The best part of a writing community includes more than personal feedback to your work. It's about the resources you might not have discovered on your own.
Even though I publish this blog, I subscribe to other writers and regularly visit several websites for tips and advice. In addition, I receive scheduled emails from established organizations: The New York Times Book Review, Writer's Digest, and Publisher's Weekly.
Each of the latter three groups provides outstanding articles on writing, authors, books, theory and practice. In addition, WD posts writing conference dates from around the US.
Today, I want to share an article I read in PW. This is no plug for an author's new book, and the interview with him that follows is priceless. Not every established writer has something new to say. When this man talks, however, I listen.
Disclaimer, I am madly, deeply in love with Donald Ray Pollock's writing. Here's one reason why.
Accompanied by the best Clint Eastwood look alike photo ever by an author, Pollock shares his favorite five writing tips. Okay, maybe they're not his favorite, but he likes them, they work, and they are easy to try.
We all have our favorite tips, so I won't go into Pollock's five here. You can simply click the link above and read them. I want to talk about Number 2.
2. Type out other people's stuff. That's exactly what it says. Go ahead and check.
There's no great process for me to describe here because you literally do what that title says. Pollock recalls typing up to seventy-five separate short stories over that many weeks. These were stories by other writers (Flannery O-Conner, Amy Hempel, etc.). He notes how doing this brought him closer to these writers' processes, how they transitioned scenes or scored dialogue.
At first, I was like, huh? Then I tried it...
Let me tell you people, this is a great exercise!
I started with my favorite story because I figured, I love this and want to write like this. For the past two weeks, I've been transcribing THE HEART IS A LONELY HUNTER by Carson McCullers. After the first paragraph, I became hyperaware of the punctuation--or lack thereof. She did not use commas how I was taught. I had to get over that.
Once I could ignore stylistic issues, I focussed on the actual writing, the story, character development. Whoa... amazeballs! I could see the two mutes' differences so quickly, and why she drew them the way she did, and how she was letting us know what might be a problem for them in the future of the tale.
I'm not going to transcribe the entire book because I want to explore other writing. Next, I want to write out Stephen King's THE BODY. That's the short story that became the movie, STAND BY ME.
Try this technique and tell us about your experience. Don't choose just any story. Find a writer you admire. Type out the book you want to write. Can you absorb their mystery, their vibe? Trust me, you will learn something.
Pollock says Hunter S. Thompson transcribed THE GREAT GATSBY because "he wanted to see what it felt like to write a great book."
That's my story, what's yours?
As a teacher and mother of grown children (23 and 19), I love summer. Lots of time to catch up on writing projects, but most importantly: tons of lazing in the sunshine reading.
This summer, I managed to devour five delicious stories. Because I write contemporary young adult, I read books from that genre. However, I also gobble up my favorite adult fiction.
If you want to follow my reading rants, check out my Goodreads page, or click this link to reviews I post here.
Now, check out these five writing tips I learned from the books I read this summer.
High Fidelity: find a line or phrase that ties into your story’s theme. Repeat it throughout your novel. Nick Hornby makes lists. He has a Top Five for almost everything in his life. This works really well for the character (a lonely and serial boyfriend record shop owner) and the theme (finding happiness with one thing).
Al Capone Does My Shirts: make your setting do extra work. In this middle grade read, author Gennifer Choldenko uses 1950s Alcatraz as a backdrop to seventh grader Moose’s caged life looking after his autistic older sister. If she had set this story in the city of San Francisco—where some scenes take place—it wouldn’t have worked as well. The island prison says so much metaphorically for Moose and his family.
Misery: every summer needs at least one creepy Stephen King read. Since I never read the book—just saw the film—I decided I could handle the suspense while reading in the bright sunlight on a California beach. There is so much to learn from this man, but in the case of Misery, it’s all about characters. King knows how to make the most repulsive people likable. Annie Wilkes is a monster, but she’s also a tormented woman with a troubled past, a town against her, and a compulsion for sweets after she’s been BAD. If you write mean characters in your stories, give them a quality that makes readers say, “oh, well, yeah she chopped his leg off, but come one, she’s got those cute porcelain statues.”
That Time I Joined the Circus: like High Fidelity, this story has great recurring hooks and phrases that help us feel safe in an unfamiliar world. JJ Howard introduces us to a young girl who meets tragedy and must leave home to find home. She takes her quirks with her, though. Of course. One thing the girl likes is music. She’s always comparing an event to a song she heard. Howard uses the song title and a lyric in her chapter headings. As we journey from circus land to circus land, from New York to Miami, we always feel at home because of the music.
It Should Have Been a #GoodDay: if you are working on a story with multiple POVs, you might check this quick read by Natalie Corbett Sampson. There are four narrators, each taking us through the same day. As the story heats up, we use the varying perspectives to figure out how things might pan out. One of the narrators is an autistic teenager. His voice is stellar. Because we hear the other characters’ thoughts and feelings, we learn a lot about how other kids see those with differences. This is a perfect format to showcase autism and the fears and prejudices we can carry.
What are you reading? If you picked up a great idea for your writing, please share it in the comments below.
That’s my story, what’s yours?