Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Top 10 Writing Tips: Featuring Jennifer Sauer!

Well, it's that day of the week again. So, enjoy this post from my good friend. :)

We writers need help.
Writing is a long, hard endeavor, made harder still by the fact that people think it’s just a cute hobby and something anyone can do.
If you have started writing something- anything; a short story, a novel, a memoir, anything- then you are doing something nearly 85% of Americans say they want to do. And, you’re actually doing it.
You are a brave soul to attempt this sort of a thing. And, as someone who has been writing for many years, I would like to make your life just a little bit easier by offering you my top ten writing tips:

10. Claim Your Title
Until I was about fourteen, whenever people asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would tell them “I want to be a writer.” The statement was usually met with not-so-funny jokes about rejection letters and the like. I would smile and nod and inwardly roll my eyes because no one understood.
Then, one day, it clicked for me. I wrote all the time. It was hard to find a time when I wasn’t writing or thinking about writing or coming up with a new story idea. So, why did I have to wait to be a writer?
The very next time someone asked me what I wanted to do when I grew up, I replied with “I’m a writer.”
Their reaction was different. See, they weren’t talking to someone who aspired to be a writer, they were talking to someone who was a writer. So, their stupid jokes didn’t apply anymore. Instead, they were interested, curious.
Confidence goes a long way and people can sense that in you. You say you want to do something and you seem like a dreamy-eyed romantic who thinks they’re going to get rich by writing the next best seller (which, you probably do think that, but you’d never admit it… :P)
But, tell someone you are a writer and they see you differently. You’re telling them that you already write, that you’re already working toward the goal. They will still have comments and people will still want to know what your “real” job is, but you’ve caused them to respect you a little more. Because you claimed your title.
See, most people think writers and authors are the same thing. They aren’t. A writer is someone who writes. An author is someone who makes money off of their writing. So, even if you haven’t finished anything, you can still call yourself a writer. And you should.

9. Write What You Understand
People say to write what you know and, writers take that to mean you can only write about things you’ve experienced. Which is why so many young writers write mediocre stories about school or work or things that are just plain boring. Or, they say, “I can’t write because my life is boring.”
But, the thing is, you know so much more than going to school or work every day. You know pain and sorrow and laziness and joy. If you truly take the time to look at the world around you, you know people. You know that thing you’re passionate about, whether it be an instrument or a time period or a TV show. You know what it’s like to cry yourself to sleep and what it’s like to feel rejected. You can write those emotions, those actions in any setting for any reason and they’re the same thing.
You can take what you have invested your time in, the emotions you’ve felt, the things you’ve experienced, and put them anywhere. If you’re a totally Trekkie, but you also love Downton Abbey then that’s two things you understand. Why not mix them? A period sci-fi? Why not?
Take what you’re passionate about, take your feelings and the feelings of the people around you (with caution, don’t use confidential details!), take the things you’ve done and been through, and write. Because I think you’ll find you understand a lot more than you think.

8. Write What You Want
People will always tell you what to write. Whether it’s your great-aunt Susie at a family function or the man in the book on writing you picked up at the library. People will always tell you what is good, what should be written, what you are capable of writing at this stage of your life.
Forget them. Write whatever you want to.
There will always be people who say you shouldn’t be writing what you are. Or that you’re too young. Or that a futuristic retelling of ancient Egypt with laser blasters and alien cats from the planet Purr will never sell. And, they may be right. But, don’t listen to them.
Life is too short to not write whatever you want to. If you are passionate about the idea, write it. Ask yourself this- are you writing to sell lots of copies or are you writing because you want to? Because, even an Egyptian retelling with sci-fi themes that no one will probably ever by is an experience. And it will make you a stronger writer. If you want to write a fanfic, write it. Forget about the fact that you’ll never be able to make money off of it. Who cares? It’s experience.
And, who knows, it may just be the thing that sparks that great American novel you’re definitely going to write some day.

