be a writer? Here are some tips drawn from my own experience.

  • Withdraw completely from participation in real life. This is essential. You have to choose between living and writing, because while you're merely having experiences you are not thinking about what the experience is like so you can write it down one day. Were you ever at a party where everyone is having fun and there's one person over in the corner watching, with a blank, sad face? That's the writer.

  • Everything is writing material. Remember that your friends and family are subjects, as is everything you do—every walk, every day of school, every conversation, hike, work of art or music. If you get published, the people whose personal characteristics you used will treat you very differently, assuming they talk to you at all. When people come to you with a secret they will often say, "now you absolutely can't write about this." Agree, hear them out, and then write it all down. This is often the best stuff to use.

  • Always have writing material and a working writing implement on your person or within arm's reach during every waking moment. You'll want something small enough to put in your pocket or handbag. Or you can use the backs of store receipts. Or money. When you think of something, write it down then, no matter what else is going on, even if you are driving down the highway, even if your best friend is telling you the worst thing that ever happened to her. And be sure to write that down.

  • Record dreams. You have to do this within minutes of awakening and of course you will have writing materials within arm's reach to do this. The moments just after waking and just before falling asleep are usually very fruitful for thinking up things to write about, especially if you are writing about weird stuff.

  • Read. No one ever became a real writer without reading a lot. Read both stuff you like and difficult stuff that people you respect have told you is great. When you come to a phrase or idea that strikes you, write it down in your little book.

  • Steal. This doesn't mean copying the words someone else wrote. That is plagiarism. But a big part of being a writer is developing a style of one's own, and a good way to do this is to copy the styles you like. It's harder than it looks. Eventually you'll develop your own style. If you don't, at least you'll have work that's like work that has already been published, and this may be enough to get you published, although probably for lower fees than the original earned.

  • Write. This one may sound strange, but in order to be a writer you have to get pages out. After you have some product you have to show it to other people, and not just your relatives. If everyone you show it to thinks it's not too good, there is a possibility that you are a transcendent genius whose work is far, far beyond the ability of ordinary people to comprehend, but it's much more probable that it's no good. Toss it and try again.

  • Rewrite. It is necessary to read what you wrote. Pretend you bought the stuff you wrote with real money. Is it worth it? If you find something you wrote that is just too brilliant for words, delete it. Rewriting is what separates the pros from the duffers.

If you do all these things you will be a writer. Whether you can then earn a living as a writer is a completely different thing, depending on talent, luck, the times, and other factors, some entirely mysterious. If you do get published, you will be deliriously happy for about three weeks all told, and if you don't you will be really sad a lot of the time. On the other hand, it's indoor work with no commute and no boss and you never have to sit in meetings or move heavy objects around. Up to you.

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