Tips for the Green Author
(from three who’ve learned the hard way)
· Find a good critique partner or two. This can be tricky—you certainly don’t want a critique partner who bashes your work, and yet to find one who tells you everything you write is all wine and roses is probably just as detrimental to your craft. The idea is to have someone with whom you can bounce ideas off of, have them read your work and make constructive suggestions and/or criticism (you actually want both, trust us).
· Sift out: that, just, very, and other common, easy to overuse, words which can make your work appear amateurish. We all use ‘em, but they can also, albeit unconsciously, slow down the reader. Go back, take out those words (unless they’re absolutely necessary), and then reread. Sounds better, doesn’t it? Now that’s just very good writing.
· Watch your use of ‘was.’ Although was cannot be avoided (it is, after all, an important part of our language), it can also bog down your manuscript. Aim for immediacy. The active voice. For instance: His hands were stained with red ink can be changed to Red ink stained his hands.
· If you think you know your story, you don’t. No, we're not crazy. Well. Maybe a little. What we mean by this is to just go with it. Plainly put: sometimes your muse takes you in a direction you hadn’t originally anticipated. Don’t fight it; let go. Remember, you’re an artist.
· READ, READ, READ. Self-help books are a gem. However, nothing can compare to the experience, inspiration, education, and motivation you receive by studying the work of other authors. For a fiction writer, it is downright imperative that you study your craft—if you write Regency romance, get familiar with Georgette Heyer, Julia Quinn, Mary Balogh, Eloisa James, and (Alyssia’s personal favorites) Liz Carlyle and Janet Mullany. These authors KNOW their genre, and by reading their selected works, you’ll learn yours. Same goes for contemporary, paranormal, fantasy, etc. etc. And speaking of knowing your genre…
· Do your research. This does not just apply to the historical writers, folks. As Kimberly recently discovered when her heroine got shot in a convenience store, a great deal goes into the care of a patient who’s suffered a gunshot wound. Did she know all this before? Absolutely not. But she did her research, and the rest is history. Fact is, we all want the reader to suspend disbelief. In other words, we want to gain their trust. But if you fill your manuscript with lies (sounds terrible, but if you don’t do your research, that’s what it amounts to), the reader will start scratching her head, and ultimately (oh, and this is the worst part) put down your book. Look on the bright side: it’ll enrich your story, and put new creases in your brain.
· Carry a notebook. Or mini tape/digital recorder. An idea hits you while you’re driving, or perhaps while you’re pondering over peas in the frozen food section. You think, “Cool! I’ll just jot that down when I get home.” You walk in the front door, throw down your keys, and make a mad dash for a pen and paper or your laptop. Uh oh. You can’t remember! Or if you can, it’s not exactly as you thought it when the idea originally hit. A small pad or digital recorder takes care of this nicely, and serves as a great tool to keep that writer instinct ticking at all times. By the way, please don’t write and drive at the same time. J
· Practice your craft. Write. Even if all you can squeeze out is one measly sentence—we need a faster jet—write. The only way to improve is to do it.
· For writer's block: try it freehand, switch to first person if you're in third (or vice-versa), or take a short little break (go for a walk, exercise gets the mind working!).
· Have good visuals. Find pictures for your characters that you can refer to for descriptions. This works for just about anything, not just people; sunrises, sunsets, places, small objects, furniture, etc.
· Turn on the music. And let your imagination go wild. Your muse will thank you.
· Failure will happen. But it can (and will) make you stronger. In her commencement speech given at Harvard University in June 2008, Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling said, “So, why do I talk about the benefits of failure? Simply because failure means a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena where I believed I truly belonged. I was set free, because my greatest fear had been realized, and I was still alive. I still had a daughter whom I adored, and I had an old typewriter, and a big idea.”
· Remember: Life will happen. Write anyway.
· Oh, and… Chocolate is inspiration in a wrapper! Try it—you’ll see.
Best wishes and happy writing…
Kimberly Proctor (contemporary adult & YA)
Lela Robichaux (fantasy adult & YA)
Alyssia Kirkhart (historical adult & YA)
Alyssia Kirkhart (historical adult & YA)