Saturday, June 26, 2010

Advice for the Budding Novelist

My step-daughter (the vampire obsessed one) recently told me she’s writing a novel. When she was brave enough to have me read what she’d written so far, I started thinking about the best advice I could give her. I’m still in the process of perfecting the craft – and always will be – but I’ve learned some things along the way that helped me tremendously.

The most valuable lessons I've learned so far:

Write, write, write! Sounds simple, but many writers get hung up on learning the craft and forget to ‘just do it’. (Thanks for the borrow, Nike. I’ll give it back.) You can’t learn tennis simply by watching others play or reading a book about tennis. Similarly you’ll never be a great writer simply by reading other novels and books on craft. Start writing, keep writing. It will likely stink at first, most first drafts do. But, the more you do it, the better you’ll get. Don’t edit right away, just let the words flow.

Minis are always in style. And not just if you have great legs. Try short fiction, micro fiction, flash fiction. Whatever you want to call it, step away from your novel occasionally to stretch your creative muscles. Think of it as cross training for your brain. The best tennis players run, train their core and do yoga to make sure they are fit and well rounded. I joined a flash fiction critique group early on and not only had a great time, but got in the habit of giving my writing a daily workout. I responded to bi-weekly prompts and the stories started flowing like wine. Then I joined another and pretty soon I had some publishing credits to my name. But, more importantly it trained me to 1) write every day and 2) learn the fine art of brevity 3) finish something I started.

Don’t fear the ‘Cowell Scowl’. Some of the most helpful critiquers of my writing attacked it with Simon Cowell intensity. Grow a thick skin when it comes to critique. Join a critique group. (Online is great because you don’t have to look someone in the face as they shred your work). Your friends and family may tell you your work is great. “Send it to a publisher right away,” the say. “Oh my gosh, it will be a movie staring Kate Hudson, I just know it,” they say. Roll in the praise a bit and then push it away. Other writers will give it to you straight (most will). Plus, you’ll learn a lot in the process of critiquing their work as well.

Read, read, read! Again, sounds simple but your writing will improve exponentially the more you read. And, don’t be afraid to step outside your comfort zone. Read classics, read outside your genre, read books on craft. Even if you read something that isn’t what you’d consider high quality prose, you’ll learn in the process by recognizing what works and what doesn’t.

So, go, write that novel that’s been scurrying around in your head like the family of mice in your attic. And have fun!


P.S. If you had just one piece of advice to give a new writer, what would it be?

Friday, June 4, 2010

Fictional Characters in the Flesh

I’m not talking about Twilight vampires my step-daughter is convinced really walk among us. I’m talking about a character most of us have heard about our entire lives, but rarely ever see. They’re out there. I’ve met them before, but they tend to be elusive, hiding behind anonymity.

I’m talking about …. “The Good Samaritan”. So named for the good deeds they do without asking for anything in return.

Believe it or not (I didn’t believe it at first myself), I encountered one. In New York City of all places. We were in Manhattan last week, celebrating a huge event in our family’s life. My step-daughter – not the vampire loving one, although she keeps the kind of schedule that only the young and the undead can keep – graduated and got a job. We of course, are thrilled beyond belief, given the cost of college and the state of the economy. Anyway, I digress…

We were in Manhattan and somewhere between the graduation, lunch and several taxi rides, I lost my wallet. I knew it was gone for good. I called the credit card companies. I mentally went through every jammed pocket in the wallet trying to remember what I had. I mourned the loss of several family pictures that I didn’t have other copies of. I said goodbye to enough cash to buy the whole series of Twilight Books and DVD’s (for my daughter, not me!). I accepted the consequences.

Somewhere between a bad dream about a morning wasted at the DMV and a nightmare about someone buying a flat screen TV with the credit card I forgot to cancel, we got a phone call. My husband’s cell. 4 am. It had to be my nightwalker daughter, calling to say she’d been mugged on the way back to her apartment. (So, I worry about my kids – sue me!)

The person on the other end of the phone found my wallet, in the hall at Lincoln Center where the graduation was held. He was working the graveyard shift as a custodian and apologized for opening it. He actually apologized. Twice. He’d looked through the stack of receipts, expired coupons, jotted notes about my novel, to find a list I had of family numbers. He called my brother-in-law (same last name) to track us down.

The next morning he met my husband outside our hotel. John tried to give him a reward and he refused. He said he ‘just wanted to do the right thing.’

So, now you know, if you haven’t encountered the GS before, he’s out there. I promise. And I thank him and everyone like him profusely for renewing my faith in mankind. With the daily news we hear about people walking on by while their neighbor is being accosted, robbed, worse, it’s good to know that there are good people out there. Really good people who just want to do the right thing.

Have a great day!

~ Cat ~