almost 10 tips on writing …

August 26, 2010 § 12 Comments

Is there anything new here? It depends on what you write and how long you’ve been writing. Overall, this is me talking to myself about a short piece that’s driving me crazy. Good kind of crazy, but still, my eyes are kinda glazed. And tired, pooped, longing to look at someone else’s writing.

1) Take a swipe at that editor on your shoulder, or who’s reading over your shoulder as you write. Kick him/ her out, totally and slam the door on him. Just get the words on the paper. Get ’em down and get it done. And no, it can’t be all the junk that comes into your head first.

2) Get a title. First. Use it to guide what you have to write, especially if you’re on deadline. It will help you adhere.  Sit down, spin out some good titles, turn everything off and write the darn piece.

3) It’s not always good. Yeah, you know that Anne Lamott and E Hemingway both said the first draft is s***.  So’s the second or third draft. And those who use “cut and paste” well, it’s impossible to tell how many drafts you’re doing. So finish it, let it sit. Look at it later. Let it sit, yeah, even if you’re on tight deadline. Build in some “let it breathe” time. Cuz you gotta go back and nail it, make it right. Writers have ethics. This is one of the “ethics.” 

4) If you’re writing for a news publication, you better consign yourself to the task at hand, answer the 5 w’s and get the piece written, in a forthright and honest manner. No one is paying you to win the Pulitzer for last minute assignments. They’re paying you to fill a certain space with something as compelling as you can get it, in a short time frame. It. is. your. job. Borrow someone’s protestant work ethic and get it done.

5) Check spelling. Ha – you think this is a boring piece of advice? Success is in the details, babydoll. Look things up -do not ever ever take them for granted. It’s not McCloud, it’s McLeod. It’s not “he went further into the wood” but “farther.” Is it Carl or Karl? Do not assume. Don’t miss the grace notes. Read it all again before you press “send.”

6) Don’t cheat. Just because you’re writing a short piece of 400-600 words, doesn’t mean you don’t have to study it, check it, work it, work it work it work it. In fact, writing short is more difficult, more intense than writing long. You know the old thing about Voltaire writing a 6 page letter and at the end apologizing for writing such length because he didn’t have time to write a shorter letter. Seriously.

7) Don’t “silo.” If you can get someone else to read your piece, if there’s time before you have to send it in, then do it. What are you, a one-man band? (well, maybe sometimes.) Anway, be sure the person is a good reader and will speak up if something’s amiss and not someone who will “yes” you to pieces (like they do about your hair looking good and how no, you don’t look fat in that dress.)

8) There better be personal joy in the writing, personal “push” to spark it. If it isn’t working for you, keep pushing ’till it does. I recommend moving around.  Mobility jumpstarts the thought process, works out the transitions, offers insights. Get up and move. Dance.

9) Once writing, don’t stop. Don’t allow personal anti-writing “A.D.D.” to take over – like worrying over the dust on the lampshade or a paper sticking out of the file drawer or the straightening of the shoes on the foyer mat. If all else fails, skip typing and pick up the pen. Don’t look up. Don’t worry that your hair needs coloring, your nails need painting or you have stuff in the dryer that will wrinkle if you don’t get it out.

10) There is no picture to go with this weeknight tired-as-heck lecture.
You a writer? Stop reading this and get writing.

Tagged: , , , , , , , ,

§ 12 Responses to almost 10 tips on writing …

  • Ruth says:

    This is just brilliant, Oh.

    1) Who needs anyone watching and listening that closely?

    2) My mentor Wakoski always write a “meditation” at the top of the page of whatever poem she’s writing.

    3) Writing without editing yourself while you’re tooling along is essential in some pieces especially. I remember hearing Pat Conroy say his editor edited out 500 pages of one of his books (South of Broad, I think). And so often, when I was stuck on revision, Wakoski would tell me to let it sit and breathe, and come back to it. It’s really amazing how that can dislodge something in your mind eventually.

    6) I LOVE what Voltaire said! No matter how many times I read and reread, I still miss stuff. Like two “the”s.

    7) Even the best writers have readers. I think this is ESSENTIAL. I can’t tell you how many times I thought I had a poem JUST RIGHT, wow stellar! Only to have the reader/listener look at me with a dumb look on their face. No one else knows what’s in your head!

