Thursday, September 27, 2007

Some Final Thoughts Before You Begin Writing

Okay. We've covered coming up with a theme you care about, exploring possible storylines from that theme, figuring out the characters you'll need to tell your story, and organizing the plot of your story from beginning to end.

Wow. I'm impressed. Of course I impress easily.

This final blog entry on the subject is just going to cover some odds and ends. I can't guarantee I'm going to remember them all, but I'll give it my best shot.

1. First Or Third Person

I always find first person easier, since it eliminates a layer between the character and the reader, and allows me to let the main character take over my brain. But there can be valid reasons why third person is the way to go. So try both voices before writing, and see which one will work best.

2. Naming Your Characters

Social Security has this nifty place where they list most popular baby names way back into the 19th century. I use it all the time, to get a feel for what names were being used at the time my characters were born. It's proven very handy. When my editor objected to Jonny's name in Life As We Knew It, I was able to tell her it was one of the hundred most popular names for baby boys in 1991 or thereabouts. She was awestruck by the breadth of my knowledge.

You can always choose to name your heroine Hortense, of course. Miranda is named Miranda, even though no one has named their daughter Miranda in quite a long time.

3. Dialogue

Trust your ear. If you have any doubts, read the line of dialogue out loud. Don't use slang if you can avoid it. Slang dates immediately. Also try not to mention too much technology. Miranda didn't own an Ipod because I have no faith anyone will five years from now.

4. Finding The Time To Do The Writing

Take a week when you have nothing too complicated scheduled. Every night, Monday through Friday, find a half an hour that you would otherwise spend on entertainment, be it reading, or TV, or internet. Write each day during that half hour.

On Friday, see how much you've written, five pages, or eight, or twelve. Divide that number by five. Then the following week, each day, Monday through Friday, write that amount of pages, be it one, or two, or one and three quarters.

Never work on weekends. Weekends aren't meant for work, and if you say you'll catch up on Saturday or Sunday, you won't get into the pattern of working Monday through Friday.

If you miss a day every now and again, don't fret about it. Just return to the book the following day (or Monday, if you miss Friday). If you're crazy happy writing and have a little extra time, fine, write a little more. But don't tell yourself that's your new daily amount.

One of the great things about kids books is they're short. Let's say your story is going to take 200 pages. At 2 pages a day, 10 pages a week, you can start your book November 5 and finish by mid April, with days off to celebrate Thanksgiving, Christmas, and my birthday.

Fast and steady wins the race.

Now onto the two remaining lessons I was taught. The first came from my agent of many years ago. She noticed that I wrote a great deal that was unsellable, and she had advice on how to make me a better writer.

Think Before You Write.

Ponder this. If you think before you write, then you'll know your plot, your characters, and the pacing of your story before you sit down at the computer and begin the actual writing. You won't get one third the way through and decide that the story isn't going the way you'd planned. You won't get stuck, or blocked, or any of those other nasty conditions.

Before I ever start writing, I know the beginning and end of my book, and much of my middle. Yes, occasionally there are surprises, and certainly I add things that I hadn't originally anticipated. Otherwise it would be way too boring. But I'm confident in the direction of my book. I think about it every chance I get, so I know what my next day's work will be. And because I'm not worried, the writing is fast and fun. Which is my ideal way of working.

The final lesson I was taught is more a life lesson than a writing one, but every time I haven't followed it, I've gotten in trouble, so it's worth the bolding:

Don't Buy The Mink Coat Until After You've Cashed The Check.

Don't worry. Mink Coat is just a metaphor. But the nature of being a self-employed freelance children's book writer is that there are things I just know are going to happen, and then they don't. So it's always wise not to live your life on promises and assurances. Cash the check first.

Okay. You now know everything I know about writing and being a writer. Unfortunately, that's pretty much all I know about everything, except Henry the Eighth and his family, Warner Bros. movies up until 1950, and figure skating.

I guess my future blog entries are going to be very very short.

Well, you can hope!


April said...

I am going to have to read your other posts on the subject, but I thank you for this one! As a very new writer, I found this immensily(I never claimed to be a good speller, just a writer!) helpful

Erin said...

Thank you so much for your posts on writing! They have helped me SO MUCH.

Unknown said...

Keep it up Susan :). I'm enjoying reading your posts. It has a lot more meaning coming from someone that actually knows what they are talking about :)

Anonymous said...

What is the website with the names on it? Is it American?