Advice for New Writers

With the advent of email communications in the workplace, it's not uncommon to exchange dozens of messages daily. Sometimes, I sense a writer's "voice" in such messages. Occasionally, I ask if they've done any writing. A year ago, a colleague answered, "I loved to write in high school, but I just don't have time anymore! " She was extraordinarily busy, mothering an active two-year-old, commuting over an hour a day, managing the house, and holding a full-time managerial job. In spite of the fact that I knew she was overloaded, I sensed a unique talent in her words and didn't hesitate to encourage her.

"Just write," I said, "take fifteen minutes at lunch each day. Just do it."

"But what would I write about?" she asked, "I have no idea where to start!" "Once you get going, it will just flow out of you. You don't have to have a plan. Just do it."

She wrote during a break the next day, and sent me three paragraphs. It was lovely. I encouraged her to continue and we began to exchange writing daily. Six months later, she had completed the manuscript for her first novel, a historical time-travel piece. She's submitting it for publishing as I write this.

Here are a few suggestions for new writers. I hope you find them helpful!

Suggestion one: Just write. Write for a few minutes every day. If your passion for writing is real, you'll find that you can't stop! You'll find a way to make it happen. I schedule very early mornings for writing, from 4:00 to 6:00 AM. It's the only quiet time in my hectic life and I couldn't accept spending less time with my daughters, wife, or grandsons. So, I go to bed early and forget about TV. What's more important? In doing so, I've produced eight novels in a bit over four years.

Suggestion two: Cut out the flowery stuff. I adore adjectives and adverbs, and I ache to describe scenes in lush detail. But in the end, I go back and hack away at all the excess. If you read a line out loud and it feels stilted or halting ? stop! Take out all the extra words that slow you down, and just tell the story. Use the descriptors sparingly. I've found that after writing eight books, my style has become simpler and more streamlined. I'm going back now and red-lining much of the early work before it reaches the bookstores. It hurts like hell to do it, but it's absolutely necessary.

Suggestion three: Observe, observe, observe! Soak in every tiny detail that surrounds you. Colors, textures, sensations, expressions, birdsongs, sunlight, and the ground you walk on... notice everything, and brand it into your brain for that next chapter you're going to write.

Suggestion four: Listen to the voices! Listen to the grocery clerk, the bank teller, children at play, professors, grandparents, and neighbors... listen! You'll never create natural dialogue without listening - hard!

Suggestion five: Tap into your emotions. When someone close to you dies, it's an overwhelming, dreadful experience. But, the same emotions that flatten you at that time will be indispensable when you write about loss. Recreating the deep-seated feelings will make your book come alive and ring true with readers.

Suggestion six: Make your characters feel deeply and give them a rich history. This takes time and is particularly important if you're writing a series. If readers don't care about the characters, they won't come back for more. Don't worry about defining them in detail in the beginning ? just start writing and they will develop. You can always go back and add more detail that supports your character's growth.

Suggestion seven: Perfection comes later. Just get it out there, get it down on paper. Then, when you go back to it, hack away at the unnecessary prepositional phrases and the ungainly adverbs, extract those awkward scenes that stand out like sore thumbs, and supplement those that seem abrupt. Then, set it aside for a while. After I've completed a novel, I put it down and start on the next one. Many months later, I'll come back to it. It's best if I don't remember much (I'm often surprised at how much I've forgotten!) as that's when one is in the best position to challenge one's own work. Sometimes I'll be surprised at an unusually eloquent passage, or humiliated by a flimsy section through which I obviously rushed. That's the time to roll up your sleeves and be ruthless! Cut out the excess and fortify the weak!

Suggestion eight: Find a skillful editor. I've been lucky. I have writer/reader friends with eagle eyes who will scour my manuscripts and be brutal where necessary. Try to find one person who is willing to follow along with the book as you create it. That's the best way to start. Share this service. Swap chapters as soon as they're done. That's what I do with my friend, Jeanne. She is a talented writer and a superb editor. She catches things I'd never notice, and I do the same for her. We aren't shy about helping ? if a passage sounds stilted, she tells me immediately! If I want to "see" more of the details in a scene, I ask her to elaborate. It works extremely well. Then, when the book is in a reasonable shape, I send it to my friend, Ray, who is a fine author in his own right. He goes through with a fine-toothed comb and imparts writing gems in the process. I call him, "The Master!"

If it weren't for them, my books would stink. Well, maybe that's a little extreme, but I've learned so much from them that the finished LeGarde Mystery manuscripts read more smoothly and are of higher quality. I also have an "inner circle" of readers who've traveled with me through the series far in advance of publishing. They keep me honest and provide feedback about the characters that they'd come to love.

Suggestion nine: Maintain the tension. You want your readers to need to read more. Keep up the pace. Make it flow seamlessly from chapter to chapter. And try to avoid unnecessary excursions into boring territory. I use lots of dialogue; it moves the book along quickly. Short chapters also help the reader feel as if he's made progress. Readers say that with short chapters they're more apt to think, "Just one more chapter before I go to bed." Of course, if the tension and suspense are stimulating, your poor readers will stay up way past bedtime!

Suggestion ten: Polish it 'til it shines. Don't send in anything but your best work, buffed to perfection. You may have to go through it dozens of times, but it's worth it. Have your friends and family do the same. Each time they scour through it, they'll find something new. It seems endless. But if you keep at it, you will produce a superior product.

Aaron Paul Lazar resides in Upstate New York with his wife, three daughters, two grandsons, mother-in- law, two dogs, and three cats. After writing in the early morning hours, he works as an electrophotographic engineer at NexPress Solutions Inc., part of Kodak's Graphic Communications Group, in Rochester, New York. Additional passions include vegetable, fruit, and flower gardening; preparing large family feasts; photographing his family, gardens, and the breathtakingly beautiful Genesee Valley; cross-country skiing across the rolling hills; playing a distinctly amateur level of piano, and spending "time" with the French Impressionists whenever possible.

Although he adored raising his three delightful daughters, Mr. Lazar finds grandfathering his "two little buddies" to be one of the finest experiences of his life. Double Forte', the first in the series, was published in January 2005. Upstaged, number two, is in production. With eight books under his belt, Mr. Lazar is currently working on the ninth, which features Gus LeGarde and his family. http://www.legardemysteries.com

In The News:

Opinion | Why I Write  The New York Times
Use of ICT in teaching and learning of writing  NSW Department of Education
Case Writers-in-Residence Oct. 14 at WIU  Western Illinois University News

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