29 October 2010

Write On.

I've gotten a few emails from people asking for writing tips, so I figured I might as well do a post on it. Remember, this is what works for me... other people might have totally different ways of writing. With that in mind, here are my top 5 tips for aspiring authors.

1. Get inspired.
What inspires you? Reading a book by an author you admire? Listening to music? Observing nature? Whatever makes you pumped to write, do it and do it often. I find that listening to music right before I right helps set the scene for the passage I'm trying to write.

2. Be focused.
Admit it: everyone reading this, at one point in their life (probably lots more) has slacked off. It's human. I certainly do it. But when it comes to writing, there's a delicate balance between 'resting the creative mind' (as I like to call it) and slacking. Here's the difference: when you have writer's block and simply can't think of anything, take a break. (More on that later.) When you have an idea but are too lazy to put it on paper, even just a sticky-note you can adhere to your laptop, now that is slacking off. Unacceptable, understand? Absolutely unacceptable.

3. Characterize your world.
If your characters are just that — characters — then your writing will much turn out like crap. It's harsh, but it's true. Your characters should be your friends (or enemies). You should give them an intricate background even if you don't put it in the book. Talk to your characters. Love/hate them with a passion. Let them take over the book and write it themselves, with your fingers as their tools. Draw them. Occasionally, do things your character would do (in my case: dressing up and making a bow, my main character's weapon of choice). Sounds crazy? Good. That's how it should be.

4. Find a method and stick with it.
Some people find it terribly helpful to sketch out an outline before they write. Personally, I just wing it. Some people will NOT write their first drafts on a computer, and have notebooks full of stories lining their shelves. Personally, I could never do that and love my PowerBook. Some people edit obsessively as they go along. I wait until the end, and wait a few weeks after finishing to take another look with a fresh eye. Whatever works for you, do it. You are your own best judge.
(A small note: Even in your first draft you should be watching your spelling and grammar. For example, "there" does not equal "their"; saying "said" over and over is just as bad as using fifteen different speech descriptions on the same page; sentence fragments should be used with care; etc.)

5. Balance.
Okay, here's your homework. Go read The Elements of Style. Now sit down and write two short stories, just a few pages long: one following every rule in the book and the other breaking them all. Both will be horrendous. Your job as an author is to find the perfect balance — and find your voice, I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to find your individual voice (mine, for example, includes making up/combining words and much more. I trust you can get a sense of that by reading this blog).

A couple FAQs...

"How do you get over writer's block?"
To tell the honest truth, I don't get the dreaded WB too often. When I have an idea, I go for it, often writing half the day; when I don't, I barely even open up my laptop to check my email. But when I do get WB, I find it helpful to step away from the computer, read, drink some tea, and come back to it with a fresh mind. Rereading the past couple pages that you've written works wonders too.

"Can you read my writing and tell me how to improve?"
Sure, you can email me a couple hundred words. (I don't want to read your entire unedited novel, though, sorry!) But really, you are your own best judge (I think I said that already). If you think it's rot, then it's probably rot.

"What do you think about publishing my writing on a blog?"
Aaack! Don't do it! Putting your writing on the web creates all sorts of problems. If it's worth anything, it will probably get snatched up by copyright infringers, and even if it doesn't most publishers won't accept pre-published work, especially online published. Short stories are all right as long as you don't expect to make any money off of them, but a whole book? Not a good idea.

"What's your view on 'private' books, which I write but only my friends and such are meant to read (not a book for publishing)?"
I must have at least ten of these "private" books/short stories, and I know my friends do too. I think it's a great way to get critique on your writing and to express yourself without worrying about what's perfect. (For the record, there is no such thing as perfect.)

Got any more questions? Ask away and I'll answer ASAP.

From Ellyn:
What do you consider yourself best at and worst at in writing?
Wow, tough question. Hmm... I think I'm best at thinking up original ideas and managing to get them on paper in a way that makes sense. My weak point would be clichéd characters... they pop up a lot.

