Peggy Bechko Gives Us Our Writerly Marching Orders

But she says it so nicely, with such…OMG!…class:

Three Helpful (I Hope) Writer’s Decrees Readers May Find Interesting – by Peggy Bechko (Peggy’s Blog)

Your Space, Research and Revision

There are a whole lot more than three of them, but well, I don’t have the time to go into all of them right now, or the space on my blog, or the typing finger (I just sliced it open while prepping food for Thanksgiving and the finger really  hurts when I hit a key). So, at great sacrifice I’m typing this up for your reading pleasure, edification, education, whatever you choose to consider it

Decree number one. You, as a writer, must find your space to write, daydream and create and you must shut the door. It doesn’t have to be a large space, perhaps even a closet with a good light and space for a small desk (hope you’re not claustrophobic).

Depending on circumstance it might not even have a door in the physical sense, but you have to create one for yourself anyway. A means to shut out the world and yourself into the world you’re creating. Somehow you must arrange it so you’re not constantly interrupted or distracted. You have to shut off your cell phone, the land line, the TV, any distracting video games (you might consider not having these on your work computer) and make sure your internet access is something you have to go to, not automatic running in the background.  You might need it for research, but your don’t want it constantly clamoring for your attention. And if you’re not actively engaged in research, shut it off. Email too.

Give yourself a break. If you seriously want to write, you need to commit to the environment that allows you to do so to avoid frustration, self-anger, and never getting anything accomplished.

Decree Number two: research. You know, that thing I just mentioned above, the reason you might have your internet access running. You’ve read lots of books (um, at least I hope you have). You know there are writers who do a heck of a lot of research and then create page after page in their story parceling that newly discovered information out. Some do it well. Some not so much.

Research is a tricky devil for writers. If you’re writing about something you know little to nothing about then you’re going to have to research. But, once you’ve done the research pick out the plums and spice your story with them. Research always must take a back-seat to the story. The story always comes first and should never be overwhelmed by all that great research you’ve done. All that stuff you found out is really cool. And you may have waded through a morass of text to extract exactly what you need, but don’t let that become the star of your show.

Story always comes first.

Decree Number Three: Revision. Ah, yes, the biggie. The one writers really don’t want to face at all and yet it it is at the heart of good story telling. It’s part of the process.

And the process for me, is this: slap the story down on paper, writing unleashed, not editing! Put it away, let it rest. Later, come back with pen in hand and start reading and making notes. Look for character discrepancies, large logic holes or plot gaps, whatever jerks the reader out of the story. Then open the door to my writing room a crack and slip the manuscript out to First Reader. Get comments and reactions. Then revise some more.

Now this process can be different and take different amounts of time for every writer. The first part can be hardest for people who can’t resist editing as they write. It’s a matter of style. I highly recommend not editing as you go, but some must. If you MUST, then do so, but try to keep it minimal and in the background as the story goes up on your computer screen.

The waiting period can vary wildly as well.  Writer Stephen King says leave it marinate/fester/mold/whatever for a minimum of six weeks in that drawer or on that shelf. Really? Six weeks? I can’t wait that long, but if you can perhaps while you get some new ideas down  on paper or crammed into your computer, then have at it. If you have to get to it sooner, then do it, but do give it a rest between finishing the first draft and thinking about revision.

Oh, and when you come across all those ‘mistakes’; plot gaps, character gaffs, logic jumps, don’t be too hard on yourself. You’re a writer, you can fix it, and your readers will be all the more thrilled for the flotsam they never saw.

And that First Reader, that ideal reader you hand your manuscript to trustingly for opinions and input? By all means, listen to the suggestions and comments, digest them and make adjustments, this is your trusted reader, the one who’ll give you the most honest input whether you want to hear it or not. But don’t think you have to respond to every little thing the reader suggested. Work with it and you’ll come up with a better manuscript or screen script.

Who’s your Ideal, most Trusted Reader?

 Have you over-researched?
Do you have an unusual or beloved writing space?
I’d love to hear about it. Put it in the comments below.

LB on Writing: The Rule of 10,000

Outliers, by Malcolm Gladstone

Hmm, an internet success meme that almost makes sense. Unless, of course, you take it literally:

What Is the 10000 Hour Rule?

The 10000 Hour Rule is just that. This is the idea that it takes approximately 10000 hours of deliberate practice to master a skill.For instance, it would take 10 years of practicing 3 hours a day to become a master in your subject. It would take approximately 5 years of full-time employment to become proficient in your field. Simply work out how many hours you have already achieved and calculate how many more you need to clock up before you reach 10000. (As interpreted on Squidoo.)

