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Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Five Things I Have Learned Since I Started to Write

Almost four years ago, I walked  into a little diner in downtown Ripley to my first writer's meeting. They called themselves the Appalachian Wordsmiths.

The Librarian had given me a contact name and phone number when she saw me checking out a book about writing. I called and was invited to come to their meeting. I showed up with a copy of a picture book manuscript I had written called, Picking Blackberries With Grandma. The members were so nice and informative, but I found out that night that I did not know how to write. I just thought I knew how to write.

I still have a lot to learn, but here are five things I have learned since that night:

1. I learned what passive writing is. That night one of the members was talking about passive writing. I had no idea what she was talking about. Passive writing saps the energy out of the most exciting stories. It shows rather than tells. Look for unnecessary words such as started to, could,  would, there was, seemed to and look for inactive verbs such as was, is, were and are and replace them with active verbs. Verbs ending with "ing" are by nature more passive than those ending in "ed."  Also watch for -ly words. If your verb isn't strong enough, find a stronger verb.

2. I learned that your first draft is just that, a draft.  My kids ask me why I keep changing my stories. They think if I am a writer, I should get it right the first time. Well, we all know that is not how it works. A manuscript needs to be revised until you get it right. Not many writers get it right the first time.

3. I learned there is more to writing rhyming poetry than just making it rhyme. I have always written rhyming poetry. I love rhyming poetry! I learned it has to do more than just rhyme. It has to flow from the tongue, it has to have rhythm. The rhymes need to come naturally without forcing them. Use strong rhymes and strong descriptive verbs.  After learning these things, I have gone back and rewritten a lot of my poetry. I found  this sight on the internet today about writing rhyming poetry. It has very good tips.

By the way, March 2, is Dr. Seuss's birthday. Go over to Two-Lane Livin' and check out my silly rhyming poem called Toes!

4. I learned that you have to be patient and not give up. Many times I have almost given up. Luckily, something happens to change my mind and I keep writing. Having writing friends is very helpful. They understand what you are going through. They are going through the same thing. They know what it is like to wait for months and months before hearing back from a publisher. They know what is is like to get a rejection slip.

5. I learned it is okay to break the rules (once in a while). A few years back I sent in a manuscript for an anthology. The deadline for hearing back from the editor had passed and I had never heard from her. What did I do? Exactly what you are not supposed to do. I emailed her. I figured I didn't have anything to lose.  She did not remember my story at first and told me to email it to her again. I did and I received an email back from her saying "Oh, I remember that story now. I rejected it early on because I felt it was too sad. I've changed my mind, I am going to put it in the book." I do not encourage anyone to do this. My instincts told me to and I got lucky.

What is something you have learned that has helped you most in your writing?


  1. These are great tips Janet! I especially like what you said about rhyming poetry. You asked what has helped me most in my writing? I think for me personally, I noticed a major change, when I stopped writing what I thought people wanted to read and began writing what was really in my heart.

    I also did a little research one day and found, most of my favorite authors had never even had anything published until their forties. I found that very encouraging. It seems like the more I live and experience, the easier it becomes to get it all down on paper. I have also kept a journal for most of my life and that has helped tremendously. I turn to them often when I have writer's block. But I know what you mean, I too feel like I have a lot yet to learn. I often feel I could use a few more tools in my belt. Have a lovely evening! Delisa :)

  2. I've found that it helps tremendously to set a work aside for awhile and let it rest. You're resting too, and when you come back to it with fresh eyes, it's amazing how differently parts of it might read, how you see things not seen before.

    I also keep a weekly writing to-do list in a journal that keeps me very much on track, kind of giving me a bigger picture of the small steps I take daily.

    And kudos to you for following up to great results ... Sometimes we just have to take that leap!

  3. Well I envy your being able to write, I have enough trouble trying to make my blog readable.
    You did have a good day at the thrift. You just never know what you will find. Lots of fun for a little money. I went today and got an old tin picnic basket.
    Nancy JO

  4. This is a good post, Janet. You were a good addition to our group! I think the first thing I learned from being in the group is that a writer grows when they spend time with other writers.

    I also discovered the importance of good grammar and correct pronunciation. I am amazed at writers who do not know the rules of written English, and yet they want to be published. Sure, an editor can correct such errors, but why would he or she want to spend their time doing so? That's the writer's job.

    I was lucky enough to have had teachers that drilled the rules into me. While I am by no means perfect in these areas, I see some mistakes so often : their for they're, for example, or your for you're, or to for too, or "I had went" instead of "I went." The list is long and sad. Maybe these rules aren't important any more, or maybe such constant and widespread errors will change the rules? It's happened before, and it could well do so again.

  5. I like the rule about breaking the rules!

    I only write on my blog (not professionally or anything) but one thing I have learned is not to be afraid to open up and show your feelings. The posts in which I do that seem to be most popular.

  6. Wow, thanks for the information on this post and I did click on the other website.. This has helped me so much. For some reason I can't get away from rhyming poetry.. I love it. I find it so hard to even write an essay sometimes.I have been wondering if I'm the only one that does this. Poetry should come straight from the heart and the mind. I write mine the old-fashioned way, on paper. Over and over again and then when I think I have it all done, something else appears. Thanks again I needed this.

  7. Janet -- to read the piece out loud to yourself. For some reason you catch mistakes that you don't see on paper.

    To cut, cut and then cut again. Until each word means something.

    Put it away for a while when you hit a snag. Bring a fresh mind back to it later.

    Enroll friend or family member to listen to you reading it -- then honestly critique it.


  8. Thanks everyone for your comments and telling us what you have learned about writing. I agree with all of you.

  9. I like what you said about passive writing. I have never thought about it that way before.

  10. Hey Janet:
    This is a great post! You and your friends have super thoughts on writing!
    I JUST got a rejection from an agent, saying parts of my ms were "negative." However, I too find that (on my blog anyway), people tend to respond more to the DARKER things than the light-hearted. Life isn't always FUN, is it?
    Also, LOVED Folkways Notebook's thought. Gonna check out her blog right now:)

  11. I really enjoyed reading about the things you've learned about writing. I guess what helps me most in writing was the old bic rule and never giving up.

  12. Wonderful tips-I learned alot : )


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