    I hope you don’t mind my lengthy response to your great, wonderful, marvelous list, but writing is the spark for me, it rarely feels like work, even when it takes a lot of labor.

    • Ruth says:

      . . . and with at least one typo, I see. 😀

      • oh says:

        Ruth! How sweet of you to write! and made me laugh, too. I was just looking up that quote about long vs short letter. Unbeknownst to me ’til now, it’s been attributed to Volaire, Sam Johnson and Mark Twain! I had no idea. Will the real writer of it please stand up? Glad some of my writing rules strike a chord.

        Oh, and that blank look you mention encountering when someone reads a poem of yours and you realize they weren’t sure what you had in mind? I get it! I do! Apparently a large part of my inner dialogue about what I’m writing sometimes is solely that – “inner!” So the reader is standing there, shrugging.

        Geez, it’s so nice to know certain things are universal, isn’t it? It helps.

        I hope you’re writing poetry like crazy, as in every day, maybe several pieces!
        Hugs, Oh

  • jeanie says:

    Bravo! Have I told you lately you’re my hero? And you have the knack more often than not of writing exactly what I need to hear when I need to hear it.

    And now, if I could just let the critic go…

    • oh says:

      Dear J – We just don’t always know what will strike a chord, right? Glad you found something among these little “tips” I wrote…was also trying to coach myself out of a bit of a writing block – that inner critic was behaving in an extremely LOUD manner yesterday when I was trying to write.
      It can be tough to circumnavigate that inner critic.
      Hope you know you have tons of fans out here in Blogworld!

  • Becky says:

    I love these! So true!

    • oh says:

      Becky – If i could write like you bake, I’d be delighted!!!!!
      Chocolate and zuchini – really? Haven’t tried ’em yet but I know that chocolate goes with everything, so why not? (might even do some backing today!)

  • excellent advice and thanks for your comment on my blog asking about how I write my poetry… I think one of the most important things is to read a lot of poetry, then you sort of absorb it and it becomes second nature. I also have read a lot around poetry, particularly haiku, so that i know some of the theory of how poetry works. Then on top of that its a lot of what you advise in your post here, just write…. and edit, and read aloud and edit some more and then put it away in a drawer for at least a few days then take it out to look at again….

    • oh says:

      CGP – so glad to hear from you. I am doing the surrounding myself with poetry part of what you advise…it seems lately I gravitate to reading poetry and reading writing about poetry. I see magic in it, I must confess. Thank you. I believe you’ve hit it on it exactly, that I need to absorb it, read, absorb, read, absort.
      Can I have about two weeks (or two months!) off from work to do this?

  • rashmikamath says:

    what about when you don’t have a deadline?
    when you are just wring for fun? how do you push yourself to write a piece and not postpone it every time you get stuck??

  • oh says:

    Ah, such good questions. Because they are “real” questions.
    When I don’t have a deadline, I create my own. When writing for “fun,” but also for purpose (working on a book), I set interim deadlines. Today, for example, I need to write 1,000 words. tomorrow, the same. Each will be a short story (of sorts). i think it helps to know what you’re going to write, even if you don’t know how it’s going to go in the process of getting those words on paper.

    When I get stuck, I shift to writing something else, a different story or a different chapter. I get out of the muck of wherever I’m stuck and strike out in another direction.

    I feel better when I accomplish my own writing than when I’m writing as a journalist!!!! And that spurs me on, as well.

    Funny thing, I have the most difficult time coming up with what to write when I’m writing something in my journal. It ends up being more of a what-I-did-today or what-I-saw-today kind of thing. But that’s ok. The journal is for freewriting absolutely, with no particular goal or purpose.

  • rashmikamath says:

    thanks a lot for the help.!! 🙂 actually i am sort of working on a book, but i haven’t gotten beyond the first page in three months. i don’t know if i am too young to write a novel or if i am just having writer’s block (which i dont think is the case, because i write other things just fine) but i’ll try setting deadlines. sounds like a good idea 🙂 thanks again for your help. i’ll let you know what happens. 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

What’s this?

You are currently reading almost 10 tips on writing … at This Writing Life ....


%d bloggers like this: