Friday, February 1, 2013

Helping Writers

I really do like helping other writers. I know how vital it can be to have a fresh pair of eyes going over my work. I mean someone else's brain might spot things my brain is very willing to overlook. But if I can in some way guide a new writer to learn early on the skills I had to learn much later, after writing already a dozen full length manuscripts, then their journey to publishing will be much easier for them. It is easier to learn it right the first time, rather than unlearn what you've been doing and try to figure out the better tactic.

Spending time in town has it's perks. The other day, we went over to the house of one of my son's friends. I've been there before but this was my husband's first visit so introductions were all around. The oldest daughter is the writer in the family, writing 'all the time' I'm told, and by hand. Last time I was there, she wasn't home. Of course my son introduce me as a 'real author' with 'published books'.

The reason we were there was something very computer related between my son and his friend. We must have been there for at least an hour, and maybe two. The whole time this girl sat at her little schoolroom desk and wrote in her notebook. I'm sure she was completely shy about asking a 'real author' to take a look at her work. I wasn't about to try to overshadow her by offering first. Sadly she didn't get brave enough until shortly before we were getting ready to leave, so I only had a few minutes to skim through three or four pages of her writing.

It was amateurish, but I didn't expect anything else. I might have been the first person to actually help her with her writing. Romance - yeah, she will go far. She already has a very good instinct, and that is important.

Given only minutes, the first, and I thought, the biggest piece of advice I could think of to give her was to tell her about showing versus telling. You've all heard it. You all struggle with it; I know I do. How do you show your reader something rather than tell them about it?

Her sentence was something like "I walked into the filthy house that smelled of cigarette smoke and stale beer." I don't remember if that's the exact sentence but it's close enough for here. My advice: You don't have to tell me the house is filthy, you've already shown me that by saying it stank. There was more but that was the gist of it.

Did she understand? I hope so. Maybe someday she'll get online and I'll get to see what kinds of seeds I've planted. My next advice was to tell her father to get her a computer with a Word program. Apparently she already had one but it was broken. I pointed to my son, the computer fix-it guy. "So fix it." Sadly it was one of those things that cost more to fix than buying a new one. I hope they do. Online writing help is all over the place. Even the Word program can be a lot of help - it was for me.

Given such an opportunity, what kind of advice would you have given?


Sandra Tyler said...

I used to write all my stories and both novels by hand. I wonder if I wrote better since I wrote slower -- I took longer to think about what I wanted to say. Had to. Hand writing is more painstaking than tapping it out on keys.

Unknown said...

I recommend reading some every day.

Limus said...


It was nice of you not to jump right in...she was probably very sensitive about her work. I would've advised that she get online as well,for writing help. I did initially a long while back. It was my turning point.

William Kendall said...

I think interacting with other writers helps develop the craft, but reading a lot, various genres, and keeping at writing, is what keeps our skills honed.