Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Ruthie’s Rookie Writing Tips

This month, I've asked my friend, Ruth Weeks, to guest blog. She is part of our critique group family and she gave this presentation at a writer's conference last March. I thought it was excellent advice for those who are just beginning the writer's journey and wanted to share it with you.  

Ruth is a gifted writer (far beyond the title she gives herself as "advanced beginner") who has won many awards. She is also a delightful communicator. Currently she is working on her second novel. Please visit her site:


When I began to write, I struggled with everything.  Thank God I had friends and an excellent critique group to help.  Now that I have stepped up to an advanced beginner, I would like to share some of the tips that benefited me during the first hundred miles on my journey to becoming a successful writer.  
When I was ten years old, I told Mama that one day I would write a book.  Then life happened and that dream got put on the backburner. 

 In 2007, the Powers That Be decided it was time to start cooking.  Inspiration struck and within three months I had written the next New York Times Best Seller. True, New York doesn’t know that yet. But, if you’re going to dream, dream big. 

This leads to the first tip:  When Inspiration and Creativity strike, just write.
I like to think of creativity and inspiration as mischievous gremlins that wander around in my subconscious just waiting for the perfect opportunity to hit me over the head with a great idea.  Gremlins don’t conform to rules, regulations, deadlines, or bedtime.  Time is a four-letter word to them.  They are also sensitive creatures. When they come out to play, give them free rein.  Let the story flow.  Don’t worry about grammar or spelling.  Just write.  Never try to control the inspiration and creativity gremlins because they will pout and refuse to talk.  Remember: Write First, Edit Second.

So, there I was with a fantastic manuscript. My little voice said, “Great!  Now what?”  I’m going to get it published,” I told my voice.  The voice replied, “Really?  How ya going to do that?”  Good question.  I thought for a moment then said, “I’ll Google it!”  Sounded like a brilliant idea however, the more I read the more confused and overwhelmed I became.  It finally dawn on me I needed help. 

Which conveniently leads into the second tip and the most important:  Get your poop in a group. 
Make sure you find a good critique group. What comprises a good critique group? 
·      The group should have a sprinkling of seasoned, experienced, published writers that know the ins and outs of the writing game. These blessed individuals are valuable assets because you can trust their advice.  They’ve been there.  Experience is priceless.
·      The group should also have people gifted in the art of editing.  These people not only help with grammar, punctuation, and spelling, but they have the unique ability to arrange sentences and paragraphs around in order to make the story flow smoother.  Contrary to popular belief, a good editor is your best friend.  They do your writing good.
·      To do yourself proud, always read your work out loud.  A good critique group insists that you read your work out loud to the class.  By doing so, mistakes the eye missed, the ear will catch.

A good critique group does not:  meet each week just to get out of the house and away from the kids, stomp you or your work into the ground, mess with the writer’s voice, or tip-toe around critiquing.  Suck it up and take their suggestions in the vein in which it is given; to improve your work and to make you a better writer.   

At my first writing conference I sat on the edge of my chair eager for information.  The speaker threw out words and terms such as, point-of-view, sense of place, and internalization. 

Gee.  Writers have a secret language all their own, I realized if I was going to join their ranks, I needed to learn it and learn if fast.  In a nut shell, here are the big three:
I.  If you wish to write something new, you must first learn point-of-view.
Point-of-view (POV) is THE most important thing a writer must learn.  Period.  It’s a rule that can’t be broken or bent too far of shape.  POV is a double-edged sword in that it is the easiest yet the hardest thing a beginning writer struggles with. 

I majored in Dramatics at the University of Arkansas.  Drama and writing are kissing cousins.  To become a good actor, you literally take of your shoes and step into the shoes of your character.  The same is true in writing.  You write only from the view point of your character.  What he sees, thinks, and feels.  This is all point-of-view is.  Simple. Right?     

Before you begin a chapter, decide which character it belongs to. (It doesn’t have to be the leading actor all the time.  Give the supporting actors a chance.) However, whichever character you choose, stick with him/her through out the whole chapter.
·      To help clear up the POV fog, use dialogue:
An excellent way to tell what a non-point-of-view character is thinking is just have him say what’s on his mind.
·      If you are not certain, write in first person:
If you still have a problem staying in your character’s head, write the story in first person, I.  The ego is a powerful.  It won’t let you jump out of your own head.  After the scene is finished, go back and put it third person, he said/she said.

2.  To prevent your reader from getting lost, provide a sense of place at all cost.
One of the major rules in writing is not to lose your reader.  You want their nose stuck in book and not to be jerked out of the story because they are confused and wondering what is going on?  Where is the action taking place?  What time of day is it?  What is the weather like, etc, etc,.  To keep the reader grounded, every so often through out the scene, throw in a sense of place.
·      To set the scene in motion, use the five senses plus emotion.
Our five senses are powerful and can conjure pictures to our mind in an instant.  Use them for description.  Throw in a dash of emotion and the reader is hooked.

It isn’t necessary when setting the scene (drama talk for sense of place), to write paragraph after paragraph of description.  One or two sentences do the trick and are all that is necessary.

3.  To keep your writing from stinking, tell what your character is thinking.
Internalization is the personal, private thoughts of your character.  It makes him/her human and creates a bond between him and the reader.  Internalization gives your character depth and rounds him out.  I like to think of internalization as the difference between a regular movie and one in 3D.  The 3D movie adds another dimension.

To sum things up, I want you to remember four things:  Write everyday.  Dream Big.  Believe in yourself.  Never give up!

Good luck and successful writing to all.


Donna Sheppard said...

Your blog submitted under Ruthie's Rookie Writing Tips was very encouraging. As a 'beginner' in the field of writing, you gave me clear direction with your tips. Specific examples and insights were shared in a friendly, humorous, and challening manner. I've printed the article and am certain that I'll be referring to it as I WRITE, WRITE, WRITE!!
Thank you,
Donna Sheppard

Cheryl Linn Martin said...

Thanks for the post!

I, too, decided at around the age of 10 to write a book. Loved Nancy Drew and wanted to write a mystery.

So, as you said, Ruth, life happened and I never wrote. Until I was in my 40's! Then I wrote three books that were basically how I learned everything I was doing wrong. Now I have an agent and a mystery series for Middle Grades just waiting for that special publisher!!