How to write what you know (even when you don’t know)

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It’s as ubiquitous as “Show, don’t tell.” You probably can’t even remember the first time you heard it, it’s touted so widely – in advice books, in classrooms, in movies about writers. Even the most non-writiest nonwriter who hasn’t held a pen since high school knows to write what we know.

But what does that actually mean?

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Tips on writing REAL real good! (Repost)

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Okay, writers. Grab your electrolytes-infused sports drink, because we’re about to karate chop some GREATNESS into your manuscript! Right now your “story” may feel more like a BORE-y, am I right? But with these ten simple tips, your book can become the belle of the bookshop, guaranteed.

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How to frustrate a writer: “Where’s the hook?”

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Writers talk a lot about hooks-the thing in a story’s opening that grabs the reader and makes them want to continue. It’s a popular question among writing groups when critiquing a first page or scene: “Where’s the hook?”

This can be… frustrating.

The problem is that critiquers often don’t treat the term like the broad, vague thing that it is, which makes their critiques broad, vague, and unhelpful. First I’m going to explain how hooks are subjective, and then how to make your critique more beneficial to the writer.

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To plot or to pants

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Writers LOVE this question: are you a plotter or a pantser? They talk about it all the time. They talk about it more than they actually write! 😉

In case you don’t know, this question is in regards to how you go about creating your novel. Do you form the whole plot ahead of time, following an outline of pre-planned scenes from beginning to end? (That is, do you “plot?”) Or do you wing it, forging onward with maybe a loose idea of where to go but mostly improvising the journey? (That is, do you “write by the seat of your pants?” Shortened to “pantsing.”)

That great term “pantsing” has become pretty normalized among writers, but to the first-time hearer it’s probably not intuitive. The casual eavesdropper probably thinks “pantsers” just go around pulling down trousers. Fortunately that is not the case!

(Well, maybe some do. We’re a weird bunch.)

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NaNoThankYou

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On this day, December 1st, thousands of writers across the globe are mopping their brows, nursing their keyboard-burnt fingers, and collapsing into piles of first draft pages. That’s right – NaNoWriMo is complete. Three cheers to all those who faced the challenge!

For those who don’t know, NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month, and the goal is to write as close to 50,000 words as you can between November 1st and 30th.

I personally didn’t participate, but I got asked a lot if I was, so I thought I’d write a post explaining why. This isn’t to knock the NaNo’ers, just to provide my own perspective.

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Literary classism

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One time I wrote a piece inspired by David Foster Wallace. It was unconventional, not really a narrative, hard to classify. I didn’t think it was genius or anything, but I enjoyed it. I got some scathing criticism from an individual who focused very much on the rules it was breaking. When I mentioned that I was learning from DFW’s example, the critiquer said, “Yeah, well, you’re not DFW.”

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More rules you can occasionally break

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Last week I talked about how you don’t have to write every day, and before that, how you can write slow if you want. Let’s rebel against some more rules! (Occasionally.)

Eugh… “Rules.” Just the word makes me think of similarly off-putting things, like peas or gym class or t-shirt armpits yellowed by old sweat stains. I prefer the more pleasing word “guidelines.” Ahh, that’s better – like a cheerful garden path leading you towards better writing. Or that wise old word “advice,” with its wizard beard and smell of vintage paper. And let’s not forget that perky lil word, “tips!”

Rules are smart, but no rule/guideline/advice/tip is an ironclad absolute.

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You really DON’T have to write every day.

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Two weeks ago I discussed writing slow,  a process often touted against but which I believe has merit. I decided to continue that theme with a post about other rules you can safely ignore.

There are important rules in writing, of course. Lots of rules are well-founded and should definitely be followed. What I don’t support is the attitude some authors have about these Rules with Capital R’s, the ones they shout from their desk with a zealously pointed index finger. “YOU. BAD AUTHOR. YOU’RE DOING IT WRONG.”

Let’s start with the one I see pushed most aggressively: Write every day.

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I write slow, and I’m okay with that

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I’m a slow writer. I’m so slow that I actually forced a 30-minute time limit on this entry because otherwise I’d take too much time away from my other projects, musingly tapping my pencil on my chin for ages. Actually I’m typing this on my laptop, but the pencil thing was a nice visual effect, yeah? If I actually hand-wrote these things it’d be take me double-ages. Triple-ages! But I’m getting off track.

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Writing groups: the good, the bad, and the… okay there’s no third thing.

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Last week I wrote about critiques, which I get a lot of as I’m part of two in-person critique groups. And MOST of the time? I love them! Occasionally, not so much. For fun I decided to do a pros and cons list of writing groups.

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