“If I could go back in time and give writing advice to my younger self, I would say…”
Karen Wojcik Berner
“Grammar and spelling matter.” Before I wrote fiction, I was a magazine editor. Contributors could have had multiple doctorate degrees, but if they handed in manuscripts polluted with typos and grammatical errors, the entire staff thought they were idiots. Readers will only be so forgiving. Remember, computer grammar and spell checkers can be wrong. You still need to know the rules. Strunk and White’s “The Elements of Style” and “The Chicago Manual of Style” are excellent resources. There are plenty of online dictionaries to ensure proper word usage. Strive for professionalism and your writing will be elevated.
“Handle criticism gracefully.” Not everyone will love your writing. Period. No matter how good a book might be, there will always be someone who hates it for one reason or another. One of the characters reminds her of the cousin she hated as a child. You used “awesome” too much. Who knows? It does not matter. Some people love the Twilight series; others cannot stand it. Once writers release their novels, public opinion is beyond their control. People interpret books using their own life experiences. Don’t take it personally. Develop a thick skin when necessary and be grateful for good reviews when they come.
“You are never too old to learn.” Keep working at the craft, whether you are in college or are eighty-five years old. Read a new author in your genre to analyze what he or she did well. Take a creative writing class in a completely different genre to shake out the cobwebs and move out of your comfort zone. We cannot possibly know everything there is to know about writing. That’s the beauty of it. Don’t rest on your laurels. Take a chance.
Copyright © Karen Wojcik Berner, 2010
John Fitch V
Dear younger version of John,
1. Remember what Ms. Flaherty, your junior English teacher, once told you: don’t limit yourself. You want to be a fantasy author, and that’s all well and good. But you’re going to make more money writing other genres then just fantasy. Take this hint: research the sale of Babe Ruth in one of those big books you have, then take a flyer on it. You won’t be sorry. Basically, do you just want to be known as a fantasy author, or do you want to hit other readers — those who don’t like fantasy — with your work?
2. Outline, outline, outline. The next two years of your life are going to be hell, and then the next two years are even more so. Before you start writing about that halfling with the disposition of Conan, take a few weeks and start brainstorming out everything from start to finish. I mean this: You’re going to get a workout just from taking this thing off the shelf so many times. And by the way, it shouldn’t take you over a year to decide the halfling and the dwarf are supporting characters.
3. Remember: When the tension is going, blow something up. You can’t do that in fantasy, though: just introduce a sword fight.
And 4. Before you start writing, go downstairs and tell mom and dad you love them. You don’t say it enough.
John Fitch V is the author of several works of speculative fiction, including the baseball/time travel thriller Turning Back the Clock. he has written for several Massachusetts newspapers, including the Telegram & Gazette of Worcester and the Southbridge Evening News in Southbridge. He has since returned to where it all started, as he came back to the Sentinel in April 2008. He also strings for the Springfield Republican and Turley Publications. Visit his website at www.johnfitchv.com
My thanks to Karen and John for taking part in today’s discussion, and be sure to check out their books! As always, please chime in with your thoughts on today’s subject.