Before I wrote for magazines, I wrote novels, and nope, you can’t buy one. They didn’t sell. I have the prerequisite three bad books in my desk drawer. Perhaps, one day, I’ll write another once the publishing industry calms down, but maybe not. I like writing online for Fiskars and Lowe’s and for magazines like Oklahoma Gardener, and I’m grateful I have a steady paycheck. (Thanks Patsy Bell for your words of encouragement years ago).
Still, what I learned in the School of Journalism at Oklahoma University, holds true no matter whom I write for, nor the subject. As I worked today on a complicated garden article on color, several writing tips came to mind, and I thought I’d share them with you.
Gardeners and gluten free eaters, if you’re bored, please come back later, and I’ll have something for you. I Promise.
- Know that for which you stand. This caveat holds firm whether we’re discussing faith, social media, writing, or just plain living. Be kind to others. Walk with a grateful heart.
- Write regularly and write often. I write every single day. There was a time when I didn’t, but once I did, my writing became better. If I’m not writing, I’m conversing with my audience and support group online. That’s where social media come into play, but I do my work first.
- Have a place to write. Mine is in the kitchen. Before, it was on a small table in my bedroom, but after we remodeled, I built a desk into the kitchen which I designed with cubbyholes to hold my reference books and muses. Yes, I do most reference like spellcheck and definitions online, but occasionally I still pick up the thesaurus from my high school journalism teacher, Mrs. Liz Burdette and thumb through for inspiration. My muse board is on the wall to my left. I have pictures of friends, the Holy Father (because I like him, and he reminds me of who I am), places I want to travel and a writing, fairy muse Curtiss Ann gave me. I also have a large calendar on the wall because I like the pretty pictures. A basket of seed packets sits on the desk where I can see them. In other words, my writing space is my haven.
- Know your subject. This is also sometimes written as write what you know, but I’ve written lots of articles assigned to me because I am a good researcher. After going to OU, I graduated during a recession, and I couldn’t find a job in my field, so I went to school and became a legal assistant. Everything I’ve done in my life has led me to something greater. Nothing is wasted. However, don’t overdo the research. It can be a fast track to procrastination and Resistance (as defined by Steven Pressfield in The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles.)
- Be true to yourself. No matter the topic you’re writing, frame it so that your voice comes through (see #1 above) and don’t plagiarize. People who do suck, and our profession has enough bad actors to keep people from believing what we write. Remember A Million Little Pieces, by James Frey?
- Don’t preach. Let the story or article evolve into completion, and even if you have a strong opinion on the subject, try show instead of tell. If you’re wondering what I mean, think of the Green Movement in horticulture. People want you to live your “religion,” not hit them over the head with it. Okay, enough preaching.
- When you get stuck, do something else. With my desk in the kitchen, I often get up and sweep the floor. I have the cleanest floor in Oklahoma. No, I’m kidding. I also get up and take a short walk of ten minutes unless I’ve finished my draft or pages for the day, then I take a longer walk or a bike ride.
- Give yourself a hard deadline. When I wrote novels, it was twenty pages a day. I stayed and wrote until I got the pages. Now, it’s a rough draft. Once it’s finished, I step away and do something nice for myself.
- Writing is hard work. Surround yourself with things you love which affirm you and set the mood. For me, this is hot tea, sometimes a candle lit nearby (I like fire), and dark, dairy free chocolate. I used to have jelly beans, but I now only pull those out if the situation is dire. Sugar is not my friend.
- Be kind to yourself. All creative people I know are their worst critics. Again, writing is hard. If you’re doing the work, be kind. Every time you hear that evil voice say, “You’re lousy at this. You can’t write,” etc., ignore it. It’s not what’s real.
- Don’t reread the first draft. Immediately reading over the words I’d written was one of the best ways to sabotage myself. I would correct and change until all my time was gone, and I’d only written a couple of paragraphs.
- Find a support group. Don’t confuse this with a writing group however. Some writing groups are good and offer great support including a kick in the pants when you need it, but others aren’t worth taking away from your writing time. When I consider joining a writing group, I keep thinking about what Sue Grafton told me when we met. She said she wrote alone and only her husband read her first draft. She had supportive writing friends, but was not part of a writing group. I was shocked. She also held my hand, looked me in the eye, and asked, “So, you’re a writer. Are you brave?” She was and is my favorite mainstream author, and her words shook me to my core. Sue, if you ever read this, I can now answer with a firm, “Yes.”
- Be brave, but don’t be foolish. Listen to those who know more than you. Be respectful of writing royalty who specialize in your genre. Ask questions. Most writers are very nice people and want to help, but don’t write to be famous. Write because you must; because you love the swirl and twirl of words. Write, because if you don’t, a little part of you dies.
- Dream big. Why not? There is never a good reason to dream small. Although I don’t buy into all that Universe gives you what you ask for stuff, I do believe God knows us intimately. He knows our dreams and yearnings, and he wants us to have what is good for us, so dream big!
My dreams? Well, one is to write a gardening book one day, and I will.
I hope these ideas help anyone who is earnestly trying to write and finding it tough going. For those of you doing the work, I’d love to hear your tips too.