Saturday, September 22, 2012

Writing and Learning

"To learn to read is to light a fire; every syllable that is spelled out is a spark."
--Victor Hugo

Not very long ago, a student stopped me in the hallway and asked me were my ideas came from. She was curious because she wanted to be a writer. So we talked for a few minutes about writing and ideas before she had to go to class. As the days passed, other students have asked me about writing and my stories, especially now that copies of Guardian of Atlantis is in the library at the high school and the junior high where I teach.
So I decided to jot down some "tips" or ideas for writing.

  1. ideas notebook -- First, find you something you're going to want to write in (spiral notebook, old-fashioned composition book [i do use a lot of these, in the classroom and out], or an actual notebook with notebook paper). Jot down ideas, inspirations, thoughts, ideas, quotes, descriptions, notes, people, places, things, and events. Basically, write down anything you want to remember or research. I even include bits and pieces of conversation and pictures. I even have a folder with pockets that has articles I've printed from the Internet on a variety of subjects I thought were interesting. Sometimes when I'm watching television, I see or hear something that catches my attention and it gets written down. I may or may not use the things in the notebooks, but they are a good starting place when you're looking for something to write about or something to add to a story you're working on.
  2. writing routine -- If you wait for inspiration to hit you, you may be waiting for awhile. You need to create a writing habit. Start out by writing for 15 to 30 minutes everyday and build on that. The key is consistency. I don't always get to sit and write for long periods like I do during the summer when I'm not teaching. I write everyday, but sometimes its scattered minutes--30 to 45 minutes in the morning before I get ready and leave for work, 15 to 20 minutes during my lunch, and what ever time I can get in during the evening.
  3. outlining -- Outlines are definitely my friends now. It took me awhile to figure out what worked and didn't work for me. My advice, read and learn about different types of outline techniques. Figure out what works for you. It may be a combination of several things that works for you. When you outline your stories don't forget about your characters' goals and motivations. Outlines help me to stay on track. Mine are on the detailed side. You can read it and know the whole story, but I need this road map to get from point A to point B and so on. Plus, I've already worked out the plot problems in the outline.
  4. read, read, and read some more -- This is probably pretty self-explanatory. You have to read in order to write. And it's not always reading for fun. Sometimes it's reading books about how to write. Maybe it's reading to see how different writing styles work, to analyze story structure and plot.
  5. research -- Even if you're creating a fantasy piece, there' always going to be something you have to research. You may need to know about a specific location, a time period, characteristics of people during a specific time. Get your facts right. This will help you build the parameters for the world and characters you create. I remember reading a story several years ago that was set in the San Antonio area of Texas. The writer went into elaborate details about the area. The only problem--it sounded exactly like the Mojave Desert. We have rivers and trees and grass. Yes, we have drought conditions, in fact, here in New Braunfels, we're in stage 2 water restrictions, but we're not a sandy, dry desert. The river you saw in one of the pictures from the BBQ cook-off is the Guadalupe River.
These are just a few tips. Believe me, there are a lot more out there. The key, is expect to spend time learning about your craft.