Advice is a stranger; if he’s welcome he stays for the night; if not, he leaves the same day. ~Malagasy Proverb
It’s surprising since I published my Bullets book how many people have been asking me for advice on how to write.
As if I know anything.
But in an attempt to look like I do know something I’ve come up with a few sound words of advice. Things that I have learned since I joined up with two awesome ladies, Heather Leighton Dickson and Jean E. Pendziwol, who have taught me everything I know.
First thing: Read. Yep good writers need to read good writing. So go off to your favourite book store and buy books in the genre that you’re writing. But not just any books. Ask a bookstore employee what good quality books they recommend and then buy at least five of them. Then read them, pen in hand, and underline, circle, write comments in the margins, and dog ear all of those important pages, taking note of how certain scenes are played out, how description is handled, how dialogue is controlled. You get the picture.
Then read the book again. The first time you’re reading you’ll be more apt - if the book is truly a great one - to turn the pages a little too quickly and you won’t be paying attention to how the author got your attention in the first place. It deserves a second read through and you’ll gain so much more the second time around. It’s sort of like learning by osmosis. You kind of just soak it in. You may not be able to say specifically what makes good writing but you’ll know it when you see it in your own. And you’ll know it when you don’t and you’ll go about changing it. And that shows great maturity in a writer.
Second, recognize and embrace these wise words: There is no such thing as writing, only rewriting and more rewriting. I remember when Jean E. Pendziwol told me this. I shuddered. Wasn’t my writing good enough already? I had, after all, gone through my book a second time. Wasn’t that enough? Apparently not. As it turned out, as I worked with Jeannie and other editors I learned so much more and my story blossomed because of it. I watched my characters come to life, their conversations became more animated and my scenes played out before me like a movie. It had taken on a whole new level. It was a huge learning curve for me and it took time, but it was worth it.
And that about sums it up. I know there’s so much more to learn but perhaps these little nutshells of wisdom will get you started on the right path. Good luck and happy writing!
Inspiration for stories can come from the strangest places. For me, the idea for Bullets came one day while I was waiting in line at the Superstore.
I had just returned from Bangladesh and still had the images of this developing country in my mind when I had to stop and pick up a few groceries on my way home.
It was rather a surreal experience: being in the midst of plenty when just 24 hours before I had watched a group of children, shirtless and shoeless, rummage through a garbage bin.
So when I stood in line, waiting my turn, it came as no surprise that I was a little irked when the lady behind me started to complain about the long line up.
“Oh,” I said, “this is nothing. You should see the line up in Sudan right now.” I figured it would get the point home. Sudan: war torn country, thousands of refugees fleeing for their lives, starving children carried in their mothers’ arms, waiting for a meagre handout of rice.
But it didn’t. The woman glared at me and blurted, “Well, I pay taxes here, you know!”
It was obvious this woman was not going to get it. No matter what I said to her.So rather than risking a full out heated argument I stuck my hands in my pocket and found a remote control that somehow magically appeared next to my car keys. I didn’t pull it out. I simply pressed the send button and off the woman went. To Sudan. And I pictured her, sweat dripping off her brow, clutching her empty stomach, looking ahead at the thousands of people, in that same long, long line.
I know this makes me look like I’m some crazed deranged old lady but it was my imagination and my own little coping mechanism.
And that is where I got the idea of sending two North American boys away to a place where their first world values would clash with the third world’s struggles.
I still keep a remote control in my pocket. And although it’s invisible and no one knows it’s there, I have sent many people to many different places. I’ve sent kids who complain about going to school off to Afghanistan and people who want to stick it to their boss, to a sweatshop or two. And I’ve sent myself off to a few places when I forget how blessed I am.
I suppose it’s a weird way to be inspired for a story but it did the trick. And I have a long line up at a grocery store and one nasty woman to thank for it.
Something to think about for the new year. Carry it with you. Hold onto it tightly and don’t let it go.
My journey as an author, giving voice to child soldiers.