Tag Archives: Writers

What Good Writers Do


by Sara Marschand

Kindergartners learn what “good writers do,” but all writers can apply these universal lessons.

Kindergarteners practice tracing letters and numbers as the first steps to becoming literate.  Even at this early stage, they are taught the basics for a lifetime of writing. The sign on my daughter’s classroom wall reads simply “What Good Writer’s Do.” Only a handful of the recent preschoolers can read the sign at the beginning of the year. As they come to understand the words, the sign becomes a useful reference. It provides guidance on how to communicate clearly to readers.  From editing to formatting to effective storytelling, all writers benefit from mastering the basics.  They must to entice readers and agents. 

The rules for good writers found on a Kindergarten wall apply universally.

Good writers think about their topic

This is true on every level and at every stage of a writer’s career.  What do you want to write about? All fiction, boiled down to its simplest element, contains a character and a conflict. A kindergartener writes a sentence about their cat. For flash fiction, you might need a character, two points of conflict and a twist, but longer works require thinking in the form of outlines, scene cards or the Snowflake Method. Even a pantser percolates their story in their head before the words flow.

Good writers ask if it makes sense  

Every day. Every word. Are descriptions clear and vivid enough for the reader to see the story? Have you given your character a twenty-eight-hour day? Does your magic system work one way in chapter one and differently in chapter two?  Check the continuity of the elements in your story from one scene to the next.

Good writers write neatly

 For the kiddos, this specifically refers to handwriting. Many advanced writers still write by hand before entering on a keyboard, but this idea of ‘neat’ writing can be expanded further. Are your thoughts organized on the page? Are you following the scene and sequel method where something happens, your character reacts and then makes a decision? Do you have a purple prose problem where all your sentences are flowery, wordy and full of excessive adverbs and adjectives? All of this tidying doesn’t have to happen in a first draft, but self-editing gives everyone a chance to neaten the work. 

Good writers read it over and over  

Kindergartners check if their letters were formed correctly, but we experienced writers all know this step is about editing and finding the more insidious flaws in our work. Start with the overall plot and structure. Does this sequence of events tell the story you want? Are the character arcs complete?  Once it’s in order, tweak the sections for flow and readability. With each additional pass, the work is polished until the only the grammar remains to be wrestled with.

Good Writers use punctuation at the end

 The kindergartners have a tough job here. They have to learn when to use a period, a question mark or an exclamation point. Formatting work incorrectly for submission earns red marks from the teacher. Grown-up writers can get confused by the exclamation point, too. People use them to show excitement, but overuse of the exclamation point is a sign of weak writing to the gate-keepers of publishing. Use them, but know why.

Good writers use Capital Letter at the beginning

 For professional markets, an improper format can mean the difference between instant rejection or an agent or editor actually reading your work. No one wants to slog through pages of poorly formatted paragraphs.  Stick to standard formatting guidelines—Times New Roman, 12pt, double-spaced. Check with each individual recipient what their standard is, where they want your name and word count information or if they want it at all. To be respected as a professional, give the agents and editors what they want. Follow the rules.

Good writers use finger spaces 

Kindergartners are taught to use a finger width space between their words. Except for ensuring you type only one space after a period, this isn’t useful advice for the experienced writer. However, it acts as a reminder to keep up with changing standards. Two spaces after a period morphed into one due to changes in printing capabilities. Most agents, publishers, and editors prefer electronic submissions to printing and mailing from the pre-email era. Changing standards go beyond typography issues, though. Follow your genre and know what they are looking for (or not) in terms of story elements, types of characters and pacing.

Mastery of writing starts small.

We all began by learning letters. Then added grammar and punctuation. Advice for what makes good writing evolves as we grow as writers, but everyone started at the beginning. What basics do you still have trouble with?

 


Sara Marschand has been writing Urban Fantasy and Science fiction since she ended her full-time career in engineering. When not writing, she enjoys everything produced by Marvel Studios. Sara lives with her spouse, 2 noisy kids, a frog and a goldfish that spits rocks. Visit her blog here.

What To Do With Too Much Writing Advice (And How Not To Let it Drive You To Drink)

 

I think I understand why old school writers were heavy drinkers.

I think I understand why some of them fell into dark thoughts, depression or loneliness. I think I understand why writers generally are isolated introverts, hiding from the real world, wrapping themselves up in their imaginary lands, fighting dragons, discovering treasure and falling in love:

They’re hiding from ubiquitous and contradictory writing advice. 

What To Do With Too Much Writing Advice and How Not To Let it Drive You To Drink

Single point of view or not? Past tense or not?  Predictable, relatable characters or something unique? Write what you know or write what you don’t know? Publish it immediately to get it out there or rewrite it a million times? And that’s just the craft piece of the puzzle, there’s also the marketing end: Facebook page or not? Use Twitter to promote your book or not? Collect email addresses or not? The opinions never seem to end. If you don’t know what you are doing, (and honestly, few of us do) you’ll probably come away from these well-meaning articles more confused.

Makes me long for simpler times when all you needed was a manual typerwriter. Or a quill.

Writers, as a generalized group already have a tendency for nicotine and alcohol addiction, but I imagine if the writers of a half, whole or two centuries ago had the social media influence that we have today, we may have had fewer masterpieces and more Sylvia Plaths.

That’s one characteristic I share with the dark souls of other eras.  I know that if I become obsessed with what is expected in my favorite genre, what my agent want, what the industry is doing, what my peer groups say, what my critique partners say, what my crazy Aunt Rhonda says, then I turn into a blubbering fool, who can’t write a shopping list.

I discovered this when I sent my manuscript to twenty-five beta testers. Some thought it was too long, some thought it was too short. Some thought it had too many characters, some not enough. Some didn’t understand why I set it in Oklahoma. Some totally got it. One reader, who has absolutely no experience in the publishing industry, decided she wanted to be my editor/agent and insisted that all future changes go through her. My response to her was in an acronym. First it was BS. Then it was ROTFL.

Sometimes, however, when I get conflicting advice, I don’t ROTFL, I panic. I cry. I freak out, thinking that I really don’t know what I’m doing. I slip into that dark place of anxiety and fear that convinces me that the path to happiness goes through pleasing others and not myself. This would be the time, if I were a heavy drinker, I’d reach for the whiskey and toast Hemingway. But this isn’t how writers get better. This only makes things worse.

Perhaps the problem is too many voices? Too much clutter? Too much influence? Maybe it is. So, I’m restricting my circle of influence.  I also receive instruction from reputable sources as I need it. I want to get better by being more intentional in who I learn from and what I learn. This, I hope, will keep that overwhelmed feeling at bay. The next group of beta testers will be people I trust and who will encourage me.

I think when my mind is clear, I’ll be calmer and I’ll be stronger.

I will be a better writer.

What about you? Are you overwhelmed with advice? What do you to do declutter?