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2o Writing Tips I Wish Somebody Told Me

Writing Tip 1: turn up to the page.

Writing Tip 2: Put your fingers on the keyboard, or pen on paper. Begin moving across the paper. Do not stop. Do not mark out. Notice the world around you. Notice your emotional landscape. Say what you feel. Use all your senses. Be gentle with yourself. This is the beginning. This is where we trust.

Writing Tip 3: Understand the difference between 'showing' and 'telling', then do the 'showing' thing a lot. This concept is NOT about providing information versus not providing information. (That's a common misunderstanding, and makes people afraid of writing the door was open and the sky was blue.) 'Showing' is about providing information with detail and specificity.  'Tell' is: 'I am unhappy'. 'Show' is: 'I ripped up his sofa with a nail file.' One is generic - anyone can be 'unhappy'. One is specific - this person does 'unhappy' in a very particular fashion. Some days, you have to write down both the show and the tell. Do that for clarity, if you judge it appropriate. But if in doubt, go for the specificity of the 'show'.

Writing Tip 4: If you want to write well, you don't need a scintillating life history; you need punctuation. Grab a grammar book. Learn how to construct a sentence. Understand how parts of speech work. Use a dictionary. READ: well, and slowly. Writing for publication is not masturbation; it is communication. Refusing to learn the basics is arrogant and stupid.

Writing Tip 5: Whether you plan it in advance, or write until you're done and then edit, you're looking for a narrative. Orientation (where the hell am I and what do I care about?), tension (events, with stuff at stake) and resolution (aaah, that's what it was all for). Everything else is gravy, layering, style. Rinse and repeat.

Writing Tip 6: When in doubt, just say whatcha see in front of you, using verbs and nouns. What I can see right now: a windowsill of white orchids and red fairy lights; bleached washing and a fox; a crocheted scarf curled on the rug; furry cushions and the news in the background. The devil's in the detail.

Writing Tip 7: When in doubt, tell the truth. About how you ached for a cruel man. That you feel like crying when you see fresh flowers in a park. That you think parents are over-rated. That love is dark and sometimes boring. That you believe in forever. Show your belly. Challenge your heart. Don't judge. Judge. Tell the truth.

Writing Tip 8: Eavesdrop. For character, empathy, dialogue, inspiration. Gem of the day, overheard walking down the street: "So I says to the policeman, 'Officer, if I think you're a c*nt - I don't say it, mind you, but I think it, just like now - I'm thinking, 'officer, you're a c*nt', can you do me for that?'"

Writing Tip 9: Choose assorted writer-types for feedback sessions. Include the One Who Gets You, the Hellishly Harsh but Bright One, and at least One Professional (editor/tutor). Include One Non-Writer Who Loves Books. Ask them: what works, what doesn't, why, & suggestions for improvement. Banish those who say 'Yay!' or 'Nah' without specificity. Don't include parents, unless they're editors. Even then - don't do that to yourself or them. A parent's best response is, 'Wonderful, love.'

Writing Tip 10: Sexy and funny are the hardest concepts to bring to the page. So, don't try to 'be' either thing, when you write. Simply notice those things around you that are imbued with the erotic; laugh hard and remember why. Record those details and readers will understand...

Writing Tip 11: To characterize well, take the 'Shrink, Sadist, Parent, God' approach. Understand & accept human motivation. Bring your characters into jeopardy. Forgive them - judgement makes your writing peevish and unsophisticated. Take control and don't let the characters defeat you :-) It's your bloody book.

Writing Tip 12: Grow devotion to your truth.

Writing Tip 13: Be silly. Colour in books. Watch the clouds. Find your silliest friend and tickle them. Roll on your belly and kick your legs in the air. Ramp wid some pickney/translation: play with children :-) Be silly, be silly, be silly :-)

Writing Tip 14:  Refine your emotional intelligence.

Writing Tip 15: Polish your dreams; practice hope.

Writing Tip 16: Negotiate with your own shadow. The best ideas I ever brought to the page were through and past shame, fear and rage.

Writing Tip 17: Practice compassion.

Writing Tip 18: Imbue dialogue with character attitude. Good dialogue doesn't happen without great characterisation.

Writing Tip 19: When writing dialect/patois/conveying accents, do not concentrate on making spelling changes or making up words. Pay attention to the rhythym and sentence structure instead. 'Me ah go down de road' is usually going to be better than 'Mi ah guh dung di roaadh.' But lots of people disagree with me on this point.

Writing Tip 20: Remember these things, that generally keep scenes tight & focused: one point of view (POV) per scene; balance dialogue & description. Is everything goal oriented? Is your POV character reacting as well as acting and speaking?


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