Hey everyone! There are a lot of different things I could have gone with for this (and I very nearly did a list about series I still need to finish), but I thought I’d talk about writing. Whether you write a blog or fiction, I thought I’d give you some advice. My qualifications are limited, I admit, but I am an English teacher, avid reader, and blogger for 8.5 years. Take it or leave it.
So let’s get started!
Top Ten Tips For Writing
1. Write what interests you
I mean, this is probably the easiest thing. When I started this blog, it was because I desperately loved YA books (and still do). I knew I could write for days about books, authors, stories, whatever. It was not going to be a problem to pull up my computer and start typing about something book related.
When it comes to fiction, this might be a little harder to pinpoint. The common saying is to “write what you know,” but that’s not great advice. What I end up writing most often are love stories and ghost stories. I have no experience with ghosts, but they interest me. And love stories are fascinating because of the characters I can create and watch them fall for each other.
But this also requires some care. Like, I love fantasy stories but I don’t have an interest in building my own worlds. So even though I could write something like that, I’d lose interest way too fast and the project would never get off the ground. It’s about knowing you, I guess.
2. Find your voice
This was super easy for me in terms of blogging. My writing voice sounds like me. You may have noticed in the last paragraph of the previous point, I said, “Like, I love fantasy.” That’s an example of voice. That’s how I talk. What I’m hearing in my head as I think about this topic is what I write. It’s my inner monologue put to the keyboard. (I was going to say “put to paper,” but that didn’t make much sense since this is a blog.)
In writing fiction, this is a little harder. Generally what I do for that is I just think about who my narrator is and I just start writing an emotional scene for them, whatever thing is stuck in my head. As I inhabit that character more, their voice makes more sense. I’ll probably go back and change some of that early stuff later on, but it’s all a process.
For example, in the story I’ve been working on on-and-off for 4 years, I recently deleted about a page of a fight that I was once proud of because it no longer fit the character. I didn’t see her talking like that anymore. And even though I liked what she had to say, it just didn’t make sense.
3. Word choice matters
Word choice is so important. This is me as a teacher speaking. I read essays all the time where their word choice is terrible. Please, for the love of God, vary your word choices. Don’t use the same phrases over and over, don’t consistently say words like “thought,” “said,” or “things.” I know you’re going to use them, but if a better word comes along like “mused,” “stated,” or “dinglehopper,” please use those instead.
This has been an English Teacher PSA. Thank you for watching.
4. Details, details, details
I’m a sucker for details. I think most of us are. When I write reviews, I have to balance the details with being too wordy or giving away the ending. I try to give details about what I remembered the most, what I was impressed by, or what I hated. I don’t always succeed, but that is my goal.
With fiction, the key is imagery. You want to include as many of the five senses as possible while still making sense. (My students are particularly bad at this. I have to use examples like, “If you tell me what a baseball tastes like as you’re describing a game, I’m going to be worried about you.”) It’s not always going to make sense to describe smells or tastes or even touch unless it pertains to the scene.
But seriously, don’t go overboard. Victor Hugo and Charles Dickens go overboard. While they are classic Dead White Guys, don’t be them.
5. Plot. It. Out.
Most of the time, I’m a pantser. I just sit in front of a white screen and type what pops into my head. So I’m guilty of not following this at all.
With my blog, I can get away with it. I have a formula in my head for my reviews that I follow. I know to intro my review, give a quick synopsis of the book, talk about the characters/plot/action/humor/writing, then end with what I didn’t like, if there was anything. I do this without thinking about it much anymore. Do I change it up occasionally? Sure, especially if there’s a movie version of the book or if something really stands out that I have to address. But mostly, I don’t mess with the formula.
With fiction, I’m coming to learn that it really does help to plot things out. My problem with that usual stems from the fact that my interests drops out after I know how a story will end. But my current story has been plotted for years and the notes, while somewhat different from how the story is turning out, have been helpful for keeping me on track. Your story is allowed to take detours from your notes. Sometimes those things develop minds of their own.
6. Find the right audience
Not everyone is going to like what you write. It’s a peril of the job. My YA blog would not be applicable to my dad, for example, who really doesn’t read at all and certainly never YA. In this case, I think it helps to network with other writers who have similar blogs to you. (Shout out to all you other fabulous YA bloggers! Y’all are stellar people!)
And obviously, the same is true for fiction. Someone who always reads nonfiction may not appreciate literary fiction or the latest thriller novel. It’s all about finding the people who are interested in what you’re saying. Trust me, they’re out there.
7. Proof it/Edit often
I’m guilt of not doing this a lot with my blog. I pretty much write up a post and click “publish.” I will do that as soon as I finish this. I’ll glance over it super quick and click that button without actually proofing this.
But I also sort of proof it as I write it. If I have a typo, I literally cannot move past it. I have to immediately hit the delete button to get back to it. So it’s not that I’m not doing it at all, just that my process works differently.
I digress. This is why editing matters. I probably should go back and delete that previous paragraph because it does nothing to help this point. Ironically, I didn’t do that on purpose. Proofing and editing help you look like a better, more accomplished writer because you can be critical of your own work and make decisions about what would make it better.
As I mentioned earlier, I deleted a part of my story that no longer made sense. I’ve been doing that, going back and filling holes, as I’ve been working on this story the past few weeks. With fiction, it’s all about what feels right for the story and looking intelligent as you do it. We all hate those stories where we are distracted by the typos. Ugh. Bane of my existence.
8. Stand by your work, but don’t get an ego
What I mean by this is have pride in your work but be willing to change. I’m incredibly proud of what I post on this blog…most of the time. Sometimes I start on a weekly bit that doesn’t seem to be getting the reaction I thought it would, so I drop it. Sometimes I start something as a joke and get great feedback about it and keep it going. It’s all about adaptability.
Fiction is the same way. Be proud of what you’ve written, but if someone gives you advice about how to make it better, take it. You don’t have to listen to everything, but acknowledge it. I try to impress this upon my students. I’m not the be-all, end-all of writing, so sometimes my advice may not be the vision they have for their paper. And that’s ok.
9. Write often. Even if it sucks.
Mostly, I’m talking about fiction here. I’ll admit that during testing or projects in my classroom, I can get super bored watching the kids work on the same thing all day long. (Especially during standardized tests when I have nothing to grade.) So last year, I spent a good portion of the year during those moments jotting little bits of a story down. It started in…October?…and I wrote it up through May. I’d just grab a piece of notebook paper and write out the scene, tucking it away in my bag to look at later.
Afterward, I compiled it all into a story. And some of it sucks. I definitely didn’t plot it out ahead of time, so it feels aimless. But there are pieces of it that are pretty genius and those are the parts that made it all worth it. Maybe I can’t salvage the story (or maybe I can), but I have something I can build off of.
10. Let it sit. Then come back to it.
Especially in fiction, I believe this is crucial. You almost need to let it sit so long you’ve forgotten the story. My on-and-off story gets looked at so infrequently that it’s been 10 months since I last looked at it. And yeah, I remembered the basic plot. Of course I did. But the details…going back and reading some of that again was inspiring. These words came from me. I said this smart stuff. And I started to see how I could add a scene here or change the wording here or make the visual clearer there.
It’s fascinating to go back and read those old stories. I get sucked back into them all over again. It’s a lot like the thrill of rereading an old favorite book, one where you have those set mental pictures and you remember the feelings with certain scenes.
A lot of the time when we write, we think it’s all crap. We get frustrated and just want to delete/burn the whole thing. But let it sit. Sometimes, like a fine wine, it gets better with age. And other times it doesn’t. If it doesn’t, then you can burn it.