As Halloween week begins, I get ready to present my supernatural writing at the school where I tutor. I did this last year, too; however, last year, I performed on Halloween, and this year is the final day of Samhain, which is a 2-day pagan festival of the dead (versions of it became Mexico’s Day of the Dead). Events at school necessitated a shuffle.
If you’d be interested to read my paranormal / supernatural / superhero excerpts, you can go here. If you have a Kindle, I’m giving my 2 books away free, but only digitally here. Print stuff costs, but it's minimal (I make about $1 a book with these prices - sometimes less) at varying costs, self publisher Create Space doesn't give leeway there (Amazon Kindle gives 5 days free). If you'd like Create Space advice, feel free to ask.
That said, in honor of all things writing, I thought I’d give my advice to the writers here on these sites (many of whom want to express their life history / struggles / interests in blog or story, be it Parkinson's, hiking, whatever) about what makes good (in my opinion) writing (based only on advice I’ve given and heard in 17 years of teacher – not that I’m an expert since I’m not).
I also recommend reading Stephen King’s On Writing and Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird. I’m sure you know him. She is a positive and empowering women’s issues author, but men will like it, too. I encourage you to read her as well.
1) Most importantly, if you don’t feel you have anything to say, you don’t, BUT if you feel and flow through your ideas, whether I like your topic or not (or other people on this site do or don't), your chosen audience who likes your topic will. That said, I bet you do have good things to say! Confidence, confidence, confidence! Show us your stuff! Remember, I can teach commas. I can't teach confidence. How can you find that?
2) Sometimes, you gotta put your cojones on the line (or in the words of Negan on The Walking Dead – your lady balls). Yes, there are haters, and yes, there are trolls, but I bet there are fans, too. You won’t know unless you try. Besides, if E.L. James can make a career out of 50 Shades, there’s an audience for your good stuff, too (by the way, she's self published and began by writing fan fiction - go figure). On another note, how many times did J.K. Rowling get rejected before she released all those best sellers, before they became movies, before they were made into amusement parks, and before she had enough money to buy a small country? The story about the answer is here. You may not do those things, but your fans await what you will do for them!
3) You need to prewrite. On a scale of 1-10, it’s a 15 in order of importance. I brain write A LOT before I go to paper. Often, I will jot notes down. Then, I organize my mind’s jumbled thoughts (outline / contemplate flow of ideas and words / cut and paste) to the point where I have a skeleton in my mind before I write a skeleton on my computer. Over time, the bones gets flesh. Eventually, it gets serious detailing (sometimes, I’ll rewrite 20-30+ times – really). Then, I can foreshadow and do all kinds of "crazy good things!"
4) You can’t proofread enough. Edit, re-edit, and re-edit it until (as Mike Desantis, my quantitative measures teacher – RIP - would say), you’ve done your best; now move on For you, this means go to a real editor. Take this person’s suggestions, and then fix the rest. Re-edit one more time for good measure. You won’t be perfect (nobody ever is), but you’ll be close enough!
5) You need to figure out a writing area and get comfortable there. Kick out the kids, significant others, and phones. Blare your music or work in silence. Whatever it takes!
6) Opening your prose up to expressing your life and your characters’ lives completely is a good thing. Boring characters are static (they never change), and they are boring. Round characters grow. No character is all good, all of the time. The same can be said for evil characters. Think about real lives that you learned about. Who do you like and why? What were the things that caused that person's blemishes? How are they overcome? If you're going around looking for God, well, you're only going to find God in God. People are flawed. Remember that while writing.
7) Be detailed. Be descriptive. Be simple and straightforward. Flow between sentences and paragraphs. Poetic tones are better left for the poets. Throw your thesaurus away. How? Why? Details? And so? Says who? One liners like this work.
8) Read… a lot. It’s important to expose yourself to multiple genres in action.
9) Watch well-written shows (I recommend This is Us) a lot. It’s important to expose yourself to multiple genres to see life expressed by voices.
10) Practice writing… a lot. Malcolm Gladwell talked about your 10,000 hours. Have at ‘em.
11) Ask questions to people whose writing you like. Praise them. You want this. They want this.
12) Write positive reviews on Amazon when possible. Remember, criticizing other writers in a “you suck” way was done best by Mark Twain in "Fenimore Cooper’s Literary Offenses". You can actually learn a lot from his rules of writing in there. That said, just remember that if you make fun of E.L. James or Stephanie Meyer, they’re rich, and you’re not. When you get rich, you can go back and forth with them.
13) Your writing is your baby, but you can change and mold this baby. In fact, you need to. You don't need to love it warts and all if you can make it better by changing it. On that note, read and reread your stuff.
14) Have heroes and mentors in writing and life.
15) If someone tells you that you will never be a good teacher / writer until you learn grammar, listen to said person. Thanks, Ron Borkert, for that advice in 1998. I'd like to think I figured a lot of this out, but I'm always learning. And on that note, always learn, always contemplate, and always imagine better. You can do it!
And here’s a gift from Jack Kerouac (grammar errors are his):
BELIEF AND TECHNIQUE FOR MODERN PROSE
LIST OF ESSENTIALS (by JACK KEROUAC)
1. Scribble secret notebooks, and wild typewritten pages, for yr own joy
2. Submissive to everything, open, listening
3. Try never get drunk outside yr own home
4. Be in love with yr life
5. Something that you feel will find its own form
6. Be crazy dumbsaint of the mind
7. Blow as deep as you want to blow
8. Write what you want bottomless from the bottom of the mind
9. The unspeakable visions of the individual
10. No time for poetry but exactly what is
11. Visionary tics shivering in the chest
12. In traced fixation dreaming upon object before you
13. Remove literary, grammatical and syntactical inhibition
14. Like Proust be an old teahead of time
15. Telling the true story of the world in interior monologue
16. The jewel center of interest is the eye within the eye
17. Write in recollection and amazement for yourself
18. Work from pithy middle eye out, swimming in language sea
19. Accept loss forever
20. Believe in the holy contour of life
21. Struggle to sketch the flow that already exists intact in mind
22. Dont think of words when you stop but to see picture better
23. Keep track of every day the date emblazoned in yr morning
24. No fear or shame in the dignity of yr experience, language & knowledge
25. Write for the world to read and see yr exact pictures of it
26. Bookmovie is the movie in words, the visual American form
27. In praise of Character in the Bleak inhuman Loneliness
28. Composing wild, undisciplined, pure, coming in from under, crazier the better
29. You’re a Genius all the time
30. Writer-Director of Earthly movies Sponsored & Angeled in Heaven