Apparently, taking six or seven years off of fiction writing is not good for my writing skills! I’m frantically trying to relearn what I thought I already knew.
I’ve been working on a novel lately. I really want to finish this one! Even if it is completely awful. I’ve written chapter one (which starts out great, and ends with a poorly written bar scene). Now I’m on chapter two! Hooray for progress!
I’ve realised that I am not very good at writing description. I forget to even put it in! It’s probably because I’ve read a lot of classics, which do description well, but I know by today’s standards they are rather excessive.
My dad told me, when I was eight years old and just starting to write, that I should describe my characters’ looks right away in the first chapter. But I’ve swung the other way–perhaps too far–and I don’t think a physical description is always necessary. I’ve been trying to work descriptions into the story naturally, instead of writing a list of attributes like, “Eddie was 6’3″, muscular, with bright blue eyes and blond hair, thinning slightly…” (Nope, that’s not the hero. That’s one of the villains!)
Then there is setting. I do believe that describing the setting can be very important. That’s where I have the most trouble. I don’t want to use clichés, but on the other hand, I don’t want to be too off-the-wall all the time. I need practice, I think. And I need to read more really good fiction.
What are your favourite books or authors that use description well?
I grew up rather sheltered. Then I got married right after highschool. My husband (boyfriend at the time) is the one who took me to a bar for the first time, a few days after my eighteenth birthday. It was 7:00 PM on a Wednesday. There was almost no one else there. Since then, I think I’ve been to bars maybe three other times. Yeah, we’re party animals!
Now, I’m trying to write a scene that takes place in a bar. It’s a similarly slow night. But somehow, I need my character to meet antagonist #2 at this bar. And like him. And trust him.
What does one say when meeting someone at the bar for the first time? I suppose they could talk about the weather. It’s February, and it’s snowing.
I just sent off an article query, and my heart is pounding! It’s quite an adrenalin rush for nothing more than clicking “Send” on an email! Last week, all my submissions were fiction or poetry that I had already written. Now, it’s time to write some new stuff! Wish me luck!
I am at the library right now. I’ve been browsing the magazines looking for ideas. It is a little depressing! Most of the magazines here are glossy and nation- or continent-wide I want to start with smaller regional magazines, which might be more willing to give me a chance.
I have one article idea that I’ve written a query for. I’ll polish it and send it off over the next few days. Other than that, I’m almost out of ideas. I was hoping to be inspired or at least intrigued by the magazines here. Instead I feel like I don’t know anything about anything.
Then there’s editing. Over the past week, as I’ve been browsing more writers’ blogs and websites, I was amazed to see how many writers also offer editing services. That is intimidating! Is there room for me in the industry?
Sorry. I do usually try to stay positive, and my dismay is a bit exaggerated. Oh, how I love hyperbole! But I still can’t help but be worried and want to bury myself in fiction.
Instead of worrying, I need to get to work! I’ve only been at this seriously for a week, I can’t expect it to drop right into my lap. Especially when my priority has to be my family.
Never split an infinitive. Don’t begin a sentence with a contraction or end a sentence with a preposition. For that matter, do not use contractions in formal writing. Use only complete sentences, not fragments.
These are just a few of the traditional English grammar rules that used to be unbreakable, but are now considered to be simply guidelines for beginners, or even thrown out completely as outdated.
I regularly break each of those rules, and probably several more that I’m not even aware of. I hope my rebellion only benefits my writing. And I hope I don’t annoy my proper Scottish papa too much.
The key to effectively breaking the rules, is to know the rules. Once you can write well within the rules, and understand the reason for them, a judiciously broken rule can add spice to your writing. Like a well-placed sentence fragment. That is why they have highschool English classes.
Are there any rules you never keep? Or any you never break?
I had a writing instructor tell me once to “Never write for free!” Her reasoning made sense. Writers who will work for free lower the chances that freelance writers will get paid well. After all, there’s always someone who will accept a lower fee. If writers don’t stand together to change things, editors and consumers will never value the work we do. Right?
I’ve come to see that such a view is idealistic. It’s all well and good to tell a beginner writer never to work for free, but really, how else is an untried wordsmith going to get any work? Clips are what a writer needs, and I firmly believe that when an editor reviews a writer’s clips, he doesn’t care whether the publication paid or not. He cares about the quality of writing.
So, I write for free (so far, just blogging). And I occasionally edit for free (only FellowScript, which looks great on my resume!). I also do book reviews for a free copy of the book (Booksneeze). Or just because I like the book.
That said, I also write and edit for pay. Slowly, as I get more experience and start to develop a reputation for excellent work, my writing and editing income will go up.
What is your opinion of my instructor’s advice?