My experience tells me that, yes, there’s a great deal of truth in Malcolm Gladstone’s new book, Outliers. But in spite of the way various self-help websites have latched onto it, this particular Gladstonian adage, like most good advice, works on the metaphorical as opposed to the literal level.

In other words, everything I’ve done/seen/known in my shockingly long (to me) life puts me in complete agreement with the idea that practicing, practicing, practicing (for writers, writing, writing, writing) is essential for anyone to get really good – professionally good – at just about anything.

Assuming, of course, that you have talent.

‘Cuz – and I’m really sorry, boys and girls – if you don’t start with your own aptitude for something I don’t care how long and hard you work at it…it just ain’t gonna happen for you.

And that too comes from my own experience. There’s a reason I became a writer instead of a major league baseball player even though I loved chucking the ole pill around as much as I loved to write. Love wasn’t enough. Practice wasn’t enough. I lacked the innate potential.

Maybe we should change this to “The Rule of Busting Your Hump So You Can Get Even Better at Something Your Genetic Makeup Has Already Made You Good For?”

What? Oh, right. I agree. That’s definitely missing a little something. Give me 10,000 hours to work at rephrasing it and I’ll come up with something grand!

What People Mean When They Say “Bad Writing”

There’s a difference between “good writing” and a “good book” or “good script.” Nathan Bransford gets it:

by Nathan Bransford

One thing about my Fifty Shades of Grey  post that inspired some mild controversy was my insistence that it’s not that badly written.

What’s interesting about talking about “good” writing and “bad” writing is that when people use those terms, different people often mean different things.

When I talk about “good” writing and “bad” writing, I mean the prose. Is it readable on a sentence-to-sentence level? Is there a flow? Is there a voice? Do I get tripped up by a lack of specificity in description or are the details evocative? Is the hand of the author too apparent or am I able to lose myself in the world of the book?

This is all mainly accomplished on the sentence level. It’s not about character or plot or plausibility or whether the book is compelling or not and not at all about whether I like the book, it’s whether the author can write a paragraph.

I would posit (with partial confidence) that the way I mean “good” or “bad” writing is more common within the publishing industry and with literary-minded folk.

Outside of publishing, when people talk about “good” writing or “bad” writing they aren’t talking about sentences, they usually mean a broader look at the book as a whole. Whether the plot is plausible or not, whether characters are compelling, whether relationships are believable, whether the book as a whole is engrossing.

This, I do believe, is how we end up with Goodreads reviews where people call The Great Gatsby  “garbage,” which has little to do with style and everything to do with whether the book was enjoyable for that particular person to read.

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LB: Classic Writing Advice Dept. Rule #1

Yep, this is an iPhone case? Need one?

You’ve heard/read this before and will hear/read it again, but did you know that this, the single most important thing you can keep in mind while writing anything, came from a guy who called himself “Q?”

His full name was Sir Arthur Thomas Quiller-Couch, editor of, as Wikipedia puts it, “the monumental Oxford Book of English Verse…” among many other things, and if anyone ever knew a thing or two about brevity, Q was the one.

Or, as he put it so famously (and perfectly):

Whenever you feel an impulse to perpetrate a piece of exceptionally fine writing, obey it — whole-heartedly — and delete it before sending your manuscript to press: Murder your darlings.

I’ve followed Rule #1 from Day #1 of my career, and the only time I’ve ever regretted anything I wrote was when I read a passage of my own work and realize I could’ve killed still more. (Whilch is why I’m not letting myself re-read this post.)

From one murderer to another:

LYMI,

LB

Deconstructing Sacred Writing Cows

A big TVWriter™ “Yess!” to iconoclasts:

by Charlotte Rains Dixon

I’m tired of people telling me what to do.

I’m tired of people telling me how to eat.  (Don’t eat dairy! No grains! No eggs! And puh-leeze, no sugar!)

I’m tired of people telling me to exercise.  (Walk.  No, walking isn’t enough.  Run.  No, running is bad for your knees, interval training.  No, you have to do cross-fit.)

I’m tired of people telling me how to think.  (Case in point: the recent election.  Or every day on the Internet.)

And so the thought occurs that you, my dear readers, may be tired of me telling you what to do, or more precisely, how to write.  And that maybe it might be time to reconsider some of the tenets by which we live.

In my forthcoming novel, Emma Jean’s Bad Behavior, our heroine discusses her three sacred cows: her fans (what she calls her readers), her students, and her husband, Peter.  “They were the three things in life, besides writing, that Emma Jean cared about most—the holy triumvirate, her sacred cows.”

And so, herewith, let’s consider some common sacred writing cows and decide if they should be upheld or not.

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