Writing Life Lessons

photoNo matter what stage I’m at in the writing journey, whether it’s researching, plotting, writing, or editing, I continue to learn. Currently, I’m in my last round of edits for my debut novel, Shaken. Man, has it been humbling. I don’t claim to have all the answers to this writing journey, but here are a few tips I’ve learned from trial and error. Like my novels, I’m always a work in progress.

Paint a scene

This seems like a no-brainer, right? I thought it was, too. Except sometimes I don’t write all that is in my head. Thank goodness for an editor who reads the story and asks me to fill in the holes. Use the senses. Again, you would think this is obvious, but too often we forget. In my second book, I open with a beach scene. Can my reader smell the smoke from the bonfire, taste the salt in the air, feel the whip of the sea breeze, hear the lap of the waves, see the fireworks exploding? If not, I need to keep crafting.

Make connections

Link scenes, events, and characters. As my granddad told my brother when he came home from college late one night, “Account for yourself!” Make sure all your elements are accounted for, and again, not just in your head. If a character just spoke yet the scene ends and they are nowhere to be found, make sure there is a clue to the reader of where they went and when they exited the conversation. Again, these should be obvious, but sometimes when I focus on the story line at large, I forget these important little details that further immerse the reader in the story.

Books are not movies

I tend to see my book playing out like one of Nicholas Spark’s movies – sweeping, southern, and characters that tug at your heart. Except, books are not movies. What a viewer can take in in a few seconds of a new scene takes a lot longer to paint in a book. The best movies come from books that paint vivid scenes. Think the party scenes in Gatsby where Fitzgerald describes the house and guests in great detail. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, stop reading this right now and at least read those scenes.

Kill your “darlings”

This is a lesson one my college professors shared with me, and regardless of the time passage, it doesn’t get easier. First, let’s define “darlings.” It is any piece of your story that you are attached to that does not ultimately propel the story forward. You may think a scene is epic, but will your readers care? Does it demonstrate an irreplaceable character quality or scene that is essential to your reader’s knowledge of the story line? Is your attachment greater than the reader’s? If yes, then don’t be afraid to kill that “darling.” Your story will be better for it. Trust me, I know it’s painful, but strike with your red pen and make the page bleed.

You’ll never be completely satisfied

photo copyStop looking at the blinking cursor. Save and send. Your story will never be perfect. If you are waiting for that, choose a different career. I emailed my mentor a couple months ago and told her I thought my story sucked and I wanted to start from scratch. She laughed (I could sense it over email), and told me that it was great for where I’m at now. The next novel will be better than the first, and the third better than the second. If you know you have done all you can do right now, then allow yourself to be satisfied with the results and send that sucker. I still find mistakes in my short stories from college, and I couldn’t count how many times I have edited those pages. But I’ve also increased in my ability and my knowledge since college. I’ll focus on doing my best now and realize that I’m always growing.

What writing tips have you picked up along the way?

12 Replies to “Writing Life Lessons”

  1. Thank you for this, Kariss. I’m working on the final galley review today for my first book, and if I had my way, would trash at least two chapters and start over. But it’s too late for that, so as you said, I must trust that my writing will get better with each book I create, as long as I resolve never to stop learning along the way.

    Many blessings on all your projects — current and future.

    1. Thanks, Anita! I understand that final editing process. I just turned mine in this weekend. My mentor says that these urges to start over are just further proof that I’m a writer. Don’t you love that we are in good company? 🙂

  2. Nice post! More of us need to be reminded of these tips everyday 🙂 Especially the “kill your darlings” one. It annoys the heck out of me when I’m reading a book and I come to a scene that did nothing at all to move the plot forward. Don’t let that writer be you!

    1. Thanks, Jessica. I have found that the “kill my darlings” tip is probably the most difficult for me. Ironically, the more I work with my editor, the less attached I become to those unnecessary scenes, and the more ready I become to just FINISH and have a great story!

  3. This is super advice (I can especially relate to the “You’ll never be completely satisifed” bit!).

    One thing I have learned about writing is that if I pause while I’m writing and re-read and edit and re-edit before moving forward, it sucks the life out of what I’m writing. There is something to be said for just getting it all down, period, without immediately overthinking it. There is often so much more punch to my prose when I do that. I can always go back and edit it later, and I do, though I’ve also found that very little rewriting is even needed if i just get myself out of the way and let the writing flow without obsessively trying to perfect it in those initial stages.

    1. Ginny, I love this tip. I struggle with this every chapter. I have such a tendency to over think instead of letting the writing flow. My best writing comes when I cut loose and just right. You are correct…you can always cut later.

  4. Karissa, you provide good insights from your edits. They can indeed be humbling. My editor for DawnSinger pushed me to develop the scenes I skimmed over because I was afraid to write them. That was an important lesson for me.

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