Every so often I read something that really hits me. Something so well put together that it’s almost frightening. Something that moves me in a way that metaphorically slaps me in the face and shows me the truth about this world. It’s almost supernatural. Out of this world. God-like.
Okay, I lied.
I’ve never read anything quite like that. I doubt I ever will. You see, the first thing a writer has to understand is that he’s just as flawed as the next guy. In fact, a writer is probably more flawed than anyone else on this planet. That’s why they’re writing in the first place. There is one vital lesson that you, as an aspiring writer, must learn:
You are going to mess up.
Deal with it.
Well, that’s a little too harsh. I don’t mean it. Please forgive me. I’m begging you. I don’t think that I’ll be able to live with myself if you keep looking at me like that.
I’m fine. You’re fine. We’re all fine. That’s just how it is. Say it with me:
“I am a human being. I have flaws. I will make mistakes, but I don’t care. They define who I am, what I do, and what I will become.”
That’s more like it. Take a breath of fresh air. Smell the roses. Don’t grab them, though. That would hurt. Just breathe it in. Taste it.
Actually, don’t taste it.
Just ignore me.
Anyway, let’s actually talk about something on topic. Writing. What makes it good? What makes it worth reading? How do you write something that doesn’t act as a substitute for sleeping pills? In other words, how do you make something that isn’t boring as hell?
You’re asking too many questions.
Pace yourself. We’ll go through these one at a time. Don’t worry about it. Really, just calm down. I’ll answer as many questions as possible. Here is how you write well:
Step One: Care – Seriously, you aren’t going to write anything well if you don’t care about what you are writing about. Believe me, people will know if you don’t care. It shows. It’s like stepping on stage naked. Everyone sees your secrets. Except it isn’t much of a secret. And you’re not naked. Well, maybe you are. Whatever inspires you, I guess. But really, make sure you are interested in something before you take the task of writing about it. What do you care about? Look into that. Ask yourself that. Write about it. Don’t write about anything else.
Step Two: Be Brief, Be Concise – There’s nothing worse than a writer that doesn’t know when to shut up. Yes, I’m talking to all of you novel writers out there. Lengthy writing, in almost every case, is awful. For example: the minute I see a huge paragraph about how beautiful someone’s golden hair sways in the wind, I get a bit skeptical. No, scratch that. I get really bored. And annoyed. Probably just a nice combination of the three dreaded feelings. How do you shorten monstrous descriptions, you ask? It’s simple. Cut. Cut cut cut. I’m serious. Mutilate your writing if you cannot be brief about it. Tear it down until it’s to the bare bones. Use those bare bones and throw all the skin away. What’s inside is what counts, anyway. Here is an example:
Before: “The road shone in the sun, light reflecting off of every brick. Jack leisurely walked down the street, his untied shoelaces dangling from his feet like licorice. As he walked, he could not help but notice a perfectly round pebble below him. As he kicked it along with a quick thrust of his foot, he noticed the various details surrounding this little bit of rock. The surface was as smooth as glass, spotted with black and yellow dots that seemed to give it some character. Jack almost felt obliged to pick up the rock and look at how it shown in the sun. It was almost as perfect as those shining bricks bellow him. Placing the pebble in his left shirt pocket, Jack continued his trek down the brilliant road, a happy smile on his face.”
After: “Jack walked down the road.”
Forget the pebble. Forget the shining road. Forget everything. Jack walked down the road and that’s all we really cared about. Did anything important happen in that paragraph. No. It’s just fluff. No one cares about fluff. Writing about something completely and utterly boring for two pages will not impress anyone. It will only serve to annoy, and tread away from the actual purpose of your writing. Do not include details if they are not central to the plot. Just don’t. Keep the action going and nothing else.
I may be overreacting here, but please do take the point. Description is good, but it’s only good when you are writing about something that is important and central to the plot. Done.
Step Three: Just Don’t Be Lazy – Just because I told you to cut back on any lengthy excerpts does not mean you can forget about all details completely. Make sure that the reader can visualize everything worth visualizing in your story. Think about all the key elements surrounding a certain scene. Fix all spelling errors. Make sure your grammar works. Proofread. Spell-check. Anything. Just make sure that what you wrote makes sense and is easy to read.
Step Four: Don’t Use Semi-colons – Seriously, just don’t. Chances are, you don’t know how to properly use them, or you just use them as an excuse to use run-on sentences. Either way, it’s awful. If you are finding yourself in situations where only a semi-colon makes sense, I suggest redoing the sentence entirely. Semi-colons don’t flow well. They just don’t. Sure, if you really enjoy using them and know how to properly do so, go ahead. Won’t stop me from complaining, though.
Step Five: Be Simple – Having a large vocabulary can both be a blessing and a curse. It allows you to expand on ideas more easily with logical thought, but it also serves to estrange readers. Usually readers can figure out what it means through context, but this means that the flow has been interrupted. You don’t really want that. When the flow of a story is interrupted, it’s really easy to lose interest. Do not use a thesaurus when writing anything. Use words you know, and words that you’d normally use. My best advice is to never write anything down that you wouldn’t say in conversation. Write like you are speaking to someone. It’s a lot easier than it sounds. It’s a lot more enjoyable, too.
Step Six: Have Fun – Really, this one is simple. Enjoy yourself. When you have fun writing, other people have fun reading. Make it entertaining. Add unexpected twists. Be unpredictable. Break a few rules. Just do something different and fun. Don’t be a stick in the mud. Please, just don’t. Dry writing is painful to read and painful to write. That, my friends, is textbook writing. Uninspired. Don’t take this route. Be personal. Grab the reader’s attention with some surprising phrases and don’t let us go. Ever.
That’s about all I have to say. In short: care about your writing, be brief about it, don’t let laziness kill you, don’t use semi-colons, simplify things, and have some fun for once.
Is this a perfect writing guide? No. We established that earlier on. I do hope you got something out of this, though. I think about these steps every time I write something. Usually. Well, probably not, but I try to. I really do.
You should try to.
Really, you should. I want to see what you come up with. Surprise me. Catch my interest. Make something boring entertaining.
I’m pretty sure you can do it.
This should make writing a bit easier for you if it isn’t easy already. I know I hardly talked about spelling or grammar here, but content is more important. We’ve all been through school. We know how the English language works, for the most part. Start using it.
Please. For the love of God.
Just use it right.
I’m kidding with you. Just pulling your leg. Nothing serious. I hope you don’t take me too personally. Actually, go ahead. I won’t mind. Just let me have it. Scream at me. Yell at me. Hate me.
Or don’t. I don’t really care.
As long as you got something out of this, I am fine. You have one assignment: write more. Just do it. Send it to me. Let me take a look. Let me talk to you about it. Just show me something and I’ll look. I really will. Trust me on this one.
Just trust me.
I’m rambling. I think I’ll just end this here. It’s not much of a guide, but I hope it was somewhat entertaining. Or maybe it wasn’t. I don’t really care. Well, I do care. I just don’t want to show it. Looks like my cover’s been blown.
Merry Christmas. Happy Chanukah. Happy Kwanzaa.