The following is a repost and edit of an earlier blog. Original can be found here.
Though I’m very thankful that I know what I know now (and next week will discuss that there is always more to learn), there are a few things I would have loved to know years ago when I first started writing. This is not an exhaustive list, but rather the few things that would have made a huge impact on my writing.
- Adjectives and Adverbs. I would have loved to know this rule about not using adverbs and adjectives. I learned the lesson rather late: about 2 and half years ago. I’m still working on getting rid of them in my writing, and I know it has improved. If I had been more aware when I first started writing, I’d have a larger vocabulary of noun and verbs to chose from now, and I’m sure first drafts would be cleaner.
- How to write a scene. This seems so obvious, but when I was younger, I didn’t write as many scenes as I did detailed summaries. It’s still an issue I deal with, though I buckle down and “scenify” on subsequent drafts. My first attempts at novels were almost all summary (and boring summary at that) and even through college I was writing more summary. I’ve become much more proficient at writing scenes the first time through. Now it’s a matter of writing what needs to be scene and what needs to be summary!
- Narrative distance. As several people can attest to, I tend to write distant narratives on first draft. I used to remain distant to my characters on first, second, or even third tries. It takes a lot of work and effort to bring myself close. Through teaching and reading, I’ve become much better at identifying when I need to be closer (almost always, it is yes, I need to be closer). Though this is not necessarily a “bad thing,” it is something that I’ve worked hard on to improve. Now I’m close (just need to inch closer for emotions!).
- Action. In the past, when I looked over my own work, my characters did not seem to make their decisions consciously—sometimes it felt arbitrary, or worse, paper cut-outs moving to do what I said. Action should be clear. Revision often helps me with this problem. Listening to characters alleviates this issue. Let them make the mistakes you don’t want them to make.
- Plot. And that leads me to plot, which, until recently, was still my number one nemesis. I am not a plot-based writer. While this okay, it is a tool I have learned to use. Reading and knowing various structures is infinitely helpful. I always had a structure, but there would always be holes or missing parts that derailed the entire story. It’s basically knowing which structure or story-type to apply, and then filling in the gaps. I wrote about that here.