Saturday, October 13, 2012

Tazi's Rules For Successful Writing (As Taught By U of RI!)

Dear Tazi:

I am married to a very successful local author, who has been blessed with enough success that he has been able to quit his day job and work from home as a full-time writer.  Although I am extremely happy for my husband, I am also very jealous.  I, too, am a writer, but not a successful author.  Everything I have ever written, from short stories to a full-length novel, has been met with multiple rejection slips.  Still, I keep plugging on, hoping one day to publish the Great American Novel.  In the meantime, I write copy for a local newspaper.  Our bills are paid and we have money in the bank, but my lack of professional fulfillment is starting to affect our marriage. 

Tazi, I have visited your ghostwriter’s website (I presume she is your Mommie) and was very impressed with the work she has posted there.  Obviously, it is mostly academic, she being a student and all, but it is well researched stuff and very interesting to read – and I don’t even like non-fiction!  Could you tell me her secret to keeping readers interested in what she writes?  It seems to me like my family and friends enjoy what I write at the start, and then lose interest halfway through the piece.  When I ask them what was wrong, they just tell me that they could not follow the story or that my characters lacked depth. 

I wish I had the time to take classes in Creative Writing, but between work and home I do not have the time to commute to the nearest college campus, an hour away from where I live and work.  I suppose it would be an investment in my marriage, but I am afraid the time commitment would leave less and less time available for me to spend with my husband…which right now may be a good thing.  What do you advise, kitty?


Dear Struggling:

I ran your letter by my Mommie, and she thanks you for your praise!  Like all writers, Mommie loves praise.  (I should give her some praise, too!  Praise!  Praise for Mommie!).  The reason why a lot of what Mommie writes is so interesting is because I dictate to her what to say.  That’s right; the secret to my Mommie’s success is that I, Tazi-Kat, let her know when her work is something that should line my litter-box!

Seriously, my input is only a part of Mommie’s academic success as a writer.  In speaking with her about what makes somebody’s writing interesting, we talked of many things (of ships, shoes, sealing wax; of cabbages and kings) and several points that she has learned in school stood out, including:

Rule #1: Write what you know; but know your audience, as well.  Although this sounds simple enough, the truth of the matter is that many writers choose to write about what they find interesting, even though it may not be of interest to their target audience.  Balance is the key to finding joy in success and success through your joy.

Rule #2: Assume that your audience knows nothing about your subject.  Because writers usually write about what interests them – their passion, if you will – a novice mistake is to leave out vital information, assuming it is common knowledge.  By building your audience’s knowledge you can also build their curiosity – and their continued interest in your work.

Rule #3: Write your thoughts, your every thought, and leave the editing for later.  This is what is called "pre-writing" or a “zero draft”.  By spewing everything onto the written page you will be able to clear your head of all the great ideas you are certain will work for whatever it is you are writing and think clearly about the direction in which you want to head.

Rule #4: Let your work mentally marinate and return to it a few days later.  By letting it sit and coming back to edit it a few days later, you will be able to pick through the truly great ideas and leave the so-so stuff behind. 

Rule #5: Make an outline draft of what you plan on writing.  As your story develops, return to the outline and look for places where more detail is needed and decide what will be plugged in where.

Rule #6: Put yourself in your readers’ shoes.  Look at your drafted work with a critical eye and examine it for shortcomings.  Is your plot developed enough?  Does the story flow from one moment to the next with proper use of segue?  Are the characters both interesting and realistic? 

Rule #7: Never submit a first draft for publication; you are only setting yourself up for failure. Once completed, leave each draft for a few days (see Rule #4) and return to it with fresh eyes for a critical review.  You will be surprised at how many edits you will want to make!

Rule #8: Ask for trusted outside opinions on your completed draft.  Give a copy to someone you know is not afraid to offer you constructive criticism on your writing, and what can be done to make it more interesting for the reader.

Rule #9: Be open to heavy edits to your draft.  I understand that your writing is your baby – you created it, you put your heart and soul into it – and edits can sometimes feel like an amputation, but this is the step that separates the successful writers from the hopefuls. 

Rule #10: Take a class – or several classes – in writing and its many genres.  Not only will you be learning from experts in the field, you will also be granted the opportunity to work with other aspiring writers while developing your own professional processes for success. 


P.S.  Big thank yous to Mommie’s Writing Professors at the University of Rhode Island for teaching her all of these important lessons!

Ask Tazi! is ghostwritten by a human with a Bachelors of Arts in Communications. Tazi-Kat is not really a talking feline.

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