A series of videos for kids who know they want to be writers
When I was 9 years old, I already knew I wanted to be a writer when I grew up.
Over the next few years, while I was in middle school, I wrote almost every school night, often for an hour or more. I wrote stories, poems, essays, and weird blobs of words that weren't any of those things.
I loved writing -- most of the time. But sometimes I was frustrated because the piece wasn't coming out the way I wanted it to, or I was stuck on one part and didn't know how to move forward. Worst of all was when I had the urge to write, but I didn't have an idea to write about.
I couldn't find a lot of practical advice about how to write. Most advice I found was about getting published. I wanted to be published someday, but first I had to write something to publish!
Now that I'm a published author, I want to share the advice I was missing as a kid. If you know in your heart that you're a writer, these videos are for you.
Today’s advice is, "Shut up and write." That means, don’t talk about your projects until they’re finished.
Often, when we’re working on something we’re really excited about, it’s really tempting to tell people about your project.
But there are several reasons why this is a terrible idea.
If you tell people your ideas, they can take your ideas. And if you don’t have your idea in writing, you can’t prove that it’s yours.
Sometimes when you talk to people about your writing, they’ll give you feedback you don’t need or want. If you’re excitedly describing the plot of your new novella, and someone says, “That sounds boring,” or “Wasn’t that already a movie?” And you’re like… Suddenly, it doesn’t seem worth it to finish.
Weeks or months later, you may have stopped writing that project you talked about. And then someone says, “Whatever happened to that thing you were working on?” And that’s really annoying.
But most importantly, once you tell somebody about your story, you don’t need to write it. You’ve already put the story into words. They’re just spoken words, not written ones. And now that you already told someone the story, you lose the urgency of writing it. You’re kind of done.When you talk about your writing, all the energy comes out through your mouth rather than your hands. You need to conserve that creative energy and use it for writing, not talking. So unless you are talking to a writing teacher, or coach, or someone who is specifically there to help you with your writing, do not talk about what you’re writing!
So you started a project, and it was going well. You were able to work on it in chunks—you put in some writing time, then you went on and lived your life, and when you came back to it, you were able to pick up right where you left off. Then comes that terrible day when you pick up the project, and you have no idea how to proceed. You know that what you’ve written is good, and you want to keep working on it, but you can’t. You are stuck.
Here’s why: You lost the voice of the piece. The “voice” of your writing refers to the overall mood and attitude. Some voices are plain-spoken. They use simple words. They use short sentences. To the contrary, there are voices that differ distinctly, voices that are grandiloquent, utilizing more complex words and sentences, blah blah etc. Voices can be chummy with the reader or distant, funny or serious. The voice shows up in things like word choice, sentence length, and overall tone. When you’re stuck, often it’s because you were writing in a voice, but you lost it. The character stopped telling their story, or your narrator walked off the job. That’s why the words no longer flow.
So you have some choices:
You can try to pick up the voice again. Try reading your work aloud, then continue speaking aloud using that same voice to describe an object or person nearby. Speak in that voice until it feels natural again, and/or until everyone nearby is annoyed with you.
You can use a new voice going forward, knowing that you can either go back and change the voice of the old part to match the new one, or leave the old part as it is.
You can switch narrators or points of view. If the detective narrator you’ve been using isn’t speaking to you, try listening to the killer, see what they have to say. When you put a stalled project away, you make room for a new voice to tell a new story. Then you keep listening for as long as it speaks.
OF THE BRAIN
Here’s a writing secret for you: You don’t have to finish every project you start. Sometimes, just starting it is good enough. Now, this is NOT TRUE in your general, everyday life. But it is true of writing. If you start writing something, and it’s not going anywhere, you can quit and still be a winner.
When you start a project, you got the idea down so you won’t forget it, which is a Step One that people often miss.
All writing is good practice. If you wrote a page, or even a paragraph, you practiced putting your ideas into written words. And all the practice adds up.
You might feel differently about the project later. In a few months, you might take a look at the thing you started and you might feel inspired again. Or not.
Quitting a project allows you to clear your mind and make space for some new idea that you’re more excited about. The thing is, not every idea is a “good” one. But you don’t know which ones are “good” until you start writing them. If you start an idea and you decide it’s not good, why would you continue working on it? You can put it aside and judge it again later. However, there are two good reasons to finish writing projects. Finishing something is so satisfying. And if you want to get it published, you gotta get it done. Nobody publishes unfinished work. But if a project is not working out, you can walk away from it without guilt. I do it all the time. You’re allowed to go ahead and give up.
Many writers worry about perfecting their spelling, grammar, and punctuation. But that’s not necessary to do great creative work. Worrying about spelling and punctuation in a first draft will only slow you down. As long as you can read what you wrote, and you understand what you mean, you’re fine. Just keep going and don’t stop for commas.
Creative writing does not need to be grammatical. Many great novels are narrated by a character who speaks in imperfect English. Some writers deliberately break the rules of grammar, or they spell words the way they sound—instead of “going to” they write “gonna.” Most real humans don’t speak with perfect grammar, so your characters don’t need to either. Some people are able to learn all the rules of grammar and practicing spelling a lot. That does not mean they’re good writers. Some are, and then some of them completely lack creativity. So you can be a great creative storyteller who paints vivid characters that readers care about, without being technically perfect. And I would much rather read a thrilling but sloppy story, than read a technically perfect story that’s boring.
The time to worry about spelling and grammar is when you are about to show your work to an audience. That’s when you’ll want to look over your work and make sure the verbs are in the right tense, the spelling is readable, and you didn’t do anything weird like ending every sentence with an exclamation point. Until then, don’t sweat the spelling!
DON'T SWEAT THE SPELLING