Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Top Five Writer’s Tips

by Swati Avasthi (author of YA novel, SPLIT).

5. Celebrate the mess.
I am not naturally neat. So, my life is cluttered with ways to keep my messes organized. Necessarily evils include: my ga-zillion sticky notes, my calendar, calendar reminders, weekly, daily, master, and manuscript to-do lists. Without them I get nothing of quality accomplished.
Unless we’re talking about the first draft of a novel. Then messy is good. Messy is productive – it just doesn’t look like it. First drafts are about playing, discovering and uncovering. Let go. Play in the mud, celebrate the slop, and see what you unearth.
Example: In the first draft of my current WIP, I introduced a 2 year old in the beginning of the book. Three months and around 200 pages later, he was 25. I ended up cutting him out altogether, but he was useful: his appearance taught me that my protagonist needed to be protective of someone (when he was 2), and by the end of the novel, needed a mentor (when he was 25). His appearance was my intuition talking. Respect your intuition. Messy as it is.

4. Learn to love revision.
Pouring out the story on to the page is wonderful. It’s a rush. But revision is even better. Are you groaning? Lots of writers I know hate revising. I love it. Here’s how I learned to love revision:
First, I assumed that every word I wrote would need to be re-written. Probably more than once. Probably more than twice. For Split, 8 was the magic number. Yep, 8 full drafts. 6 of them before I started agent-hunting looking for an agent. (Don’t actually hunt agents. Hungry as you are, they do fight back.)
Second, I learned that revising is pretty much the same thing as writing. You are still uncovering deeper levels of the story. But you are also discovering what the story is not about. Pull out all the distractions. Complicate all the moments where you are only doing one thing at a time.
Third, know when you are done revising: when you have a house of cards and removing one line, causes a cave in; when your critique group agrees; but most of all, when there are no more surprises left in the book for you, no nuance left to uncover.

3. Think, think, think.
Admit it. Your imagination is like a dog with a bone, gnawing at it to get at the rich marrow inside. Give your imagination a problem and then go for a walk, knit part of a scarf, or sleep on it. You’re likely to have the marrow out if your imagination keeps at it.
Or, go even farther and use method acting (preferably when no one is around) to explore your POV character. I once went grocery shopping as Jace. My kids were beyond thrilled when I came home with tons of junk food, and they learned what Little Debbie was.

2. Cultivate your Ideal Reader.
Your Ideal Reader is insightful, passionately opinionated and smart, especially about books. Your Ideal Reader will speaks in truths, both hard ones and kind ones. Your Ideal Reader gives you foot rubs and calls you a genius. Well, maybe not the last one. Find that person. If you’re lucky, it’s someone you already know. (For me, it is my husband) If you’re not, take writing classes and listen to hear whose opinion you respect. Share pages with a trusted friend. Or hire a book doctor, one who you are sure you can trust.
Then, listen. Your ideal reader is your ideal reader for a reason: you respect his opinion.
Then speak. If you don’t agree with his suggestions, talk about why. Don’t argue him out of his point. Rather, try to uncover what about the line or the moment is bothering your Ideal Reader. Once you understand, find an edit that accomplishes your goal and your Ideal Reader’s.
I can’t overstate the importance of an Ideal Reader. I can only say that Split could never have been written without mine.

1. Writing is no place for timidity. Write bravely. Write boldly. Write every day you can.

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