Ten Things Not Meant to Teach Writing That Have Made Me Better At It

On the Tenners we do a Top Ten every Monday.  This was going to be mine, but I came up with something different and since I'd already written most of it, I figured why let it go to waste?  So here it is.   trashcanMy Top Ten: Things Not Meant to Teach Writing That Have Made Me Better At It

1. Kids - Before kids, I wrote when the mood struck, which wasn't that often.  Now, I grab every second I can.  Five minutes where no one is asking for a spoon or help with the potty or what this big knob on the stove does is a near miracle.  Time to do the things we "mean to" is precious and limited...kids made that concept tangible for me.


CB0072732.  Agents - mine, of course, but also the others along the way who rejected, but offered suggestions like "make this line, buried on page 4, your opener" or "read Story by Robert McGee - you have scenes that do nothing, learn to fix them".  Most especially, the invaluable blogs:  Nathan Bransford, Miss Snark, Kristin Nelson, Rachel Vater, Jonathan LyonsKate Schafer Testerman, BookEnds.  Everything I learned about publishing and most of what I know about writing, I owe to literary agents.


wake3.  Wake by Lisa McMann - I read this book in one night, coincidentally right after my editorial letter asking me to speed pacing.  McMann's prose is so spare, but so effective.  I finally got it that unnecesssary detail is, well, unnecessary.  Cutting it doesn't make a book less rounded, it focuses the reader on what matters, what's important to the story.  I thought WAKE was amazing and was shocked to see some of my fave book reviewers disagree.  A second thing I learned: reading really is subjective, a lesson that'll help when I read negative reviews of my book.


42-158713784. Washing Dishes - also: showering, driving, vaccuuming, waiting in line at the DMV.  There is so much time in the day where my body has to do something and my brain is just hanging out.  If they were both always on the same task, I'm sure I'd never put the necessary time into plotting and story layers and character development.


CB0190225. My First Manuscript - in so many ways, but mostly this:  I started my first novel right after I had my first son.  It was a story about...a woman who has her first son.  And it was awful.  The kind of stuff I would never in a million years pick up at a book store.  It taught me that "write what you know" is about emotional honesty rather than factual truth - tapping into your feelings for that new baby and using them to understand how a character might feel about losing someone close to him. 

And while we're talking emotion...

alanjackson6. Remember When - we all have those songs that really get to you:  Hate Me, Vincent, Puff the Magic Dragon (go ahead, laugh) are some of mine.  But Alan Jackson, man, you kill me with this one.  The brevity of life and joy, the need to fit it all in, the authenticity...okay, can you tell it's on now?  I never listen to music while I write, but sometimes just before to find the emotions I need for certain scenes.


iphone2iphone7. My iPhone - oh, how I love thee...you give me somewhere to organize notes, back up to my computer for when I lose you, let me take care of emails and busywork so my sit-down-to-write time is way more efficient. 


kiss8. KISS - No, not those guys.  Keep It Simple, Stupid.  That K.I.S.S.  It works for lots of stuff, but especially dialogue tags.  "Said" instead of "yelped", "scoffed", "replied", "screeched", yadda, yadda makes scenes flow better and saves the ton of time you'd have to spend coming up with all those other verbs.


facebook9. Bill Little - Yep, there he is on Facebook.  My fourth grade nemesis, with his Izod shirts and stupid bowl haircut.  He made me dread school - called me names, made fun of my clothes, my glasses, my haircut (like he should talk!).  Angst I haven't forgotten.  And for a writer, that's good.


10.  I couldn't come up with a good #10, so decided to cut the unnecessary detail.