How to Up Your Writing Game, or…

Rebecca T Dickson…or we could go with the alternate title: “I don’t give a flying fuck about third limited tense, and neither should you. Simplify, silly!”

Today’s post is a guest blog by Rebecca T. Dickson, a broad I’ve been trying to get up in this joint for quite some time. If I were to list the writers I regularly read for pleasure on the interwebz, Becky’s at the top of the list every damn time. When she asked what I wanted her to write about, I told her to write about what she knows best. So today, we broach upping your writing game. We all get stuck and wonder how to get out of the writing rut we’re in and get to the next phase — Rebecca’s delivering that in spades here today. And if you find that you love Rebecca’s raw and honest writing style as much as I do, she’s also a writing coach. She works one-on-one with writers who want to learn how to dig deep in her 4-week intensive course, Write Raw, hailed as the course that will change your life as a writer. In addition, she hosts a weekly writing prompt, called Just Write, designed to kick writers in the ass, remove obstacles and set your writing mind free. You can find all that and more at RebeccaTDickson.com and connect with her online via the links below.

Twitter – http://www.twitter.com/RebeccaTDickson

Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/RebeccaTDickson

Linkedin: www.linkedin.com/pub/rebecca-tsaros-dickson/27/9b6/960

Tumblr: http://thinkingtoohard13.tumblr.com/

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You see it in almost every tweet, blog and facebook post: Flashy headlines that portend to have all the answers to improve writers’ work.

“Increase your readership by changing POV in your novel.”

“Add flavor to your writing with idioms.”

“How to use third limited tense to blah, blah, blah… ”

I refer to these as flashing neon signs that announce: “Meaningless jargon spoken here.”

They bug me. And they should bug you, too.

First, if you’re new to writing, chances are slim you’re going to inherently understand POV (point of view), third limited tense, idioms, or any other writer lingo. And, quite frankly, unless you’re working on your MFA, you don’t need to. Second, and more importantly, even established writers with long and varied histories know there is NO wrong in writing.

To be clear, writing isn’t easy. The best of us have trouble starting, organizing, building transitions. That’s part of the process. It’s also all the more reason to simplify the language you use when encouraging a particular mechanism or way of improving writing. The harm in headlines and articles like those mentioned above is that they further complicate what is already scary to the new or struggling writer.

They also don’t help the established writer very much.

If I’m surfing the interwebs for inspiration, I’m not going to jump on the article about denouement or euphemisms. I want something to that’s going to spark my creativity. I want something that gives me permission to say what I need to say.

I’ve spent my entire writing life talking about how to simplify our craft. How to let go and be you on the page. Don’t think. Just write. Pick up your goddamn pen and scratch the itch floating around in that gorgeous mind of yours. That is what helps build creative muscle and uncover hidden gems. It’s what makes a good writer great.

The fact is we’re all a little too well-rehearsed in self-criticism. We need to be much more permissive and free with our writing voice in order to succeed. We need to put aside editing until we have more quality sentences than we can use. And we need to encourage the same writing habits in others. This type of expression inspires us all to be a bit bolder with our words. A bit braver in our descriptions. A bit more us on the page.

As for the headlines I mentioned at the start:

 

“Increase your readership by changing POV in your novel.”

POV means point of view. The so-called industry standard calls for writers to use third-person. I use first person because I like action. Sue me.

 

“How to use third limited tense to blah, blah, blah…”

Most writers use third limited tense to narrate. Helpful information if you’re familiar with the jargon. Otherwise, just another thing you need to google. How about we just say: “Here’s an article on how to narrate more effectively.”

 

“Add flavor to your writing with idioms.”

Awesome. If you know what an idiom is, and not to use them often. What it means is add some humor this way, or help readers understand a concept.

Why complicate things?

Uncork something. Say yes to your voice.

If we’re going to make sensational headlines, let’s make one that actually does what it says it’s going to do: Here are four things you can do NOW to get your writing unblocked and the words flowing (regardless of your understanding of third limited tense).

  • Just write. Write what pops into your head. No hedging. No second-guessing. Absolutely no editing. Write song lyrics or spell your name backward if you have to.
  • Brainstorm around one phrase or even one word. “Her lips are soft.” Why? What do they look like? Soft like powdered snow? Soft like a down comforter? What color are they? Are they thin or full? Fill a page about those lips with all manner of adjectives or phrases to describe them. Later, you can choose what you actually use in your work.
  • Break it down. Try to avoid thinking in terms of word count, chapter breaks, pages, etc. You will quickly overwhelm yourself. Decide which section of the overall manuscript you want to work on then concentrate only on that piece. At the top of a blank page, write one sentence that sums up the section. As you write underneath it, that sentence will remind you to only think about and write about that.
  • Be as specific as you can. Good writing is detailed. Those details bring readers into the story so deep, they get lost. As writers, we love this. If a man is standing at the door on page one, I want to know what kind of door, what color, what the doorknob looks like, if it creaks, how big it is, which way it swings open, and how often that door is used. Will you use every piece of that detail in your final manuscript? It doesn’t matter. Until you know the story, you cannot tell the story.

 

17 comments
Jen
Jen

I agree. I think we make so many things too difficult. Plus, writing is like anything else. The more you do it, the easier it comes. There will always be times when even the most prolific writers feel blocked but if you're getting something out consistently I find it's not quite so hard.

D.T. Pennington
D.T. Pennington

I've been a proponent of "Just write" for years. Even if it's not on the topic I should be addressing. I think some of my best stuff has come out of the weird, tangential stories that came from when I was supposed to be writing copy for a fried-chicken restaurant. Good stuff, I'll keep keeping an eye on you, Rebecca.

Rick Copper
Rick Copper

Great guest article. As a writer, I wholeheartedly agree with your "just write,' although I usually say to my friends "shut the fuck up and write."

Amanda Johnson
Amanda Johnson

Hmm. Interesting. I stopped using grammatical slants in writing a long time ago, but use POV not at all that way, but as a way to insist I land on my own point of view. Har. So, I've replaced "voice" with POV. What direction have I pivoted myself into, and how can I get someone to get over here and look in that direction with me? Ah well. It is all perspective...:)

Mike Masin
Mike Masin

Thanks Rebecca! I tried to write an articulate comment but I'm so jacked-up about sounding like a literate writer that I gave up. (Good points! I'm going to engrave your "Just write" bullet on the back of my hands for when I'm watching them sit lifelessly on my keyboard.)

Laura Howard
Laura Howard

For me, chapters and word count have been so burned into my noggin, that it's an exercise in itself to break away from that. The new world of fiction has no rules, just write!

Bryce Katz
Bryce Katz

Love it! I'm printing this to share with Experiment #2. She's 12, and surprised the hell out of me over the weekend with an opening to a story she'd been cooking up.

Rebecca T Dickson
Rebecca T Dickson

I don't know. That comment looks pretty articulate. Any time you need inspiration, stop by my site.