Just a thought… You don’t start out writing good stuff. You start out writing crap and thinking it’s good stuff, and then gradually you get better at it. That’s why I say one of the most valuable traits is persistence. [Octavia E. Butler]
Thank you for coming in to spend some time today – and every day. I don’t know for how long I’ll continue these seven-day-a-week journals, but let me tell you, it’s downright therapeutic (at least on this end). Yes, there’s social media for quick bursts of whatever’s on my alleged mind, but this time with you makes me dig a little deeper. Like I hope I used to do daily with you when I had a day job!
Since radio as my comfort zone is not an option, I’m loving having a place to write here every day. In fact today, writing about writing. Before I get into it, Indigo has asked me to share with you this link, and the news that until Sunday, they’re offering 25% off “Authors We Love” – and rumour has it, I’m one of ’em! Please help support Canadian writers at this time and maybe one day, yours will be among the books people are choosing to keep them company and help raise their spirits or expand their horizons.
A woman named Jessie wrote to me to ask my advice on an eBook she wants to start. While I’m probably the only published author she might feel comfortable reaching out to, I really have only written the one (while contributing to a few others). So I am far from an expert.
But in case, like her, you’re using this time perhaps to start on that project you’ve never had time for, here are the contents of my note to her. If it helps you, then great! It never, ever hurts to share what you know – no matter how much or how little – when someone asks.
I’ve been thinking about your note, Jessie. So here goes (in no particular order)!
1. Write what you know and research what you don’t. The worldwide web can make us all experts – or at least familiar – with what it is we want to write about.
2. Write and write and write and write. I’d done it daily since 2003 when HarperCollins approached me in 2016, so I knew I was ready.
3. Even if you think you don’t have something to write on a given day, just sit at your laptop and start to type. Often the brain memory of writing comes back and the juices start to flow. You can always cut out the meanderings that began your writing that day; goodness knows that’s how my journal works. I often end up in a completely different place, on a new topic, from what I thought I was going to say that day.
4. If you’re writing a book, think about what you want it to contain. I’m assuming it’s non-fiction, but whatever it is, a storyboard helps A LOT.
I did this with mine: I had a Bristol board and several post-it notes. On each one, I wrote what I wanted a chapter to be. Then I moved them around and marked them as I’d written that chapter. The editor did NOT want me to write in chronological order, and the reasoning behind this was that if you are at a gathering and someone hasn’t seen you in ten years, you do not start telling them about your adventures/events in this way: day one, we went to the Venice. Then we came back and….etc. You write in terms of what’s compelling and then fill it in. Often times this works.
5. Read authors whom you’d like to emulate. Obviously make your thoughts and writings your own, but if there’s a style you like, then use it. There’s nothing new in the universe. Cite sources; research points of view if you’re sharing someone else’s. The last thing you want is to find you’ve attributed a quote to Einstein that you saw in memes that said HE said, but he did not. If you lose credibility on the small things, you risk losing the reader in the big picture.
6. When I was afraid to start Mourning Has Broken, I actually Googled “how to write a book.” I don’t know that I used anything I found as I had the guidance of some pretty awesome people at HC, but you have a lot of information right at your fingertips. Many successful writers (see Stephen King’s On Writing for example) have shared their process. Almost everyone knows more than I do about writing a book, so soak in their wisdom.
7. Write for your readers, but mostly write for yourself. It’s akin to dancing like no one is watching. Don’t let the little voices in your head tell you you’re wrong or that it’s not good or won’t sell (if that’s your aim) – let an editor do that for you when you’re done. Your job is to tell the story and let someone else worry about the other details.
8. Pay for an editor. They are worth their weight in gold.
9. Be disciplined. Sit down and set a daily goal for the number of words you want to type on any given day. It doesn’t have to be Atwood – just get your thoughts out through your fingertips. But make sure you put what you’re doing in a high place on your list of priorities or it will be put aside for another day. You always have time for the things you put first.
10. Ask yourself before you begin: What is my message? Who am I writing this for? And finally, what is my end goal?
These are all things I hope will help you as you journey and write.
Take good care and if you have any questions, feel free!
I’ll be back with you here tomorrow. Balancing sleeplessness, incredulity and anxiety with gratitude, peace and more gratitude.
Who knows what’ll come out of these fingers tomorrow?