Ever been to one of those pricey writer’s workshops held in the mountains, or the prairies or the oceans, white with some sort of foaming ick? You’ll hear bestselling authors giving out all sorts of advice on how to write goodly, but they always end the same way. “Write what you know. Thanks for coming. My books are on sale in the back. Please don’t touch me.”
In other words (which always cost extra) if you know beets, write about the beet generation. If you know irritable bowel syndrome, write about sigmoidoscopies. If you know nothing (my own hard-earned expertise), write about politics.
The other side of the coin (the one with North Dakota on it) says never write about what you don’t know — manners, for example, or how ice cubes work or how to tell when a presidential candidate has gone into the woods to live with the squirrels.
There are exceptions. Let’s say you’ve never been to Spain but you kinda like the music. You know, the ladies are insane there and they sure know how to use it. However, they don’t abuse it and a lot of people say they’re never gonna lose it. You almost can’t refuse it.*
Some of the best writing tips begin with don’t, the most important being “Don’t write in invisible ink.” A better example: “Don’t try to write like Nabokov, especially if you’ve never heard of him.”
Speaking of the Nabster, resist giving your characters identical first and last names as Nabokov did with Humbert Humbert. But do give your characters a last name, as Nabokov didn’t do with Lolita. Um, Lolita who? Yes, good question. Why not Needleman? Or Picklehaub? Or Babalu? But certainly not Lolita, because then you’d have Humbert Humbert and Lolita Lolita.
Some writing advice is painfully blunt. A big-time author once told me “You write like the wind.” Before I could beam or glow in the dark, he added “You know what the wind does when it writes? It blows.”
But people still ask how I keep getting to The New York Times best-seller list. My formula is foolproof. Every Sunday I fire up the Honda and drive to the local Teeny Mart. I buy a donut and The Times and check out the bestseller list. If, as usual, my name is missing, I lodge a stern complaint with the kid rearranging the donuts. I warn him I’ll be back next week to check. He licks his fingers as if to say “I hear you, dude.”
Anyway, herewith my Windless Rules of Writing.
1. Use words, preferably those you can spell. Keep numbers to a minimum.
2. Don’t use emoticons. Just don’t.
3. Set a particular time each day to write and then do everything in your power to avoid writing at that time.
4. Don’t use gassive voice.
5. When you’ve written yourself into a corner and don’t know where the plot is going, type “The End.” Trust me on this.
6. Never use the words indubitably, abstemious, gas-chromatograph-mass-spectrometer, or propinquity. Leave those to the poets.
7. Use good ideas. If you have none, use bad ideas. If you have none, ask Siri. If Siri has none use the Moby Dick idea but change the whale’s name to Moby Jim DeAngelo, Jr.
8. No matter what kind of story you’re writing, work in the line “Make mine a marmalade.”
9. Ask a friend to read your story and give you an honest opinion. Slip him fifty bucks to lie convincingly.
10. Tell people you’re writing a novel. Ask them for the $28.95 cover price up front. Tell them you’ll send a copy when it’s done. Trust me on this.
*If they tell you you were born in Oklahoma but you really don’t remember, what does it matter? I say again, what does it matter? Besides, it can get so cold in Oklahoma you need at least three dogs on the bed at night. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dm6qw_yeo6o
©Patrick A. McGuire and A Hint of Light 2013-2016, all rights reserved.
Gassive voice. How fabulous. It is used so often.
And without a whiff of apology.
Pat – Congratulations. If my math is correct, A Hint of Light has been served up 215 times. The Iowa School Writing with a Typewriter, (which doesn’t seem fair), recognizes 215 as a Serialized Tome!!! Or is it Cerealized? Thanks for the smiles, laughs and head scratches.
Many thanks. Of course I treasure the smiles and the laughs, but it’s the head scratching that makes me cackle in the middle of the night when life’s wild things keep me awake.
I like the idea of writing.
Well, I’m back…I finished my ancestry book and guess who was my online editor….changing subjects….while I was behind the wall (in the convent, don’t tell anyone), our letters home were screened. Every word was suspicious that a code was in place….after I leapt over the wall, that way of reptilian thinking pops out sometimes….so rearranging the donuts and small boners, besides making me lol, make me very suspicious of where you are going……but then I remember our parochial schooling and realize the purity of your intentions……..I think I’ve overstayed my welcome back……😎