Sunday, April 17

A first novel: Advice

In the many years since I first decided that I wanted to be a writer, I have received a great deal of advice. I attended the Young Authors Conference three times in middle school. In my first summer at MITY I took Jack Kreitzer's Polishing and Publishing class. I took two fiction writing classes in my last years at Gonzaga. From all of those hours of lecture and study there is not a single distinct piece of advice that remains with me. This may be clear in the rather slapdash way I have approached my novel thus far.

The only advice I remember came from a form letter from K.A. Applegate sent in response to what must have been an extensive piece of praise for Animorphs that I wrote when I was 10 or 11. The advice was simple: write every day. It doesn't matter whether it's a novel, a journal entry meant only for yourself or a letter to an author who will never personally read and respond to it. Just write. It's solid advice that I have only managed during limited stretches.

Despite this poor history with advice, I felt the compulsion this past month to read some. Perhaps it's that I'm nearing the completion of a first draft. I want to be reassured that I have been on the right path and that I won't have to throw more than a hundred pages of writing and a few hundred hours worth of work out.

Whatever the case, I think one can advise much worse than the following.

Before writing can begin, there needs to be an idea and the conviction that the idea is good and worthwhile. Austin Kleon's "How To Steal Like An Artist (And 9 Other Things Nobody Told Me)" (suggested by Emmett) does this. Read, watch, listen. Find the best of everything. Learn from and adapt it. Don't wait to create. And, perhaps the best of his advice, write what you like.

The first third may be a memoir, and the final third as well, but the middle portion of Stephen King's On Writing has some solid advice on the mechanics of writing. Write two thousand words every single day. Never lose track of what the story is about. Follow the grammar and technique rules made by Strunk and White. Avoid using too many adverbs. Be prepared for a lot of rejection.

Then, for the necessary dose of humility, there is Jessa Crispin's "A Sea of Words." Being a graduate of an MFA program guarantees nothing. Modern communication technologies mean that anyone can be a published writer and that rising above the tumult requires so much more than skill alone.

Crispin's article was inspired by the editor's request that she base her next piece on writer's manuals, "the poor-man's MFA" as she calls them. With a will to write, honest friends willing to read your drafts and these three works, you can probably do better than most of those guides and still save yourself a few thousand dollars on tuition.

Single-spaced pages with one-inch margins? One-hundred and twelve.
Words? Eighty-four thousand and eleven.
Named characters? Forty-five.

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