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Posts tagged ‘writing advice’

My 4-step plan for taking care of myself while writing

Writing is a solitary job. We hide ourselves away in our own little world and sit for hours a day, sometimes forgetting to eat, drink, or even get up and stretch. Over time, these little neglects add up and suddenly I find myself having a hard time standing straight after a long writing session. Or, I feel lightheaded or mentally foggy because I haven’t eaten enough.

I don’t like to eat first thing in the morning–I’m more of a “where’s my coffee?” kind of girl. In fact, even thinking of eating something as soon as I get out of bed makes me nauseous. I like to wait a bit. But then I get busy–the phone rings or there’s some emergency in our business–and, before I know it, it’s 1 or 2pm and I still haven’t eaten. It’s no wonder why I’m so hungry at night and then eat too much. I KNOW this wrecks my metabolism and causes even more stress to my stressed-out thyroid so I’ve been working on some strategies to help myself remember to eat and move.

As artists, and especially writers, it’s important to take care of our minds and bodies, to stay mentally and physically alert. The conditions of our body and mind can directly impact the quality of our art.

Here are a few tips I find helpful: Read more

Anton Chekhov: Eliminate the commonplace for lyrical writing

As writers, one of our tasks is to create mental pictures by combining just the right combination of words on the page. This is exactly what makes writing challenging, rewarding – and maddening.

Those times when I’ve hit a wall and need to step away from the keyboard, I find inspiration from the advice of Anton Chekhov, often called, “the father of the modern short story.” In a letter to his brother Alexander, Chekhov wrote:

“I think descriptions of nature should be very short and always be à propos. Commonplaces like “The setting sun, sinking into the waves of the darkening sea, cast its purple gold rays, etc,” or, “Swallows, flitting over the surface of the water, twittered gaily” — eliminate such commonplaces. You have to choose small details in describing nature, grouping them in such a way that if you close your eyes after reading it you can picture the whole thing. For example, you’ll get a picture of a moonlit night if you write that, “on the dam of the mill, a piece of broken bottle flashed like a bright star and the black shadow of a dog or a wolf rolled by like a ball, etc.”

Chekhov’s correspondence with his family and writing contemporaries reveals a trove of advice and insight.

For more Chekhov advice, read his six principles of good writing and an example of how he offered writing feedback.

Classic writing advice from Anton Chekhov

As much as writing is a solitary pursuit, most writers improve their craft by brainstorming ideas and learning the perspectives of other authors, editors, and mentors.

One of my favorite writers, Anton Chekhov, frequently corresponded with other writers to offer guidance and inspiration.

Here are a few pieces of encouragement and advice Chekhov wrote in letters to Russian writer Maxim Gorky in the late 1800s.

“You ask what is my opinion of your stories. My opinion? The talent is unmistakable and it is a real, great talent. For instance, in the story “In the Steppe,” it is expressed with extraordinary vigour, and I actually felt a pang of envy that it was not I who had written it. You are an artist, a clever man, you feel superbly, you are plastic—that is, when you describe a thing, you see it and you touch it with your hands. That is real art.

There is my opinion for you, and I am very glad I can express it to you. I am, I repeat, very glad, and if we could meet and talk for an hour or two you would be convinced of my high appreciation of you and of the hopes I am building on your gifts. Read more

How to give and receive writing critiques and feedback

Giving and receiving writing critiques is an art. I’ve experienced great, good, and awful critiques from writing mentors over the years. I’ve belonged to writing critique groups off and on for over twenty years, graduated from an MFA program, been blessed to have a blogging partner, and attended writing conferences where I’ve had the opportunity to receive feedback from bestselling authors and agents.

Probably the best feedback I received (and by best I mean most useful for my growth as a writer) came from a mentor in my MFA program. Also a successful author, she had a real-life grasp of what it takes to get published and was a consummate artisan as well. What made her critiques so effective were not only the content but the style in which they were delivered. She was blunt and unmercifully honest, but never mean. She always found something positive in my writing—even if it was only a little thing, she would point it out so I would do more of these good things in the future.   Read more