Noble Prize winning author Toni Morrison once said she began writing because the books she wanted to read weren’t being published. I challenge you to take up that task. Write the books you would love to read. Chances are if you want to read them someone else will too.
Good writers are most often good readers. In order to know whats out there in your genre you need to read. Keep up with what’s trending not so that you can copy a writer’s style, but so that you stay current in your field and develop your own style. This is called doing your homework. It can also enhance your own writing to see how other authors handle a particular style problem. For example, if your are writing historical fiction set in a time period one hundred years before you were born, it would help your own writing to see how a writer you admire handled a minute detail without actually living through that time period. Say you want to describe an attack on a small village in the mid-west. Reading historical fiction may help show you how a gifted writer you admire described a similar situation without having actually experienced it. Again, this is not so you can copy another writers style but so that you can learn the mechanics of writing specific situations and events.
Expose yourself to great writing as often as possible and it will help you to improve your own writing.
Making time to write is a matter of mind over everything else that comes up. Most of the time we are convinced that if only we had a little more free time our projects would be completed. Much closer to reality is the fact that we don’t prioritize our writing the way we do say…our jobs, our families, even our friends. I know, these things have to be attended to but so does your passion and if you cannot find thirty minutes of your day to do what you say you love and want to do, than maybe you do not want it as much as you think. Writers write, period. Published or unpublished, a writer should be consistently writing, rewriting, researching, practicing skills or doing something to improve and hone your art. You cannot… cannot be great at something you hardly do. More importantly, you cannot take advantage of opportunities that come your way if you are not prepared. Preparation takes time. You simply have to dedicate a part of your day to the art of writing or you will never succeed at it.
You go to work, sick or well, because you are committed to being employed. This is the same attitude you have to bring to writing. You have to be committed to doing it whether you feel like it or not. Whether you are inspired or not. Sick or well. You do not have to be inspired to go to work. You go anyway. Develop the same attitude about your writing. Treat your art like a job. Show up everyday and perform no matter what. Make it that important in your life.
When we think of writing we always think of the award winning lines. It’s a good fantasy…standing at the podium, literary glasses at the end of our nose…sold out auditorium…last but not least…page after page of great lines. Pulitzer worthy prose ready to jump off the page and burn itself into memory. We are so going to make everyone in the room clutch their hearts and cry. The reality is a great line can be a pain in the butt. It’s loud. It’s pushy. It takes over your page. One really great line can make a reader forget your whole story. Of course, if your whole book is one great line after another, no problem. But that’s a tall order. It can be exhausting to write only great lines. Truth is, most books are carried by the really good lines. Really good lines that tell great stories about memorable characters. Give you an example : I wrote a really great story but it had only one great line. You be the judge.
“Madison could not have children. She was born with a womb tilted towards heaven as if pointing an accusing finger at God.”
Great line right? Wrong! Every workshop I ever read this story in, every contest I’ve ever entered, every editor who has ever read this story cannot remember anything about it but this ONE STUPID GREAT LINE! I ask about plot structure, they answer, “Can’t really remember the plot but…great second line!” I ask about character quality…they answer, “Can’t remember the characters that much but…great second line!” The story is in re-writes right now so I won’t hit you up for a free critique but I am seriously considering cutting this line out of it just so the rest of the story can be seen. So, the tip of today is, use caution with the great lines. They can eat your whole story up. Better to have a great story/book with really good lines. Unless of course, you can write a couple of thousand great lines. Good luck with that, my friend, good luck!
There really is no excuse not to write. There is inspiration all around you. Your friends…your family. The stories are endless. Just be silent and listen to all of the material around you. Take a days worth of listening and write what you heard down on paper. You will be amazed at the stories that are there.
Writing is an art just like any other art. It is no different then singing or dancing or sculpting. And like any other art form it must be practiced daily in order for you to improve. You cannot do anything every six months and expect to be good at it. If you want to be good you have to be consistent. In order to bring your art out you have to constantly hone it. Even if you feel you are not inspired or have hit a brick wall, practice skills that will enhance your writing. Work on dialogue or character development. None of what you write during these moments may necessarily make it into your work but it keeps you busy and practicing your art until the words start flowing again. Write. Write. Write. Like Nikki Giovanni says, “writers write.”
We must write about the great moments of our lives. If we miss the opportunity to tell the future how great it was to live history in the making what good is it to be a writer. Tomorrow, if you never write again, if you never show what you wrote to a living soul, you can not miss this moment. Put pen to paper and tell them (the future) how it was. What this moment felt like, was like. Write it into existence forever.