Friday, March 11, 2011

Tips For Becoming A Better Writer

This is what I told the junior high schoolers I talked to this week. Okay, the last one I meant to tell them, and I forgot. Sue me.

To Become A Better Writer:
1. Entertain yourself. I think it's really important to read a lot of books in the genre you want to write in, and watch a lot of movies.

By reading, you know what's current in the market, you know what's been done and what others are doing, you can learn how a story comes to life with words.

By watching movies, you can see the way a story unfolds in only a couple of hours. You usually can't do that, or identify the points of a story, as easily while reading. But with movies? You totally can.

So entertain yourself.

2. Write a lot. And allow yourself to write badly. I think you get better and better at craft, at storytelling, at becoming the kind of author you want to be, by writing. A lot. And what you love.

3. Somehow, over the next few years (the kids were in eighth grade), you have to develop an insane amount of self-confidence. Because most of us receive an insane number of rejections. In fact, I've come to realize that every single author out there has a story. And usually a really, really good one that always ends in the same way: Never give up.

4. Be patient. Publishing takes a really long time.

(And that's where I stopped with the writing clubbers.)

But since then, I wish to add:
5. Write in a journal. How I wish I had my teenage impressions, thoughts, and feelings. Talk about a gold mine of emotional info for a YA novel!

What are your tips for becoming a better writer?

63 comments:

Read my books; lose ten pounds! said...

oh these are so good, and I agree!!

Sarah said...

These are excellent tips. I guess I should watch more movies ... I guess I'd add that it's helpful to read both published and unpublished/not-yet-published stuff, because it helps you develop a critical eye you can use in your own work.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I think you covered them. Let's hear it for movie time!

Natalie Aguirre said...

Great tips. I wish we could all get an injection of confidence for those difficult times when the rejections roll in.

~Nicole Ducleroir~ said...

Excellent tips! I was writing when I was in eight grade, and I wish someone like you had come to my school to encourage me in the craft.

Have a great weekend!

Stina Lindenblatt said...

I should be watching more movies and tv shows, but I'm too busy catching up on my TBR pile. #gottaloveresearch :D

Matthew MacNish said...

Read, write, and tell the truth.

Bee said...

I think confidence is very important. You can just give up in the writing business. You'd never get anything written if you do. And I guess, you do have to learn to take criticism in your stride.

Jen Daiker said...

I'm with you on the writing badly! It helps to find out where you are best at, what your strengths and weaknesses are and what you like to write.

You'll find yourself writing the most unexpected thing and actually being really good at it...

Like right now, I'm enjoying writing bad queries, it's good for the soul because it's one step closer to the great one.

Kristine Asselin said...

Oh, do I wish someone had told me to NEVER throw away that crate of journals from high school...

Determination, confidence, but the understanding that you can always be better.

Thanks, Elana!

kellyhashway said...

I completely agree! I read constantly. I have to read in the genre I'm writing at the time too. And one book at a time isn't enough. I need two, sometimes three! I also consider watching TV and movies directed at my target audience research as well. They're great for keeping up with what kids want to see.

Wendy Paine Miller said...

I'll send you my old journals. That'll be fodder for some truly oddball characters. ;)

Tip to be a better writer--resilience. If you get knocked down by a tough critique, a rejection, a long wait, etc...GET BACK UP!

~ Wendy

Laura Pauling said...

I think you pretty much summed it up! I remember what I wrote about and when you're a teen - true love really can happen within 5 minutes of meeting someone. It's very real to them.

Aleeza said...

the first four tips were awesome! and the last one's even more so, since being a teen kind of makes it really natural for me to inject teen angst very easily into my characters. ha! :)

Anna Staniszewski said...

All great suggestions! Still working on that self-confidence, but I guess a lot of us are... :-)

Kelly Lyman said...

Yes! Great tips--I love your last one too about the journal. I found mine and read it...I almost want to through it away because I would DIE if anyone ever read it...especially my parents or my children when I'm old and then find it....maybe I could rewrite it in code?

Carrie said...

great tips. I read a lot when I was a kid. I also wrote for my school newspaper. It helped me with confidence since in theory the whole school could read what I wrote and I often had to talk to people I might not usually talk to in the name of interviews.

Kerri Cuev said...

Journals! Yes, great idea! Gosh now I'm tempted to look through mine. That could be disturbing lol.

B.E. Sanderson said...

And if you can't find self-confidence, fake it. ;o)

Excellent tips, Elana. I hope the kids were listening, but they really are good for anyone.

Bish Denham said...

Simple practical tips. And...I wish I have my journals from when I was a kid but... in a fit of angst I burned them all.

Lynn Colt said...

