Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Making the journey a little easier

By R.J. Harlick

What three tips would you give to a new writer to help them along their journey?

I like the use of the word ‘journey’, for writing is indeed a journey full of hills and valleys, more unknown than known routes, with the occasional detour, even a blind alley. And though the destination might not always be known, it is eventually reached with some very intriguing stops along the way and lots of adventure.

My first tip to a new writer would be to never look back once the journey has begun. I think too often when new writers start out on this big adventure, they strive for perfection, so they keep looking back. Not liking what they’ve written, they find themselves in what I call the endless editing loop. They never go beyond the first few chapters. So my advice is to not worry about the quality of the writing, but to instead get the story down, by marching forward, a scene at time, a chapter at a time until the end is reached and the first draft is done. Then go back and begin the big task of editing the words into shape.

My second tip is advice I followed when I first started on this journey. I’d reached a blind alley that I couldn’t find a way around. I was stumped. I didn’t know where my story should go next. Then I found a tip in one of the many writing books I was relying on, that suggested I throw something into the story that I hadn’t planned on. So I threw in another body. This forced my heroine Meg to deal with it and so the journey resumed. I still follow this advice whenever I reach an impasse. It also makes the journey more interesting and hence the story.

And my final tip relates to the landscape, the environs through which the journey is travelling. Too often new writers, even seasoned ones, describe the surroundings as if they are watching it from a train window, which can be guaranteed to produce a yawn or two. Instead the characters need to step out of the train and immerse themselves in the setting. They should feel it, listened to it, move in it, breath it in and so on and so forth. Only by having the characters interact with the setting will it become alive in the readers’ mind.

I think this week’s question is a good one. I enjoyed reading Meredith’s tips and can’t wait to read the ones that will follow mine. It’s giving me a chance to learn something new.


Paul D. Marks said...

All good tips, Robin. But I like tip one particularly. I think a lot of people do get bogged down by perfectionism and just need to learn to keep moving ahead and fix it all in later drafts.

Liz Lindsay said...

Very helpful advice Robin, thanks!

Meredith Cole said...

I love your tips, too! And I'm also looking forward to everyone's advice this week. Tip #4 for me: Keep learning as you go.

Susan C Shea said...

Excellent pointers, Robin, practical and essential. It's funny how things we know - like avoiding the self-editing-stuck-in-the-loop have to be relearned sometimes, which makes your post useful for more than beginners (read: me!)

Catriona McPherson said...

Tip 3 - get out of the train - is so timely for me - thank you!

RJ Harlick said...

Thanks, guys. I'm looking forward to your tips too. And so right, all of you, about the continuing to learn journey of writing.