This post was originally published at Novelicious.com and is now at WritingTipsOasis.com. WritingTipsOasis.com acquired Novelicious.com in June 2022.
Pamela Erens' debut novel, The Understory, will be reissued by Tin House Books in April and today she has stopped by to share her top five writing tips.
1. Imitate, imitate, imitate. The key to successful writing is a compelling and convincing narrative voice, whether in third person or first person. And the best way to learn how to create one is to copy how other writers, the really good ones, have done it. Sit with a paragraph, or a page, or at most two pages, of an author you admire and analyze exactly how the voice works. Is it playful, strict, somber, pompous, hyperactive, melancholy? What is this voice able – or not able – to talk about? Then write a paragraph or a page extremely closely modeled on the original. This is pretty much how I learned to write fiction. Some might ask: What is the point of copying another writer? Don’t we want to be original, to offer what we alone can offer? I would answer that you can’t really fashion your own unique voice until you’ve experimented with a panoply of others.
2. Write every day. It can be one hour, half an hour, ten minutes; it doesn’t matter. Simply setting aside even a brief amount of time in which you reconnect with your work in progress, and shut out the voices of the world to concentrate on the voices on the page, establishes an invaluable momentum. Each day that I write, even a little, makes sitting down to work the next day easier. And each day I skip makes procrastination or self-doubt (“I just can’t do this!”) on the morrow more likely. Yes, life intervenes at times. There are family visits, illnesses, work crises. When they’re over, get back in the saddle and write every day.3. Read constantly. Read anything you’re genuinely interested in. It can be comic books, catalogues, the lives of obscure saints, accounts of why the economy is so screwed up. As long as it engages and / or entertains you, your reading will likely find its way into your writing, as a style or mood or subject matter. What we enjoy usually composts into the best (most vivid and alive) parts of our writing.
4. Find a community. My life as an author changed immeasurably in 2006, when another writer introduced me to an online writing community called Zoetrope Virtual Studios. The site was (and is) full of people passionate about writing and reading and honing their craft. Until that point, I had a very small group of writing friends who were more or less at the same stage of development as I was. Now I started to meet writers who had published a good deal more than I had, who regularly submitted their work and attended conferences and retreats, who were absolutely committed to their calling. It raised the bar for me. Slowly I gravitated toward those whose work I genuinely admired and who were nice and generous people to boot. When my first publisher looked like it might go under before my novel came out (fortunately, it didn’t), when my second novel at first failed to sell, these friends were there for me, sharing their own stories of difficulty and bucking me up. I hope I’ve been able to do the same in turn for others. When you have a community of writers, the good times are more celebratory and the bad times are less bad.
5. Think long term. VERY long term. Most authors undergo a lengthy apprenticeship. I was forty-four when my first novel was published. Rejection is the norm (and continues to be even after you sell that book or get that fellowship or whatever). Be incredibly patient with yourself and work at developing your strengths and addressing your weaknesses. In many ways, now is a great time to be a writer. The number of writing programs, online and in-person classes, and writing-related blogs and websites out there is simply astonishing. It’s a heaping platter just waiting for you to partake. Write. Improve. Submit. Get rejected. Get rejected some more. Keep writing. Just keep writing.