A Few Writing Tips
from Rick Alimonti
If you are taking the time to read this; thank you! I would like to share with you some writing tips and techniques that work for me. I hope you find them useful.
1. Develop and keep your own style. We are all influenced by what we read. There are volumes of books the purport to tell us “how to” write. Although they are not without their value, they must all be taken with a grain of salt. For example, I like to use repetition in some of my writing. It establishes a rhythm, and then tension when the rhythm is broken. These excerpts from The Fix-It Shop illustrate.
In the first excerpt, our character, who cannot walk without crutches, wonders about his family’s true thoughts about him after they have gone to his brother’s little league game. I use “he wondered” repeatedly to set a rhythm.
Tommy wondered if perhaps deep down his family preferred not to have him along. He wondered if he was really a burden. He wondered if it was awkward for them to watch Jake sprint around the bases and to cheer for Jake while he sat there with them in his wheelchair like a stone. He wondered if his family might feel free to cheer a little louder and a little longer when the “family cripple” was not with them.
In this second excerpt, our character practices piano. I use “he played” in a similar manner. Note how this phrase repeats until the final sentence, at which time the break in the rhythm at “And as he played it . . . “ adds emphasis.
His eyes remained closed, and the music flowed through him; his only conscious thoughts were of emotion, memories, images, and sounds. He played to the rhythm and creaks of the swing in the yard as Dad pushed Jamie back and forth, to the hiss and thud of the metal press in Dad’s shop, and to his annoyance at Jake and his teenage friends. He played the smell of his favorite dinner wafting out the open window in summer and the thunder of the airplanes that used to fly over the house. He even played the silence in the sky now that they were gone. He played sadness, his sadness as he watched the world revolve around him from his wheeled prison. And as he played it, his sadness left him. It left him as if it had run into the piano, through the strings, and into thin air.
In both instances, editors and publishers wanted to delete the repetition. I refused, and I stand by my decision. I think the repetition works.
2. Write for yourself. Although I suppose someone could create a composite of what makes a book sell well and produce a series of cookie-cutter successes, this is not what writing is about. It is only in finding joy in your writing that you can then share it with your reader. If you are writing for your reader rather than yourself, it will not be genuine, and it will not work. That is not to say that you should ignore your reader as you write. In fact, engineering ways to manipulate and intrigue your reader are critical to telling a good story. However, the heart of your writing must be the story you want to tell. You must, first and foremost, write from your heart and mind in a manner that is pleasing to you.
3. Write about what you know. Unless you feel compelled to write a story from another time and place (See tip 2), you will be much more productive if you draw upon your own life and experiences in your writing. If you, like me, have limited time to write and other jobs and avocations, than you probably really need to write – not research your writing - when the time allows. We all have a wealth of life experience and memories on which to draw. Enjoy them, add imagination, embellish, add mystery, tension, intrigue, fantasy, and you will have a story.
4. Just Write! You may have some time to write and nothing to write or say – the oft-cited “Writers Block.” Don’t “skip it,” waiting for inspiration. Sit down with a pad, computer, whatever, and just write. It can be notes, jottings, themes, anecdotes. Eventually something will grab you, and the writing will follow. Write when time allows; something good will come of it!
5. Capture your thoughts. I wish I did this more myself. Almost every day, elements of stories and themes for stories surround us. We are surrounded by joy, tragedy, humor, and irony. We observe these dramas daily. Much like the dream we are sure we will recall in the morning, if we do not write record these items, we will lose them. Many cell phones have a memo or note feature. Just a few words will preserve these thoughts and they will be there for you when following tip four.
6. Know Grammar. Take the time to study proper grammar. There are really not that many rules, but adhering to them will make you a better writer. Also, no agent, publisher, or even reader will give much thought to a manuscript replete with errors.
7. Love Editing! What? Did he say love editing!? You bet. Your story is done – maybe even in the second or third draft. Can it be better? In addition to grammar checks, does your prose soar? Do you love every word? Can your sentences be improved? Made crisper, cleaner? Samuel Clemens said it best: The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter—it’s the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.
One thing to really look for is overuse of adverbs. With such a rich variety of verbs available, we can often dispense with adverbs. Why run quickly, when we can “dash” or “dart” or “speed.?” Why “think long and hard” when you can “obsess?”