Thanks for picking me up Wednesday night after my Building a Mindful Writing Practice class and making polite conversation with me about the weather and asking about my work. At first I thought you were feigning interest, until you asked, “So, do you have any advice for someone who wants to write in the future?” Then, I realized I had a wanna-be fiction writer on my hands.
Here’s the advice I gave you at first:
- Read a lot. Read the type of book you want to write whether that’s literary fiction, westerns or science fiction. Then, read outside your genre. Be inspired by the different rules and tools they utilize. Take note of what the writers do. How do they get you to turn the page? How do they get you invested in the characters? What makes their sentences so beautiful?
- Write down those beautiful sentences. Feel those words come out of your own hand.
- Become a master observer of yourself and others. What are your obsessions? How to people act, talk, love, hate? What’s spring like? Collect details that can help you create your imaginary world.
- Write a bit everyday to build your writing muscle, keep your form limber. Something little—an observation, a description, a line of overheard conversation. Learn about yourself as a writer.
Then, you revealed you already had characters forming in your mind and talking to you. That’s different. That’s a gift!
- Don’t squander it. This doesn’t happen to everyone. Write it all down. If you have characters speaking to you, you need to write what they tell you. (This happened to me for my first novel. Up until that point, I was a short story writer. Then one day these sisters started talking to me. I didn’t know who they were or what they were, but I just kept writing down what they told me. The next thing I knew, I had 80 pages of notes. I realized, this was not a short story. This was a novel.)
- Take notes. Be prepared to record this information at all times. You’re working a full-time job and driving for Lyft, so have pen and paper nearby or a method of recording or taking notes on your phone.
- Just take notes, Christopher. Do “non-doing writing” – writing without judgment or expectation. Just be present to what is arising. You don’t have to know what it is or where it is going yet. As soon as you say “I have to finish this by my next birthday” or “the ending is going to be exactly this,” you’re stopping the flow. Right now, enjoy the process of discovery.
- Be ready. A time will come when a scene will come into view, a beginning will blossom, and you will find your way in. You will get caught up and you will make the time to write.
What I didn’t have time to say during our brief ride:
At some point, after you’ve gotten a few scenes or chapters together, take a class or join a workshop. For these three reasons:
- It’s nice to hang out with people who think spending years of your life working hard on something that may never be publicly shared or earn you any money is a fine and honorable (not stupid) endeavor.
- To learn the craft. Writing is like any other art – painting, architecture – there are tools of the trade, skills to be learned.
- To see if the story in your head is the story on the page. We can become too familiar with our stories and forget to let readers know about connections between scenes or the history of a character or who else walked into the room or that it’s now Wednesday.
But most importantly, Christopher, write. One word at a time. Day after day. Enjoy the process of creating. It’s a good life.