I have heard a great deal of writing advice over the years. The ones that seem to stick out the most in my mind though are the writing advices given to me by my teachers of so long ago.
In middle school, I had a teacher who drummed it into my head that words like “a lot” and “pretty” and even “said” amounted to elementary school writing and I would never be good if I ever used them. I had to learn to expand my vocabulary. And I did. I learned to use an old fashioned thesaurus. I still own a paperback copy of an old fashioned thesaurus.
Guess what words are still in my vocabulary? Depending on what I am writing and what my characters are doing, “a lot” is just as good a word to use as “colossal”, “multiple,” “unceasingly,” or any other of the one hundred plus words that are synonyms in one way or another. I also use words like turbid, viability, ennui, cacophony and many words that show up as words of the day in SAT preps and such. I use Google a great deal now, as well as the online version of that aforementioned thesaurus, when I really need a word better than “good.” It helps to have a strong vocabulary, so that advice I still continue to utilize.
I once had a teacher (a long term substitute) in one of my high school English classes tell me that a great story begins with a great title. One of the first requirements of a story-writing project she had the class do was come up with a title for our story. Given that I had no idea what I wanted to even write about yet, I struggled with the requirement.
I have learned to do without that advice. Last of His Kind was titled “my wizard story about Temp” for a very long time. Portal Seeker went through so many titles while I was writing because I kept changing my mind. While some of my stories immediately had an awesome title, others in my novella line up still do not have titles I am proud of yet. And you know what, that’s okay.
My senior year of high school English probably had the most profound influence on my life. The teacher of that class, who still teaches at the high school from which I graduated and knows I write now, saw a potential in me that others seemed to brush away. It was then that I began to really voice my desire to become a writer. My teacher encouraged this, giving me the tools to do so, whether or not I realized it. Her biggest piece of advice was “edit, edit, edit…. and when you think you are done, edit again.”
I hate edits. But I do them even though I hate them. I still have one of her notes about how I have great potential, but that I needed to follow through with editing. It’s tucked away in a box with my English portfolio from high school and the poetry I wrote then. So just when I think I have something beautifully written, I try to go back and look through it again. I may tweak it. I may just fix the punctuation. I may leave it alone, but I look at it again.
Even my blog posts get done and redone. But of course, the adage states that one does their best editing after they hit “publish”…. and that often is true even for me. Usually as I skim the published works, I find a mistake I missed. And of course, I fix it.
A college professor, an awesome woman who taught my creative writing class, taught me to read everything I write out loud. The flow of the words seems to work better when it is heard, not just mentally, but by the ears. I try to do that as well. My husband will attest that I spend a great deal of time reading my words aloud. He hears bits and pieces of my stories, novels in their entirety, and sometimes even hears some of my blogs as I speak them. I am constantly reading, editing, writing, re-writing, editing again, reading out loud again….. It’s an endless cycle, but he likes that I continue to hone my craft.
I have had other advice over the years, some I have tried to take to heart, others I have tried to ignore…. though as I have stated before in other posts, I overthink and let some criticisms stay with me sometimes longer than I’d like to. But I do my best, no matter what.
I write what I know. I write what I imagine. I write what pops into my head. I rewrite old mythologies into stories that are contemporary. Occasionally, I publish what I write. Often, I just keep it saved on my computer and let it stay there. Rarely, I trash it.
I still think writing is pretty awesome and I like it a lot. But I also have come to enjoy the sophistication of the written word as it is published. I edit as often as I can and reread my works many, many times to make sure the writing flows the way I want it to. And sometimes, I don’t make up a title until the very end of my writing.
Or, purposely, leave it blank…. as the case may be.
I’ll leave you with just one piece of writing advice. Just write your own story and keep writing your own story. It’s what I continue to strive to do.
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