Writing Advice for winning contests, getting published, and earning a million dollars. . .

I just read a lovely, fantastic, fabulous book called AN ALTAR IN THE WORLD by Barbara Brown Taylor.  It’s a book for adults who are looking to deepen their spirituality, but everything she says applies to writing. 

“There will come a time when you believe everything is finished.  That will be the beginning.”  Louis L’Amour  

This quote from the western author headed one of  Taylor’s chapters.  It’s true of our soul work as well as our writing.  If you are entering our California Writers Club Young Writers Contest, or you’re writing a book for a publisher, or crafting a poem for your self, after you put down your pen or print out your copy and feel pleased with yourself for finishing your draft, put your creative work away for a while. 

What?  You mean you don’t mail it to the California Writers Club, or send it to your publisher, or frame it for your wall right away?

No.  Don’t.  Refrain yourself.  Please. 

Take your dog for a walk.   Read a book.    Watch a really good movie.  Eat ice cream. 

“But Mom, my writing teacher told me I’m supposed to eat ice cream!  Really!” 

(Yes, you can use me as an excuse.  Go ahead.  But then you’ll know I want you to use your senses to write about that experience.)

Why should you put it away and not send out your newly written work?  Because if you give yourself the gift of time, you will look at your work with fresh eyes another day.   No piece is done the first time one writes it.   You can always make it better.   If you think you are done you are teasing yourself. 

If you don’t know where to “slow-down-the-moment” give it to a good writing friend, read it at your writing group, show it to your teacher and ask for some comments on how you can make it more immediate. 

Is your short story seven pages instead of the required five?  Yes, it can be whittled down to five.  You may think it can’t be done but you can do it! 

Someone once said,  “I’ve written you a long letter.  It would be shorter but I didn’t have the time.”   I can’t recall who it was.  But  it takes time and a lot of thought to make every word count.  Does each word need to be there?  Can you use one good word instead of five less distinctive ones?

This is from Barbara Brown Taylor: 

“Reverence requires a certain pace.  It requires a willingness to take detours, even side trips, which are not part of the original plan.”

Paying attention takes time and effort.  

Taylor suggests taking twenty minutes for paying attention.  But if you can’t do that, try five. 

” . . . With any luck you will soon begin to see the souls in pebbles, ants, small mounds of moss, and the acorns on its way to becoming an oak tree.  You may feel some tenderness for the struggling mayfly the ants are carrying away.  If you can see the water, you may take time to wonder where it comes from and where it is going. You may even feel the beating of your own heart . . .”

Exercise for you:  Take five minutes of your day.  Pay attention to one thing.  It can be your pet.  It can be a tree outside.  Lie on your stomach.  What are your feelings from head to toe as you touch the tree or your pet?  What do you see?  Smell?  Hear? 

Next, take time to write all of your thoughts and emotions down.  Compare them to other things.  You may find similes and metaphors pouring out of you now where in a classroom or in your office in front of your computer they would be stifled. 

Enjoy your weekend by paying attention to the little details in your life. 

Waiting in line?  Think about the character standing next to you.  What is he/she wearing?   Perfume or after-shave?  What does this person do all day long?  Memorize the details and create a story in your head. 

You will never be bored.

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