The 10 Commandments of Writing
Being a writer is hard! Sometimes you get stuck in ruts, your characters won't behave, and you can't seem to come up with a good plot. Today, I've compiled 10 Commandments that will help you have fun and inspire your fingers to get typing.
It's the age-old question . . . where do I write? Outside or inside? At my desk or under my comforter? Should I write in a notebook, a Google Doc, or with a typewriter? Spoiler alert: there's no exact spot.
Disappointing, I know. My only suggestion is to work somewhere that inspires you. Maybe sitting on the riverbank, feeling the wind ruffle your hair is making you love writing right now. Maybe tomorrow it's your tidy desk that makes the words flow out of you. Your project can be adaptable, created on trains or sitting at a diner or under the starry sky, or it can be shaped entirely in one spot. It all depends on what motivates you to write!
Often the first thing you'll learn about a character in a book is their name, which can shift your expectations of them. For example, if a character's name is Rainbow, I'm intrigued. Why did her parents name her that? Does she hate or love her whimsical title? Names can also clue you into the setting. Old-fashioned names fit well with a historical fiction novel and names like Jude and Cardan are perfect in the YA fairy novel The Cruel Prince. I love baby name books! It's so fun to flip through them and find names that speak with you. Look for ones that list their language origins and meanings.
I can't stress the importance of a writing buddy enough! A good writing friend will be an author too and can give great plot advice. They'll be someone who will drag you out of bed, force you to make coffee, and type on shared Google Docs with you. They'll listen to you obsess over fictional characters, tell you that the love interest in your book is amazing and how are you so good, and inspire you with their fabulous work. My writing friend is the talented and amazing Cambry, who runs the blog CambryAnn.
Read what, you ask? Writing books, fiction books, nonfiction books? Hobby books, fairy tales, devotionals? Everything. Is this an unrealistic expectation? Yes. Do I still expect you to try? Duh. Our fabulous writer brains are like sponges and we suck up interesting names, figurative language, and fascinating plots like water. Read every sort of book you like and every type you don’t, mentally jotting down what was good and what was bad. Absorb books on writing and tuck nuggets of knowledge under your belt. Words are writers’ greatest weapon, so acquire as many as you can.
If people are reading what you're writing (go you!), they're reading because they like your voice. Not your real-life squeaky voice, but your writing voice. Maybe they'll love your witty quips that make them laugh out loud (My Plain Jane by the Lady Janies) or the smooth, connected way your sentences come together and how they pull on your heartstrings (The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants by Ann Brashares). So whatever you do, use your voice! Let yourself shine through and your work will sound so much better.
Say you have a writing buddy and a pile of awesome writing books. Yay! You have everything you need, right? Wrong. Occasionally you need to pull yourself off your cozy couch (I know, how dare I) and drag yourself to a writing event. Online write-ins, week-long camps, or daylong events, there's nothing quite like being surrounded by a community of like-minded people. My favorite writing event I went to had book signings, workshops taught by a few amazing authors, and a "home" small group in which we shared our work. I walked away inspired to keep writing and equipped with advice from a few role models.
If you're sitting down for the long haul and writing a novel, chances are you're going to be hanging out in your fantasy world for a while. My favorite trick is to go all in, and, in turn, let your book become a little part of you. When you're in the grocery store and spot someone that would make a perfect addition to your project or find a plastic pig lawn ornament that you know your narrator would love, congratulations. You're a writer!
Continuing on the last topic, you're probably going to be with your characters a lot. And who wouldn't want to be? They're way better than people; they do whatever you want them to. Characters are just like people: they have personalities, ideas, and motives (good or bad). If you are attempting to take them on a journey with you where they’ll change forever, you need to know their favorite color, for goodness sake. An activity I really enjoy is in a book for young writers called Spilled Ink. Writing as if you were your character speaking, answer questions like: "What is your happiest memory?", "What irritates you?" and "What do you think of yourself when you look in the mirror?" I love this activity because I think it allows me to get comfortable writing from their perspective and I always discover new things - and plot ideas! - from it.
To be honest, this is probably my biggest issue. I love picking out character names (Coralie! Saffy! Lelani!) and getting to know them. I have an amazing writing buddy and I'm not exactly lacking in the book department. But how do you get your story to move? I think it's different for everyone. Remember the plot roller coaster from elementary school, with an exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and denouncement? Some authors like plotting out their story with a more detailed version like that. I know others who like jotting out the bare bones of the plot on a Google Doc and going from there. Another tactic (one I often use) is just keeping an inkling of where you want your story to go in your mind and let your characters and creativity shape your ideas. If you're looking for more tips on how to keep your story moving, check out this article by author K.M. Weiland.
Other than books and websites, pestering published authors is probably my biggest source of advice. In my experience, I've been extremely lucky to receive some very kind emails from authors I respect very much. I've saved these emails and every time I look back at them, I get a little thrill of excitement. Keep in mind, though, that "bothering the best" is just a phrase! Always stay respectful and to the point. Here are my tips on how to get advice from the greats:
Get their email address off their website. Most authors will have their email listed on their contact page. Some authors specify on their sites that they get tons of fan mail daily and don't have time to respond, but others will find time in their busy schedules to jot you a note. Always remember that authors are mysterious, majestic creatures who have a whole lotta stuff to do and don't have time to write a three-page essay for you.
Don't ramble. Keep your goal in mind. For example, if you want to ask an author how to write about hard topics, ask them! You don't need the extra paragraph about how your great aunt looks exactly like one of their characters.
Be respectful while addressing the author. Say "Mrs. Sample" or "Samantha E. Sample."
Compliment the author's work. Did you enjoy their books? Let them know! All you need is a short sentence or two to make them feel appreciated.
Thank them for their time! It's pretty awesome of them to read your letter/email and you should tell them.
I hope you found something to put into practice. Click that heart button to share the love and comment your favorite piece of writing advice. Have a great weekend!