Friday, May 9, 2008

Three Favorite Writing Tips from Patient Editors

The following are some words of advice I give writing students, as I travel around the country teaching workshops. I’ll be leading a seminar at Aspen Summer Words in June. I’d love to hear from some of you if you have other writing tips that I can share with my students.
1. The first tip has to do with revisions. In high school (a few hundred years ago), when I told my English teacher, my first real editor, that my fantasy was to someday be a writer, she said, “You have to write a million lousy words before you can begin to get it right.” I was lucky that my first novel (A Season In-Between 1979) found a publisher right away, but it went through five revisions before it went to press. Writing is rewriting. Collette said you have to murder your darlings. Flaubert said you can’t be married to your words.

2. Strange work we writers do, turning words around all day. But don’t worry about writing the perfect sentence or you’ll never get past the first paragraph. Write it all down the way you’ve been thinking about it, mulling it over in your head, and then go back and rewrite later. Remember to cut any scene that doesn’t serve to move the plot along or reveal character, no matter how brilliantly written you think it is. If you like the scene that much, go back and try to give it a reason for being there. (I guess those are two tips in one.)

3. I never begin a story, either fiction or non-fiction, without having a sense of beginning and end. Writing a story is like making a sandwich. What do you need to make a sandwich? Yes, two slices of bread. What goes in between the slices can be added as you go along, a tomato here, a marshmallow there. But you need bread to hold the parts together so they don’t fall apart. It’s the same principle for writing a story. Reserve the right to change the ending, but at least you can see a light at the end of the tunnel, so you’re not stumbling around in the dark.

Just wanted to tell Linda that I enjoyed her report on the wise words of two of our great writers of non-fiction for kids, James Cross Giblin and Russell Freedman. Also check out a blog
http:/ It mentions I.N.K. and has enthusiastic discussions of new children’s books. Side by Side was featured last week. CCBC-Net from University of Wisconsin is also one to enjoy. Finally even though I didn’t enter the discussion, I was fascinated by Don Brown’s exchanges about history, what’s politically correct, what’s not. Thank you, Don. These short, feisty exchanges, along with news and information, are what “blogging” is about, I think.


Loreen Leedy said...

Something that I've begun doing recently is to keep a journal for each project. The large 9" X 12" spiral bound sketchbooks with hard covers and heavy unlined paper are my favorites. Everything goes in there... character notes, research factoids, sketches, pictures cut out of magazines, whatever. Previously, I used loose sheets of plain paper, but this works better for me now.

Oddly (to me anyway), I can be productive with the project journal even during “down time” such as evening TV watching. Brainstorming and researching while not dutifully poised in front of the computer seems to bring out novel ideas, maybe because I'm not officially “working.”

Jan Greenberg said...

Thanks, Loreen. So many ideas come to me, as well,at odd times. For example, I am driving and hear a song on the radio and a good line pops into my head. Or I overhear a conversation at the next table at a cafe. Jotting down these bits of dialogue in notebook carried in my purse helps me to remember what I will probably forget by the time get up from the table.