Friday, April 17, 2009

Writing Tips from Jan Greenberg

Jan Greenberg wasn't able to post today. Here are some interesting writing tips she first shared with us last May.

The following are some words of advice I give writing students, as I travel around the country teaching workshops. 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.

No comments: