Rosie was a riveter not a writer, but still she symbolizes for me the idea for us authors to write with vigor, which I take to mean strength allied with determination.
Write With Vigor Tip #1: Read
How do you improve your tennis game? The answer is obvious. You play with someone who challenges you with her serve, her return shots, her speed and her strength.
I say it over and over: in order to up your writing game you need to read. In particular you need to read authors who are better than you are.
The good news is: you get to determine which authors are better than you are. Then you get the pleasure of reading them and of paying attention to their sentence structure, their word choice, their characterization and their plot development.
Write With Vigor Tip #2: Write
Another thing I say over and over: writing is an aerobic activity. Writing is mental breathing, and you are either in writing shape or you are not. The only way to get in writing shape is to write, and you do that by finding writing outlets, the more varied, the better. Think of it as cross-training, which builds a variety of muscles and not just one set.
If you write novels and have just finished one, it’s likely you need to take a break before starting the next. How do you stay in writing shape? Many writers keep journals. I blog. (Unless you’re a poet I’m not sure tweeting will help you get into and/or stay in shape.) I consider even doing my email as an opportunity to write.
The novel is a long-form genre. Call it a marathon. You’ve likely noticed stories where an author poops out and wraps things up too quickly. The writing lacks vigor, which means the author lacks sufficient breath to end with a bang. If you are in good enough writing shape and have enough cross-trained writing muscles, you’ll have the strength to write a vigorous finish.
Write With Vigor Tip #3: Flex Your Imagination
Creativity is another kind of muscle and, like all muscles, it grows stronger the more you use it.
In your writing you have to flex your imagination on several levels at once. At the macro-level you need a strong plot. It is something of a writing truism to say that there are only seven basic plots. See:
At the level of plot, your job is to make whatever variation you choose yours.
Write With Vigor Tip #4: Avoid the Sagging Middle
The reason for plot twists is this: middles often muddle. Don’t let your story-belly hang way out over its belt. The plot twist tightens the gut.
Write With Vigor Tip #5: If You’re Not Surprised, Neither Will Your Reader Be
This is the oldest writing tip in the world. See Story Magic.
Write With Vigor Tip #6: Think About Your Sentences
In addition to flexing your creativity on the macro-plot-level of your story, you also have to attend to the micro-level, namely your sentences.
I just ran across this passage in Christi Barth’s Bad for Her: “He ran at the water’s edge where the sand was packed flat. It crunched underfoot, almost like snow. The surf hissed as it advanced and retreated with every three steps. Fog – mist? – hung at kneecap level, swirling around him like short ghost farts.”
Interesting and imaginative? Yes.
A few pages later Barth writes: “His salute was as crisp as a potato chip.”
I would call this vigorous writing in the sense of ‘lively’ < Latin vigeo ‘to thrive, flourish.’ Barth’s images perked me up. Readers read to experience the world anew.
Write With Vigor Tip #7: Be Your Own Ruthless Editor
I have a friend who claims to write out five pages for every one she finally keeps. I say ‘claims’ as if I don’t believe her. I do believe her. But, man, even for me that is some pretty ruthless editing.
Yes, you may have just written the most beautiful thing in the world, but does it go where you have it? Does your story need it? Does the reader need to know it?
See also: All My Writing Tips
This post was written by Julie Tetel Andresen