On Being a Writer

Writing seriously is a lifetime pursuit. Over the years I have been lucky to have had some wonderful teachers. These are a few of the things I’ve learned. Please check my blog to link to my online posts with more writing advice.

1. Writing is like riding a bike. Someone can explain it to you, but until you try it, and practice, and practice some more you can’t learn how fast to pedal to keep it upright or how to balance when it slows.

2. Modern fiction is different from fiction before 1940. Old-fashioned novels and stories were used to tell a lesson. Nowadays novels and short fiction are explorations of human possibility. They propose possible answers to the question, “What does it mean to exist as a human?”

3. The difference between fiction and non-fiction; fiction evokes emotion. (Non-fiction conveys information). A writer’s job is to create an emotional experience for the reader, remembering that the reader wants an experience that is different and richer than real life.

4. Eudora Welty, a famous Southern writer, talked about the eye of the story in an essay by the same name. “See and then see again.” The issue for a writer is the same as a sculptor. Are you sculpting the shape into the stone or are you taking stone away from the sculpture?

5. Fiction is your imagination going freely between the past and the future from one event or character. In fiction you have to exaggerate conflicts. The lie and the bigger lie: the more complications, the more conflict.

6. A good story will have one major dilemma, but the characters will not all approach the conflict the same way, and there will be an underlying premise, a larger issue – more like social commentary or the author’s perspective/insight into the issue. Racial tension, what war makes men do, motherhood, the sacrifices that love requires, human selfishness, how cheating or stealing eats away at your feeling of self-worth, these are all examples. The issue should be something you care about and that will be not merely personal, but compelling to someone else. Compare an essay, where as a non-fiction writer, you express how you feel about a particular issue by using examples to illustrate your points and summarizing in an introduction and a conclusion.

7. In fiction your characters are the voice and your reader must be so engrossed that she forgets there is an author. That’s the trick and the charm of fiction.

8. Write what you know, what is important to you. Use your personal unforgettable moments. Like a shooting star, they leave brilliant streaks long after the eye can see it.

9. Trust your reader to be informed and intelligent, otherwise you’ll write down to the reader and irritate her. That’s called overwriting (spelling it out as if reader were stupid).

10. Avoid adverbs. Use strong verbs and adjectives one at a time.

Websites for Writers
Poets and Writers

Also see my blog for more links to sites of interest to writers.

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