It's really odd how all those rejections before I got my agent (and, ahem, afterward from editors!) wound up building my self-confidence instead of wrecking it. Well, they wrecked my confidence short-term, but at some point I had to decide to keep going anyway, and I got stronger.

I wish I'd kept my journal longer! I think I stopped halfway through high school.

Liza said...

Wonderful tips--especially the journal. I was so committed to mine that when my 12th grade Creative Writing teacher required us to keep a journal for the length of the class, I wrote in two! We had to submit the assigned one to her occasionally, but there were some things I had to write about that I wasn't about to share with Mrs. Rosenbloom! She actually lifted a poem I wrote in the class journal and published it in the Student Art Magazine with out my knowing it. Surprise! My first ever published piece. Oh, and I still have all the old journals stuffed at the back of my closet...they provide amazing reading sometimes.

Shannon O'Donnell said...

Those are perfect, Elana. I especially love what you told them about self-confidence and patience. They need to hear that more often! :-)

Audrey said...

Those are some great tips! The journal one surprised me, but I think it is an excellent one. (If only I had bothered to keep a journal.) But I guess I have the next best thing: ten younger siblings, three of whom are currently teenagers. I could always ask them for their thoughts once I have completed a manuscript.

Miriam S. Forster said...

Hooray! I do most of those. Except write in a journal. But I do blog, does that count?

Deb said...

Love these tips, Elena! And will add that in my journal I also doodle-stick figures, funny shapes, anything that just lets my mind wander, imagine a scene.

Enjoy your weekend, too!

gideon86 said...

Writing, writing, and more writing ...


Michael

Michelle Merrill said...

I loved all your points, but that last one is a great one for sure! I didn't write in a journal in high school and it would've helped SO much.

Here's to writing a lot and developing an insane amount of self confidence as we are patient with our bad writing and entertain ourselves with those who've written great books and screenplays!

Henya said...

Yes! Yes! And yes! I'm happy to report that I do all of the above.
Yay!!!!

Always enjoy your blog.

Patti said...

Great advice and the journal thing is a great tidbit. I wish I had written more.

Amanda said...

Great post! I don't have much to add. Grow some super thick skin. And read. A lot. A LOT, a lot. In your genre. All the time. And write as much as you can, whenever you can.

Shari said...

Those were great suggestions. I totally agree with all of them, but especially the read alot and . . . Write. A. Lot. I wrote in a journal in high school. I shudder to think of even opening those pages. Seriously, I'm shuddering right now.

Carolyn Abiad said...

#3 and #4 are the hard ones...

Erica Mitchell-Spickard said...

All very good tips and relatable to all of us. I actually do have my HS journal. It doesn't help. I was a spaaaaaz! I wish I had been more focused as a teen but, oh well, I was an awesome teen! The stuff in there is gold even if only to me.

Rusty Fischer said...

GREAT Post! I try to do all of these, but need to go back to keeping a journal; hadn't thought of that one, so thanks! My only addition would be to "Be More Visual." This is something I've been doing more of lately, i.e. designing book covers for my WIP to get more excited about making them a reality and, especially, finding pictures of my main characters and using them for inspiration as I write. This is something Ilearned from the kids on Wattpad.com, who actually post who they'd like to play in the movie version of their stories so you can picture them as you read. I like doing that myself now, so... hope that helps!

Stacy Henrie said...

These are great, Elana! Now you have me thinking about my own teen journals. From what I remember there's a lot of stuff in there about some guy I liked waving or saying hi, etc. Very cheesy!

Nichole Giles said...

Great ideas. Might have to borrow them for my presentation in April. Thanks for the tips.

Nicole Zoltack said...

Writing a lot is definitely the best way to becoming a better writer. That and reading.

Cassandra Frear said...

Read the Great Books. Pulitzer Prize Winners, Nobel Prize authors, classics. Find the ones that make you hold your breath.

Katie Ganshert said...

Oh my goodness - you can borrow mine! I kept a journal from my freshman year all the way through high school and college. It's on my computer. A very ginormous file. I have to tell ya....having such easy access to my teenage thoughts and feelings quite often embarrasses me! I read old entries and find myself blushing. My husband has been ordered to destroy the file should I die.

Marsha Sigman said...

The same as your's really.

Read and Write. There isn't any other way.

But maybe I would also say to not be afraid to write what you want to, don't hold back because you're afraid peeps won't like it. You're never going to please everyone so please yourself instead.

Karen Lange said...

Good advice. The only thing I'd add is to keep learning. But actually by doing everything on your list, you really are. :)
Happy weekend,
Karen

Melissa said...

I have some random thoughts in a journal from when I was a teen.... I WAS BOY CRAZY. halfway through gushing about one guy, I'd "fall in love" with a new one. Gosh. It was an issue.

Great post!

Holly Ruggiero said...

