As some of you know, my first book was published when I was 18 (it was a terrible book, but published nonetheless) but I've been writing since I was much, much younger. I used to fill notebooks full of short stories, plays, and poems back in middle school. So believe me when I say that I have fulfilled my 10,000 hour requirement.
I've also been lucky enough to surround myself with gifted, talented friends who create in their own ways. An environment where friends can share with and encourage each other to create works of art in any capacity is a healthy one in my book. So today, here's a few personal tips from my corner of the world on how to make your writing process a bit better.
1. Don't wait for motivation.
Inspiration for an idea is one thing, but motivation? This is what separates the armatures from the professionals. Believe me, when you've got a ticking clock hanging over head, you can't afford to wait to be motivated. Even without a ticking clock, there are some trains you need to ride for as long as possible before you lose the idea entirely. And if you think getting motivated to write is hard, wait until you have to sit down and edit. You really won't know what motivation is then.
2. Act things out (preferably alone).
Make faces. Do voices. Stand up, move around, act like your character. If you're putting yourself in their head, how do they behave? Are they shy? Outgoing? Do they have any physical ticks? Do they touch their hair when they get nervous? When remembering something, do they stare off into space?
It's also very important to listen to yourself when you talk. Do the words coming out of your mouth sound like they belong to an actual human with organs and blood and flabby bits? No? Time for a rewrite.
3. Research and Rule Books
FOR FANTASY: If you're creating a world unique to your vision, be sure to create a bible of rules and laws that your characters must abide by. For example, if a certain race of amphibious bipeds breathe through their eyes, don't have them wide-mouthed gasping for breath after a battle scene. (just as a for instance) Be sure you check yourself, because if you don't find it, your readers will.
FOR REALITY: Research. Research, research, research. Maps, historical archives, hell, even Wikipedea is your friend here. If you're doing something in a historical setting, be sure you're aware of every detail, right down to the way people think and speak. No Elizabethan noble is going to call their servant a “hot mama.”
As an aside, research is great for fantasy too! You can draw from myths and legends from around the world to enrich your own.
4. Never make anything too easy.
Out of conflict breathes narrative. If we have a character where everything comes easy to them, with no stakes or struggles to speak of, why are we reading about the most boring character in the world? Give them enemies, challenge their ideology. Take them out of their comfort zone, give them hard choices to make. If you have an opportunity to test the strength and resolve of your character through opposition, take it. This doesn't mean turning every character into Batman. I want to make that clear.
Not everyone is Batman.
5. Write for yourself.
Have you ever heard the expression “write what you know”? Well that's true to an extent. It certainly doesn't mean you should never venture outside your own realm of possibilities or experiences. JRR Tolken did not have to physically be a hobbit to bring us Bilbo Baggins. But write the stories you would like to see. Create characters that you relate to, or that you despise. Characters and stories that are written to a broad appeal end up becoming generic, gray, shapeless masses of goo. Don't be goo.
6. Play with diversity.
Make the high elf king black. Make the sorcerer dyslexic. The galactic space pirate captain is a lesbian now. Problem? For historical and contemporary pieces, racial, gender, and sexual identities, as well as levels of physical and mental ability, add for more and more layers of subtextual goodness that give your world flavor and further reading. Reflect the world you are representing, especially if your setting has different cultural implications. Example: Downtown Los Angeles vs Cleavland, Ohio.
With fantasy? Just go for it. Why not? It's your world. So why not?
With that being said, if you are writing a character whose identity you have absolutely no experience with, it's time to do more research! You certainly don't want to create stereotypes. If all else fails, you can find and ask people who fit into that demographic, and go from there. They'll be happy to help!
7. Everything is a tool.
Every line of dialogue, action, and decision your character makes must reveal something about them, or uphold previous assumptions or information given to the audience. I have a dear friend who once told me that she doesn't write in what the characters look like because it wastes time. NO! Everything is a tool. Let me show you.
Bob woke up late. He was tired. He walked to the kitchen and made himself a bowl of cereal.
Let's change that.
The alarm blared, and Bob slapped it silent. Getting up, Bob glanced at himself in the mirror. His eyes were deep seeded with purple bags, and his thinning hair stood on end from his restless night of tossing and turning. In nothing but stained underwear, an undershirt and slippers, Bob shuffled to the kitchen and pulled down a dusty box of Stale Wheaty-O's and poured the flakes into an empty (clean-ish) bowl.
Those are two vastly different Bobs. With the first Bob, you know he's tired because the narrator tells you he's tired. But how do you know the second Bob is tired? By the way he looks and acts. Even if you are writing with pre-established characters in some kind of fanfiction, you should always pay attention to how your character presents themself.
8. And lastly, please don't make your character Batman.
Ruthie's Pet Peeves!
These aren't really “official” bits of advice, and more of a personal side note that I'd like to pass on to fellow writers.
Past tense is for novels. Present tense is for scripts. When you're writing a novel, you are telling a story that already happened. When you're writing a script, you are directing actors. I know this is a popular trend these days but as someone who's done both, my GOD does it grate on the nerves. The only reason Suzanne Collins (The Hunger Games) got away with it is because she made her career as a TV writer first, which explains it. Thanks, Suzanne.
Be aware of repeated words. I have this problem to this day. Nothing is more annoying than opening up a paragraph you wrote at 2am to find the word “turned” 10 times.
Write in active voice. I'll admit, sometimes I still have issues with this one for two reasons: one, it was a strange concept for me to wrap my head around and difficult for me to identify, and two, I don't always see passive voice as a bad thing, so long as it serves the flow of the story. But in general, you want to be active in your narration. Example:
Active: The girl threw the ball.
Passive: The ball was thrown by the girl.
TAKE CRITICISM. If you want to write – I mean really write, not just in your notebook – you have to be willing and able to take a note and move on. I'll give you the analogy I give whenever I do a panel on character development: Let's say you build a boat. And it's your favorite boat of all time. But someone comes along and points out that there are holes in it. You can either fix the holes, or ignore them and sink.
Take your ego, put it on a shelf, and then take a sledge hammer and beat it within an inch of its life.
Now you're ready to be a writer!
BECAUSE IT'S JUST THAT EASY, ISN'T IT??