Tuesday, September 25, 2018

5 great writing tips

I’m often asked for writing tips. Recently saw a Facebook post by a writer I greatly admire, Tom Straw. You may remember I once had him on my podcast (You can hear it here). Tom’s TV credits range from NIGHT COURT to NURSE JACKIE and Craig Ferguson’s late night show. As an author he wrote all of the CASTLE books and has his own thriller, BUZZ KILLER.

In his Facebook post he humbly offers five great tips. I thought they were great and Tom graciously permitted me to share them with you. They’re well worth reading, copying, and pasting. I did. Thanks, Tom.

1. Trust your instincts. This is something I discovered once under huge deadline pressure, and something of which I have to constantly remind myself. If it feels right, follow it. You can always revise.

2. Always revise.

3. Create the space to create—and guard it. Whether it’s a place, a time of day, word count, silence, music, the use of a candle, whatever it is, find the routine that works for you and let nothing interfere. Nothing. Love the Picasso maxim: “Inspiration comes but it has to find you working."

4. Notice what you are noticing. Recognize the living organism of your page and be observant about what it is telling you. Pay attention when the whisper comes.

5. You’ll never go wrong putting yourself in the shoes of the readers. Honor them. Then, when you have finished every draft, join them.

10 comments :

Andrew said...

Such great advice. Thanks, Ken. And that Picasso quote is golden.

E. Yarber said...

One of the biggest problems I have in working with new writers is trying to get them to understand that instincts are all important, but they have to be be EARNED. Working from gut feelings has to be the result of long practice, internalizing the creative process. All too often, a beginner will assume that they're ready to follow their whims before they've learned their craft, but the results can be sloppy, cliched, or self-indulgent.

I liken the process to a soldier being able to take a weapon apart and put it back together again blindfolded. It's not like the soldier automatically knew how all the pieces fit together or was some sort of genius who simply managed to know all the connections by luck. It meant learning the anatomy of storytelling over and over until form and structure became second nature. All too often a wannabe wants to pretend they're already on top of the game, but slapping something together isn't the same as making steady progress along a well-understood path. Unless you truly know how the unseen foundation of your writing holds the surface elements in place, the material will never have real momentum.

Respect for the audience is paramount. Another common error is to assume that the writer is above the viewer and has to trick them. This is not a game where you're trying to dominate or even compete with the spectator, but make a clear presentation they can easily follow.

Like exercise, you have to get into the habit of writing every day. The goal is to be able to produce on demand. I have heard every excuse imaginable for putting off work, which is fine if this is something you just want to play around with, but is useless if you want to be paid by a client who doesn't have time to wait for your fickle muse to arrive. No one is impressed by a writer who wants to convince everyone how agonizing it is for them to put words on paper. They're not here to indulge your personal drama, but are looking for pages they can use.

You have to play the game for the long term. Like running a marathon, you need to set and establish a pace you can sustain. When I was writing a book last year, I would start work at 5 am and kept a diary of my word count. 500 words was a bare minimum, though I could usually get up to 1500. The 500 was just a mark to press me to get SOMETHING out even if the words weren't flowing that day. Even if it was garbage, there was usually the seed of something in there that could be cultivated after coming back with fresh eyes later. The "writing" writing was usually done by 10:30 or 11 in the morning, and I'd spend another five or six hours researching and giving myself an idea what I'd be doing the next day so I could hit the ground running when 5 am came around again.

Anonymous said...

And you forgot to mention he got his start working for you on AfterMASH. ;)

Dhruv said...

Great post! Thanks Ken :)

benson said...

But before that....

I'm not sure I ever asked this question about Tom, but I believe he's the Tom Straw who was on 55 KSD Radio in St. Louis in the mid to late 70's. If so, further proof that there is life after radio.

Covarr said...

That "shoes of the reader" bit seems especially important for comedy. If I can't laugh at my joke, how can I possibly think that an audience will?

john not mccain said...

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is a writer on the Veronica Mars reboot. We are truly in the strangest timeline.

Paul Duca said...

Would YOU?

Buttermilk Sky said...

You might enjoy this:

https://www.wonkette.com/6-reasons-mel-gibson-should-go-away-forever

Tom Straw said...

In reply to john not mccain... Kareem, among other more widely known achievements, is actually a serious mystery novelist—which doesn’t make his writing job on a mystery TV series so strange.