Good advice. I really like number 1.

Krispy said...

Love these tips! I tried the diary thing for a while back in like late-elementary to middle school, and some of the dramarama in there is HILARIOUS. But I was always kind of bad with keeping up with doing that, so I have like HUGE gaps in between entries before they stop entirely.

Joylene Butler said...

Great advice, Elana. It took me from 1984 until 2008 to get published. Now I'm waiting for the launching of my next book. And in July my first book is released as an ebook. It doesn't seem that long ago that I was dreaming of being published and decided I was nobody until that happened. LOL. Still the same old me -- go figure.

Robin Weeks said...

I, alas, have always, ALWAYS been bad at journaling. I'd go through spurts of daily writing-down-every-detail and then years of nothing. If a school assignment included the word "journal" or "log" I'd fail. Being forced to write my thoughts and feelings down was simply unconscionable.

Now, why do I want to be a writer, again?

Angie said...

Great advice. You're right about the insane amount of self-confidence. I like the journal keeping one too. When I finished my first novel, my friend said, "Wow. You wrote a book. I can't even keep a journal." I just laughed. I wasn't keeping a journal then, either. I sure am now, though.

Jemi Fraser said...

I burned all my journals one night in a camp fire. Most of me is still very glad I did :)

Meredith said...

I always wanted to journal, but I never did. I WISH I had those amazing teenage memories now, though! Definitely a gold mine of angst and potential plot lines.

Marianne said...

chocolate

Theresa Milstein said...

Excellent list.

I'd add, whatever your weakness, is practice especially hard to minimize it. Grammar? Brush up. Dialogue? Dissect good dialogue for what makes it hum.

Go to conferences and take workshops to improve (especially in weaker areas).

Join a critique group or find a few partners. If you can find someone whose strength is what you struggle with, it's going to make a huge difference in the editing stage.

Stephsco said...

Good advice, regardless of age!

Your last point was the original inspiration for my blog "a girl and her diary." I wanted to expound on my old diaries, but WOW, some of them were difficult to get through. I have blogged a bit about some key moments, and I just found some pretty funny lists I made (what I will do when I move out [of parents house]) and one simply titled, Things I Hate. You can't make that stuff up.

I found an old reading list too, I think I'm going to put that up now. It's embarrassing to see what I read asa 12 and 13 year old, but I'm glad I was reading!

Hannah Kincade said...

I still have my teenage journals and poetry! LOL! Talk about fodder for YA fiction.


Experiment with genres, even the ones you "hate." Also reading books outside your genre, you tap into all sorts of storylines as well.

That's my advice: read a lot and write a lot of everything.

Kelly Bryson said...

Great advice- and I'm wincing at the thought or rereading this peotry journal I had in highschool. Oh, the drama!

A Backwards Story said...

1. Entertain yourself.

If I'm not entertained, no one else will be. My writing has to entertain me first! Great tip :)

Though it leads to another tip, which I admit to struggling with:

2. Write a lot. And allow yourself to write badly.

I'm such a perfectionist that if it's really bad, I struggle to correct it before moving on. It's a hurdle I suddenly can't get over, though I know I should ignore it and move on. One of my weaknesses...

Donna Hole said...

Accept constructive (and non constructive) feedback; be open minded when its your turn to give feedback; learn from every author your meet - aspiring and published.

My motto. I'm not sure I'm a good author yet, let alone a great one; but I'm sure enjoying the ride :)

.......dhole

Sharon K. Mayhew said...

Super tips! I WISH I had my diaries from my teenage years. I kept one from the time I was 13 until I was 18. I have no idea what I did with them. I expect I threw them away. They were full of emotions that I wish I ould capture now.

Heather said...

I think a lot of us forget #1 or overlook it and not realize how important it is. Without creative material feeding me I run dry. And I never thought of #5, what a great idea! *slaps forehead*

Ghenet said...

Great tips! I had a journal in middle school and high school. They are packed away at my mom's house so I need to get those back asap! :)

Tyrean Martinson said...

Those are awesome tips. Sadly I only have a few pieces of my junior high and high school journals because I either burned or shredded them out of embarassment at age 19.
Sigh, and now I wish I could remember more.

Pam Torres said...

I cringe every time I remember what happened to my teenage journals. I went through a really tough time and made the horrible mistake of destroying them. Why? Because I lacked confidence in the process of growing up and thought I was being "mature" by putting childish ideas away. I so wish I had them now, memories only go so far. I do remember I was in love with a different boy every other week...

Carol Riggs said...

Ha, I threw some of my teen journals away...too incriminating. LOL I may have some early teen ones though. Sigh, and you are SO right about patience. :) At least we're all in the same boat...

See Elana's recent blog posts

Recent Posts Widget