writing advice

Honing the Art of Writing

Two weeks ago I received a wonderful, thought-provoking comment on ”Last Night I Dreamed I Was Drowning” (the Friday Poetry for that week). Appletaile asked a question that I thought I should address in a full blog post rather than just in a comment, so here we are!

"I was wondering: do you just... practice writing? Is there something that I can do to get better at it, other than sitting down in front of my computer or notebook? ... You see, whilst I do enjoy writing a lot, I feel like I don't really improve as much. (And I'm too scared to go to creative writing club at school.)"

May I disclaim: whenever I reference "writing" in this post, I'm talking about all aspects of writing—novels, poetry, songs, short stories, flash fiction, whatever. It's not an isolated thing for me; what I learn about writing is applied to everything I write.

I think I have talked about this too many times, but in case I haven't made it clear enough: yes. I do practise writing. All the time. Always. I am constantly on my computer. I take my notebooks wherever I go. I've been known to borrow pens from strangers in cafes. When I'm not writing, I doodle character sketches, listen to writing podcasts. Everything I do is somehow tied to writing.

That being said, getting better at writing is not as easy as simply sitting down in front of a computer for an hour a day and pouring words onto a page. If it were like that, quite frankly, I'd be Tolkein by now. (If only, if only.) There is a certain aspect of mindfulness about it—a milestone you're trying to reach, a goal you're trying to accomplish. It doesn't have to be specific, but it does have to be there. You must go into everything you do knowing this is an opportunity to hone your craft.

Also, I'll repeat it again, though you’ve heard it so many times before: read. Read everything. Read good things and bad things and things in between. I do believe there's a place for pleasure reading and a place for mindful reading. Pleasure reading is exactly what it sounds like: read because you love it, to lose yourself in a different world. That can have a tangible, if unconscious, effect on your writing. But sometimes you must take it a step further and go for mindful reading—the sort where you look for specific techniques in the text that you want to use in your own writing.

When writing the first draft of Frozen Hearts, I would bookmark certain passages in the books I read, and later go back and see where I could apply those techniques in certain scenes. Little things—gorgeous descriptions, realistic dialogue. Big things—a scene where a character had died and the author made me cry. I wanted to know how I could have that same effect, pack that same emotional punch. I looked for books or music or poetry that truly spoke to me, discovered how to apply them to my own work.

Finally, you mentioned that you were too scared to go to the creative writing club at your school? Well, go anyway.

Perhaps it sounds harsh, but you should never turn down an opportunity to get better. Whether that's joining a club or critique group, buying a writing book that's on sale, or attending a talk on writing, those missed opportunities add up. Even if you're scared to death, you will never be the only nervous one there.

If you must, hold yourself accountable—tell a friend that you've signed up for the club and make sure they know to drag you to its location on the right day. It helps to have other people making sure you're doing what you promised yourself you'd do.

Those are my most important tips when it comes to writing: learn from the masters, but also learn from your peers. Let writing filter into everything you do. If you truly love and are passionate about it, that can be the most rewarding thing you can do for yourself to hone your skills. Don't be afraid to soak up everything—there is always something new to learn!

How Do You Write Poetry?

On last week's Friday Poetry, I got a comment from Ana over at Butterflies of the Imagination: Screen Shot 2014-09-04 at 10.35.44 pm

I think it's a little hard to read, so the comment says: "I love all of your poems and I truly look forward to reading them every Friday. I can’t really put a finger on it, but you have such a great way with words. Keep up the great work. If you have time for it in your blog schedule, do you think that you could write a post with poetry tips?"

Firstly: thank you very much for your lovely comment, Ana! That made my heart glow - I'm so beautifully overwhelmed by the fact that you look forward and connect to my strings of words. <3

I'm by no means an expert on this topic, but I think my number one tip for writing poetry is basically the same as writing prose: read it. Any and all of it. Everything you can get your hands on - good and bad and in between. Forget about studying anything - just immerse yourself in words, taste them on your tongue, write down your favourite lines and read them over and over and over again just to feel the little pang that comes with them.

Memorise the music in poetry, the subtle rhythm behind each line. When you write your own, be honest about it because no matter whether it's real or fictional, it just needs to come from you. Find inspiration in the tiniest things. When your heart is breaking, write about it. When your heart is soaring, write about it. Don't wait until it's over: do it right at that moment, because the only time you'll be able to remember the exact feelings is when they're happening.

Lower your expectations. Poetry doesn't have to hold the secrets of the universe - sometimes it just raises more questions about it. A lot of poems are stories, so find ways to weave tiny little details into yours to make them that much more real to the reader. And don't think there's any right answer as to what the story is, either. Maybe it's about two people who love each other's flaws too much, or about two people who love each other despite their flaws. Explore heartbreak. Explore exploration. Write about someone you love or twist a prompt from someone you hate. Make up a life completely different from your own or one eerily similar to yours. Translate the world for others.

Above all: be daring. Be bold. Follow the path the words are creating, but don't forget that sometimes it's okay to make your own path and ask them to follow you instead. And never ever be afraid to fail, because in poetry our biggest failures are often our biggest successes.

Book Bloggers & Writing Success: Exploiting the Connection

Ello all! Awesome news! I'm not sure if any of you subscribe to Authors Publisha magazine dedicated to - you guessed it! - authors and helping them further their careers, but I've been a subscriber for the past couple of years and it's been such a valuable resource for me. Mostly it's reviews of prominent literary journals, but there are also writing prompts, competitions, and the occasional article on craft or the bookish industry. (Hint: you guys should totally subscribe. It's an awesome magazine. :D )

As you all know, I blog about readerly love over at YA Asylum, and I get quite a few emails from authors, whether that's asking me to participate in blog tours and cover reveals, requesting reviews, or any number of the other tasks writers need to figure out (often when they JUST REALLY WANT TO WRITE instead of dealing with all these pesky marketing things ;) ). But I've found that there's a right way and a wrong way to go about asking things from book bloggers such as myself.

... see where this is heading?

Indeed, I've published an article in Authors Publish on the often-overlooked connection that bloggers and authors can forge! I had such a lovely time writing it and I'm so happy that Authors Publish chose to share it with the writerly community. :D

Check out the article right here, entitled Book Bloggers & Writing Success: Exploiting the Connection. Writers, I do hope it helps! Any suggestions? Have you accidentally committed one of the sins? ;) What was the outcome? Bloggers, could you relate? What tips did I miss? Any horror stories of rude authors contacting you?

I can't wait to hear your thoughts, guys! xx

love, Topaz