Monday, May 7, 2018

Writing Tips For Third Graders---And Other People


One of my NYC writing students was going to visit her sister's class. Her sister teaches third grade and she asked my student to come talk to the class about her career and her life as a writer. My student then asked our workshop to offer our best tips on writing. Here are mine:

1) Write every day! And keep a journal. This sounds so simple but it is the only advice that really matters. Write every day. Do it like you would do a job or your homework---every day and no matter how crabby or tired you feel. Write in a journal for ten minutes every day and if you can make time to write more, write more. Much more. Write for at least an hour a day, if you can. To that end, keep a log...

 2) Keep a log of how much you write. Every time I sit down to write, I "time stamp" it. Meaning, I write, "May7201811:44a.m" and then I start to write.  And when I'm done, I time stamp again. "May7201811:58a.m." I keep this log at the top of whatever it is I'm working on. This way I know how long I have spent writing something, and I know (roughly) how long it will take me to write something new.  

3) Save and revise your work. Print it out so you know what you have written. Revise everything. Revision is everything. No one writes anything perfectly the first time out. 

4) Take notes. Keep a notebook in your backpack or take notes on your phone. If you think of a funny or interesting line, write it down. If you observe something lovely in nature (gorgeous flower blossoming, beautiful tree full of leaves, thick green grass that smells fresh and newly mowed), write it down and use it in your work. I keep a notebook on me but have lately taken to jotting down notes down in my phone. Every few weeks, I print these notes out so I remember what I have "observed."

5) Write about it, no matter how it feels. If you're happy, write about it. If you're sad, write about it. To paraphrase Nora Ephron, "Everything is material." (I think Ephron said, "Everything is copy."_ Plus, you will be glad to have a record of your feelings. You can fictionalize anything.

6) Read the kind of writer you want to be. Eventually, if you want to become a writer, you will write the book that you have always wanted to read. So read the writers that you love, the writers that make you want to write.

7) Join a writing group. Share your writing with people whose work you respect. They'll have your back and  you'll have theirs.

8)  Read your work aloud, in a group or alone in your room. Hearing your own work read aloud immediately makes you hear what works--and what doesn't! And go hear other writers read their work aloud, especially writers you admire.

9) Don't talk too much about your writing. Talking about your writing tends to kill your great ideas. Write rather than talk. And if you want to talk about your work, talk about it with other people who are also writing AND who have read your work.

10) "Write in secret." Write as if no one will ever read what you are writing. This will free you to write what you want. I recently read this quote in an interview that Lisa Halliday, author of the debut novel Asymmetry, gave to The New York Times. Halliday quotes the novelist Louise Erdrich here:

"In the years she spent working on the novel, Ms. Halliday often relied on advice that Ms. Erdrich gave her. “She said, ‘write as though you’re writing in secret, as though no one will actually read it’,” she said.

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