Notes from Hlidskjalf* (Guidelines for Writers II)

Upon further contemplation, here are some guidelines for writing.  For real.

1.  Get inspired.  You have to tell the story that wants to be told.  Not the one that’s trendy or that you think you can sell.

2.  Listen to your characters.  Sometimes they do crazy things.  Let them.  (Really, it’s just you, telling yourself what ought to be happening that your conscious wasn’t willing to allow.)

3.  Hurt your characters.  Make them suffer, then allow them to suffer.  Put them into places where even you don’t know how they’ll get out.  Leave them there for a while.  One of you will come up with something eventually.  Remember, as a reader, your favorite part of the book is always where you’re squirming in your chair, flipping pages as fast as you can, thinking, “Oh no, what’s going to happen to them NOW?!”

4.  Get up and move while you’re writing.  I know most people are big fans of the “head down and concentrate” kind of writing, but as a mother of two, my concentration is completely shot (twelve years of kiddus interruptus magnus).  So I’ve discovered that it’s actually helpful to get up and move around.  Not only do you maintain circulation in extremities other than your fingers, you also allow your brain to move.  Walk away when you hit a stumbling block, and go wash the dishes.  Get on the treadmill.  Switch the laundry or take the dog for a walk.  While you do this — and this is important — while your body is engaged, use your brain.  Talk through your issue.  Imagine what might come next.  Follow a couple of different paths without writing them down and see what happens.  Push yourself mentally while you push yourself physically.

5.  Use music or white noise to stimulate you.  Whether or not you believe in the Mozart effect, music can be soothing, invigorating, uplifting, and, at the very least, gives your fingers a beat to keep time with.  

6.  Write two things at once.  That way when you’re blocked or stumped on one, you can’t say, “Oh well, I guess I can’t write now.”  Oh yes, you can.

7.  Keep everything you write.  Computers are such a gift to writers.  You can rename a file and keep it forever.  So when you write the most exquisite description, the most perfect dialogue, the most beautiful… whatever… and you can’t use it in this piece of work for whatever reason, you can set it aside.  Someday, you’ll find a place for it.  Or, when you’re having one of those days when you feel like you’re a terrible writer and you’ll never accomplish anything of value, pull that piece out and read it again.  And remember that you are good.  You can do it, because you have done it. 

8.  And specifically, if you are going to write for young adults, remember what it was like to be a teenager.  It’s easy, especially for those of us who have moved further down the path of life, to judge our younger selves and the younger generation, or to be too eager to teach them something.  But you have to connect, and to do that, you have to put yourself back into that impulsive, emotional, and yes, sometimes stupid, frame of mind.  Remember what it was like to walk into the cafeteria when you’re in a fight with your best friend and realize you can’t sit at your table.  Remember walking into the dance in the gym and everyone looks at you.  Remember walking down the halls and praying you’ll get to class unassaulted.  Remember — and this is one thing that “Twilight” did capture beautifully — the breathless, heart-pounding of the first time you saw THAT BOY, and what happened to you when he looked at you.  Remember the confusion that accompanies these emotions, and set aside the emotional distance you now have.  You know that you have lost touch with those high school friends and first loves and you know that you survived; but in high school, you thought you’d die without them.

That’s it for now.  Any comments?  Anything to add?

*Hlidskjalf, by the way, is Odin’s seat in Valhalla.  When Odin sat upon this throne, he could see and hear everything happening in all the worlds.  I love Norse mythology, which is why I chose this as my “Mount” in my previous post.  “Skjalf” is the origin of our word “shelf,” in case you’re interested.

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4 Responses to Notes from Hlidskjalf* (Guidelines for Writers II)

  1. Nisha says:

    I like #6, because I often do this myself. At one stage I was actually working on 3 short stories at once! My one friend (a non-writer) could not understand how I was doing that. But surprisingly it actually keeps you more focused and when you are stumped with one as you mentioned, you can still work on another. You save time.
    Nice post keep it up! 🙂

  2. LBlankenship says:

    I completely agree with you on #1-3. #5 is completely true and I find a touch (just a touch) of alcohol greases the wheels too. #7 — I’ve been writing on computers since high school and I’ve lost a lot of those files now due to obsolescence. Crappy writing, but a shame to have lost so much work for no particular reason.

    • Agreed, a touch of alcohol to release the inhibitions and the self-editor, but not too much. Gotta have that balance. 🙂

      I confess, I’m still very much a long-hand writer and the bulk of my first draft writing occurs on paper, so rule #7 is pretty easy for me. I have lots and lots of files in a closet in my basement. Never really thought about computer obsolescence. Here I was trying to be all tech savvy…

  3. Chrissy Prisco says:

    I love mythology so I liked the footnote and regarding the Twilight thing I completely agree. I personally loved the series and so many people criticize her writing but I found it quite effective. The simplicity was a good break from my school curriculum reading.

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