The fundamental things apply
As time goes by
I don’t know about you, but as time goes by I forget. Between writing (or fretting because I’m not) and marketing (what little I do) and keeping an eye on sales (it only takes one eye at this point) and the occasional obsession with reviews, I lose sight of fundamentals every author should remember. Maybe I need to print them out and post them on the giant bulletin board above my monitor, alongside the next novel’s murder map and my train ticket to Bordeaux and the yellow button that says, “I may be over the hill, but I can still get back on top when I want to.”
Today, I thought I would post them here, because maybe you’ve forgotten, too. That way, I can remind both of us. So here, for our collective edification, are 5 fundamentals every writer should keep in mind.
- Write for Yourself First. Don’t start out thinking about sales or gold stars or even the reader. Stay true to your story; it’s a world only you can offer. Writing at its best is like giving birth. Your imagination is pregnant with a cast of characters and everything that happens to them. You don’t want to deliver a clone, simply because the kid might be more marketable and people will like you better.
- Improve Your Art. Call me a cockeyed idealist, but I consider writing an art, and frankly, I don’t care whether we’re talking literary coming-of-age novels, romances, or zombie apocalypses. You’re a wordsmith, and practice should make perfect—or as nearly perfect as we can get in this crazy world. Get feedback from fellow authors and editors and proofreaders. Pay attention to what you like about your favorite authors. Go back and (oh, God!) look at your earlier work and pinpoint what you could have done differently (read: better). Always, always be on the lookout for ways to grow as a writer. Which brings us to our next point ….
- Keep It Simple, Silly. In the past few months, I’ve come close to banging my head against the wall any number of times. Why? Because authors who should know better—talking best-sellers here—have suddenly decided more words trump fewer, and the more highfaluting the adjective, the better. WRONG doesn’t quite cover this phenomenon. Imagine your next sentence is your hand. You want your words to deliver a slap or a punch? Keep your writing compact. This advice goes hand in hand with fundamental #4.
- Write Like You Talk. Tattoo this Robertson Davies quote on your forehead (backwards, so you can read it in the mirror): “I think of an author as somebody who goes into the marketplace and puts down his rug and says, ‘I will tell you a story’ ….” When you write, tell the story the way you would tell it to a group of friends sitting around a campfire (S’mores optional). This is what we call your “voice.” This voice is as unique as your DNA, flowing directly from who you are and setting you apart from every other author who ever has or ever will write a word. (This is a good thing.)
- Leave Some Gaps. Want to draw your reader in? Leave room for his/her imagination. By that I mean, give just enough detail. No need to describe every wart, whisker, or button on the armchair. Let your audience fill in the lesser blanks and get on with the action. Instead of getting bored, your reader will unconsciously invest a bit of him- or herself in your story. Plus, you let the reader do some of the work! What’s not to like about that?
Well, there you (we) have them. I’m sure you could name other fundamentals, and I’d be obliged if you would share. Seriously. Post a comment here, or on my Facebook page or just shoot me an e-mail, and I’ll share. I’ll be waiting to hear from you ….