From Shadowflower:
Do you think writing your story/book from start to finish is the best way to do it?
I'm not positive what you mean here. Are you asking if it's best to edit at the very end rather than as you go along? Personally, I think so, but some authors prefer to take short breaks and edit their story so far. It's a matter of preference.

From Swirly Girl:
Is it better to give your story a title before you complete it, or after?
Tough! My novel that I finished recently was given a working title, but I'm still not sure if I'll keep it or not. I like having a working title, at least... it keeps me on task and gives me a way to save it as something other than "Document 23" to my computer. ;)

From Anonymous:
do you think I could still publish a novel if publishers find out I submitted it to Nanowrimo?
Honestly, I haven't the slightest idea. I don't think that it matters since as far as I know NaNoWriMo can't sell or save your work. I'll go research that...
Okay, here's what I found on the NaNo site:
Novels that are uploaded to us for verification and victory between November 25 and November 30 are counted by a computer script, and then automatically deleted. We do not read or keep any novels sent in, and NaNoWriMo authors retain all rights to everything they write during the event.
In fact, further research shows that many successful authors got their start by doing NaNoWriMo, including Sarah Grueller (Water for Elephants, New York Times #1 Bestseller). So go ahead!


  1. Great post, Olivia! I was just in my Blogger Dashboard and when I noticed your post my ears perked up because I've got 2 writing assigments for school lol

    Have a good evening.


  2. What do you consider yourself best at and worst at in writing?

    Thanks for the post! Good luck in Nano. :)

  3. I'd just like to say that I TOTALLY agree with number 3. I'm constantly acting out things my character would do, living life as if I were actually Caiti or Eli and Byzantine. It inspires me and keeps me busy. And I love the pictures! (: :)

  4. Ah. *Elements of Style* is amazing. I just finished it, and I think it's the best. =)

  5. I completely agree with the whole charactor bit! Especially that you said to draw them! I always do that. Sometimes even before I name them! When I draw them, I can understand what I want them to be. Drawing is my passion. ;)

    Question: Do you think writing your story/book from start to finish is the best way to do it?

  6. Wonderful advice! I love your new heading by the way..it is perfectly lovely!


  7. Great tips, thanks for taking your time and doing this. :D

  8. Awesome advice!

    I don't often try living like my characters, or doing things that they would do . . . I should try that sometime. :)

  9. Lovely post, Olivia!

    I know exactly what you mean... I don't get Writer's Block that often either. Well, at least not since NaNo cured me of it last year. *smiles*

    I loved reading your tips!

    Your friend,

  10. I love this post...but I also have a question too. :-)

    How did you get the lines under your titles? Can you give us the codes or a link, etc. because I love the look!

    And by the way, lovin' the new blog design! Super super cute! I hope it sticks around for a while.:-)


  11. Awesome tips, Olive! I'm in the midst of writing a fantasy novel, so I was looking for some help =)

    One question: Is it better to give your story a title before you complete it, or after?

  12. Just one question: do you think I could still publish a novel if publishers find out I submitted it to Nanowrimo?

  13. I answered all your questions to the best of my ability. :)
    Anyone else?

  14. Thanks for the tips, Olive Tree. Could you do a DIY post on how to make arrows for your bow? That would be awesome. :)

    Blessings, lovely girl!

  15. I Love your pictures :) you look amazing and i cant believe you made a bow!!! I love the idea of getting into your character i need to try it sometime!

  16. Great tips, Olive Tree :) It's awesome to get advice from other writers.


  17. Sorry for being unclear!! I mean't do you find it better to write a story/book chapter one first, chapter two second, etc. instead of writing the last chapter first and then writing a paragraph and sticking it in somewhere. (as opposed to just writing it i order all the way through)

    Sorry! I tried to make it a little more understandable, but it probably still sounds weird.......

  18. This post was really helpful!!! Thanks so much :) You have an amazing blog, keep up the good work!


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