7. Listen to People
This may seem like a direct contradiction to the advice above, but it’s not. See, you shouldn’t just listen to anyone. Because, while she may be very nice, great-aunt Susie probably isn’t a writer. So her advice might not mean as much.
But, it is crucial to a writer’s career that they find other writers to share their journey with. Join a critique group or a writing forum. Find a group of friends interested in an email exchange. Anything. But find writers who want to share ideas and feedback and life.
And then listen to what they have to say. You don’t have to follow all of their advice, but make sure you listen to it. Consider it, even if you don’t think it’s a good idea. File it into the back of your mind or jot it down somewhere. Because you might change your mind. Or, even if you don’t, you’ve added depth to your story by considering another side to it, an outsider’s point of view.
The adage that writing is a solitary endeavor is only true when it comes to putting words on paper. The planning, the editing, the journey as a whole, is best traveled with other adventurers. But only set out seeking partners if you are willing to give them help and advice in return; it’s never fair to ask for something you’re not willing to give yourself.

6. Write When You Don’t Feel Like It
Don’t pause in your writing because you don’t feel like writing that day. Write when you’re sick. Write when you’re sad or scared or just plain blah.
If you always write when you’re in a perfect mood, you won’t get much done and your writing will always be the same. Writing under different moods will change the feel of your story, it will add depth because it was written with depth. It will embrace the reader because they will feel like it’s been written about them. Because it was written by someone like them- a human who understands that life is- and never will be- perfect.
And, if you write something while you’re being emotional and then go back and realize it’s total rubbish, you can always cut it out. But, wouldn’t you rather run that risk, on the chance you could write something brilliant?

5. Read
Read. Read everything you can get your hands on. Fiction, non-fiction, biography, comic book, everything. Read the genres you love and the ones you hate. Read classics and picture books and everything in between. Read books for kids and teens and adults. Read, read, read.
All writers read, but a lot of them tend to stick with what they write or what they like. You need to read outside of that. Because you’ll never be able to discover anything fresh to bring to your niche if you only read what everyone else has added. But, if you read sci-fi when you like to write historical fiction, or if you read westerns when to write fantasy, you’ll find new elements, new ways that people write, new ideas that haven’t been mined by writers of your genre.
There is nothing wrong with reading in your genre. If you plan to write fantasy, then I highly recommend you read all the greats of that genre (if you haven’t already). But, you need to keep in mind that almost every fantasy writer has read The Lord of the Rings. And, while you are coming into it with your unique mindset, it’s very similar to a lot of fantasy writers’. But, reading outside your genre, outside your age range, you’ll find new ideas. If you go into a western as a fantasy writer you’ll find things most people who read the book won’t. Because they read it as western readers, mostly. You’ll find gems you never expected to and learn new ways to write. Writers tend to copy their favorite books. Not plagiarize them, but definitely imitate them. And so, the result is many novels of the same genre written in the same styles. Which is okay. It’s more than okay. But, why not try mixing it up? Why not find new ways to write what you love?

4. Be Curious; Ask Questions
The elderly woman who lives across the street from us took my sister and me out to lunch a year or two back. While we ate, she started telling us about herself and her relatives. I knew a little bit about her history, but not nearly as much as she told us that day.
Her father owned a speakeasy during Prohibition. Her cousin- who was only maybe 17 at the time?- was taken from Poland by the Germans because they needed laborers on their farms. Another cousin of hers lived in Communist Poland. One cousin got into trouble with the Communist party and had to flee the country in the middle of the night.
I left that diner with my head spinning with story ideas. There are things I never knew about history (the Germans taking the Polish children? Why has no one told me this!?), things I never would have known except that an old woman liked to talk. And, my sister and I encouraged her to keep talking.
Life is full of interesting people. People who know things you could never just learn from a book or an internet search. It is full of things that are wonderful and beautiful and things that are dark and ugly. You are surrounded by stories every single day. And, you are surrounded by people who would love the share them if you would only take the time to ask and listen.
Really listen to the people around you. Everyone is worthy of your interest, everyone has a piece of something to give you. Take the time to be interested, take the time to tap into their wealth of knowledge. Even if you don’t write historical fiction, maybe there will be a story that will spark a fantasy idea or a character that will pique your interest. Or, maybe the person you’re talking to is really obsessed with boats. That can be very useful information!
So take the time to listen to people. They deserve your interest. Because they’re interesting. More interesting that you can know unless you take the time to find out.

