3 Tips to Make Your Writing Stronger

This week’s 3 Things… theme is 3 Things I wish I’d known then. Here are three pieces of advice on writing I wish I had understood as a wee moppet with 12 point Courier twinkling in my eyes.

Cutting is Not Losing. You write your novel. You print it, read it, and realize something doesn’t work. An entire subplot doesn’t work. Maybe 10,000 whole words don’t work.

I used to cling to those smelly scenes, unable to “waste” my work by such merciless cutting. But here’s the thing:  Serious cutting doesn’t make your work disappear. Every word you write is a step in the right direction. Every word you write makes you a better writer. Being able to see that something doesn’t work just means you’re a better writer now than you were when you first wrote that storyline. Cutting 10,000 words that don’t work isn’t a loss. It’s a gain.

Take Tiny Bites. Writing a novel, revising a novel, these are huge projects. They can be overwhelming. And when you have a lot of work on your plate, it can send you into a tailspin.

I used to let the sheer enormity of my own ambition overwhelm me, sending me straight into writer’s-block-land. But I have found if I tighten the scope of what I need to do on any given day, my project becomes much less intimidating. Don’t worry about the next 50,000 words. Only worry about the next scene. One scene a day. Start with that, and you’ll find yourself doing more.

Don’t Use The First Idea. This advice came to me from the incomparable Jim Sallis. Once I really understood it, it became one of the most valuable pieces of writing advice I have ever received. Our first impulse is often generic. So don’t use it. I’m not talking about those brilliant-gut flashes you get, I’m talking about everyday writing-work.

Here’s an example:

One of the characters in my current work in progress is a servant. She was caught doing something wrong and was to be punished by her master. I thought I would have her whipped. Because when I did something very wrong as a child I would get a spanking.

I started to write the scene. As I wrote I realized a whipping would be boring. Everyday. So I stopped. I thought about my setting (a bedroom), thought about the disciplinarian (a power-hungry sadist), and I thought about my servant and what would hurt her the most. What I wrote instead of the whipping surprised me. It wasn’t obvious. It made me sick to my stomach afterward.

And every time I read that scene now, I get chills.

So what about you? What do you know now as a writer that you wish you’d known then? I’d love to hear it.

Tomorrow’s Guest Spot Tuesday at the PLC: an interview with Alan DeNiro, author of Total Oblivion, More or Less and Skinny Dipping in the Lake of the Dead.