3. Write Unapologetically
Write with confidence. Never apologize for anything you’ve written (unless you write a really embarrassing story about your sister and you tell people it’s about your sister and it leaves her mortified and hurt and wanting to kill you. Apologize then. Or, better yet, just don’t do that.)
A major problem I see in young writers is that they apologize because their work isn’t good enough. Or, they apologize before they even start the book because they aren’t an expert on the genre they’re writing. Which, as I said, is a major problem. You should never apologize for anything you’ve written.
First of all, when you tell apologize to someone before they read your writing, it doesn’t have the effect you think it does. You’re trying to get the person to not be too excited before they read it. You don’t want to disappoint them. But, what you really do is say “I’m not a real writer, please don’t take me or my work seriously.” Don’t be prideful, don’t get cocky, but don’t apologize either. You’re a writer. You have as much of a right as any other person on this earth to write whatever you want. So be confident about that.
And, it’s okay if you’re not an expert on whatever it is you’re writing about. My first novel was set on a ship. I have never been on a ship in my life. Ever. But, people still seem to like my book. You know why? Because I didn’t let my limited knowledge keep me from writing it. There are libraries and internet searches for a reason. And, people who love something also love to talk about it, so find someone who is passionate about the subject your story revolves around. Ask them questions, get them talking. They’ll tell you what you need to know. And probably a good deal more than that.
And then write your novel with confidence. Because people can sniff out an unsure writer a mile away. Readers will know you feel like you have no idea what you’re talking about. It will translate into your book and you don’t want that. Trust me, you don’t want it.

2. Write What Scares You
What scares you? I’m not talking about spiders or knives or the big dog down the street. I’m talking about ideas. Which of your ideas scares you the most?
That’s the one you should write.
So often as writers we’re afraid to write things. We’re afraid of what people will think. We’re afraid that we’re not qualified to write this story. We’re afraid that we’ll never do it justice or that people won’t understand it or that we ourselves don’t truly understand it.
But, here’s the thing- that fear? It means your idea is a good one. A great one. Because you have something to say and you’re afraid it won’t be heard. Terrified. You probably want to stuff that idea into the back of your mind and not think about it until you are a much older, much more mature writer.
But I say you should write it right now.
That idea is a part of you, a deep, personal part of you. You’re probably scared to write it because then people will be seeing a part of your soul. But that’s the thing, every good story ever written has a piece of the writer’s soul in it. That’s what makes it so great. It’s no longer just words on paper, it’s a piece of a living, breathing being. That thing that scares you most is part of you. It’s the real, raw part of you. And, that’s what people want from your story. They want something real. Fiction is a lie we use to tell the truth.
And, sometimes, the truth is terrifying.

  1. Write With Abandon
Write like no one will ever see a word you've written. Write like nothing else matters, like this is everything. Embrace your inner literary genius. You know there’s one in there. Let them out. Allow yourself to make mistakes and to fail and to fall flat on your face. This is a first draft; you can go back and fix all that later.
Right now, write like crazy. Passionately. Your novel is a love affair, not a day job. Let passion overtake you, let it keep you up late into the night working on it. Let it excite you and invigorate you. Write like you don’t care who’s looking. Allow yourself to be consumed by your story, to throw yourself into it, to love it wholeheartedly, faults and all. They say love is blind. Let yourself love your novel so much that you’re too busy making it amazing, too busy writing and spending your time working on it to see any of the faults.
That’s what editing is for. It’s like marriage- the fire’s still there, but you can see all the things you can’t stand about it at the same time.

2 comments:

  1. I love this post. Fantastic.
    My entire writing style was completely redefined when I read a lecture, and N.D. Wilson's "The 100 Cupboards", both very out of my norm. You never know what a book can do for your writing career.
    (And yes, every other point on this was fantastic as well... thanks for sharing!)

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    Replies
    1. Thank you so much! I really enjoyed writing this, so knowing someone appreciated reading it makes my day!

      I've certainly had my writing style changed by reading things out of my norm as well. Very much agreed that you never know what can change your writing style!!

      And, again, thank you for taking the time to read it and comment!

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