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Monica Wood  

Archive of Tips for 2002 

(Please do not reprint this copyrighted material without my written permission.  Thank you.)

Tips for December 2002: 

 I'm at the late-revision stage of a new novel, so revision strategies are on my mind this month.  I'm a great believer in index cards as a way to "see" a long work.  I use one card per chapter or section, write up a one- or two-sentence summary, and then lay the cards out on the floor and walk through the book.  This method helps me find redundancy, repetition, lost threads, flat spots, and other problems without having to read the entire manuscript.  (It's more like a shortcut read-through.)  Then, once I've worked on the areas that need attention, I read the manuscript in earnest, and the book as a whole seems fresher to me because at this point it will have been a while since I read it straight through .  I repeat this process many times until the book feels done.

Tips for November 2002: 

 It's fall.  Time to rake the leaves, figuratively speaking.  Gather up all those old drafts and put them in a metaphorical lawn bag.  Then start something brand new.  Working and re-working old stuff is a creepy form of writer's block.  

If you need a starter, try this: A man walks into a bar, but it's not a bar.  Good luck!

Tips for October 2002: 

 I am back in my studio full time at long last, after a summer that consisted mainly of book promotion.  Yippee!  Now I am facing a mess of a new novel, but the usual dread has been thoroughly usurped by gratitude.  

This month's tip:  So, your draft is finished and you're fretting.  Something's off, but you don't know what.  Could it be that the narrative through-line -- the "story" of the story -- is too short?  In other words, have you ended your story at exactly the place where it should begin?  If at the end of the draft your character arrives at a moment of truth, try writing past it.  Just a little ways.  Never mind that it's a gorgeous ending, maybe the best writing you've ever done.  Its very gorgeousness is the reason you haven't dared mess it up before now.  Add one more teensy-weensy paragraph.  Then another.  Have somebody walk in and say something, and make your character say something back.  You may discover that your ending is in fact an arrival that sets something else into motion -- something more urgent, more fascinating, and most likely harder to write.  It is entirely possible, even probable, that you wanted so badly for your mission to be accomplished that you failed to notice the rocket still sitting on the launch pad.  

Tips for September 2002: 

 Sometimes I get stalled by having to write so many damn sentences.  Just for today, write fragments, and only fragments, connected or not.  Give yourself the freedom to roam the possibilities even if what you're working on is well underway.  Names, dates, phrases, titles of unwritten books, inventories of closets or dresser drawers, misremembered quotations, random character traits, lines of dialogue, sketches of neighborhoods or room interiors or family trees -- anything goes.  Think of it as a joyride and make it last until the writing cops finally pull you over. 

Tips for August 2002: 

 Two jumpstarts for the summer doldrums:

1.  Think of two objects that are seemingly unconnected -- a house for sale and a model plane; a storm drain and an office window; a mantel clock and a yellow slicker -- and make a connection.  Any connection at all, no matter how vague, will get something going.

2.  Write in the voice of a person talking as fast as he can.  Why is he in such a hurry?

Tips for July 2002: 

 My apologies to those of you who looked in vain for a June writing tip -- I was, ahem, in Italy, meeting the translator for one of my novels.  Needless to say, I adore her: she's the only other person on the planet who worried over every single word of my book.

Which brings me to this month's writing tip.  Address yourself to something that is more or less finished, and select one small part of it -- a paragraph, a scene, even a sentence.  Worry over it.  Think rhythm, think syntax, think clarity...   Pretend you've just translated it from another language.  Do the words say what you truly mean for them to say?  Is the passage worth reading, even out of context?  Are the words themselves engaging, interesting?  You'll feel really good afterward, knowing you've replaced a so-so passage with something that sings. 

Usage tip: Never say "Between you and I...."  I hear this everywhere lately, a veritable epidemic!  The correct usage is "Between you and me...."    

If "between you and me" sounds wrong to you, then you're probably committing the same error in other contexts.  For example, "She gave the dog to Bob and I" is wrong.  The problem is a confusion between the nominative and objective case, but you don't have to think of it that way.  Instead, look at the sentence logically.   You would never say "She gave the dog to I," right?  Of course not.  Therefore, you would never say "She gave the dog to Bob and I."  You would say, correctly, "She gave the dog to Bob and me."  Then you might continue on, correctly, by saying, "She also took Mary and me to the movies.  When we got to the theater, the ticket guy gave her and me half-price tickets."  If these examples sound wrong to you, recite the sentences your way (using "I" instead of "me"), only omit the other person: "She gave the dog to I. Then she took I to the movies.  The ticket guy gave I half-price tickets."  See how nutty that sounds?  It's a foolproof trick that ensures you'll  never make a case error again.

When two pronouns appear in the sentence, the usage gets even more egregious, such as, "Bob gave the dog to she and I."  This quite literally hurts my ears.  Omit either pronoun and the light will dawn: You would not say "Bob gave the dog to I" and you would not say "Bob gave the dog to she."  Therefore, you would have to say "Bob gave the dog to her and me."  Some people remember this by silently repeating the preposition or the verb, i.e., "Bob gave the dog to her and (to) me. Then she took Mary and (took) me to the movies."

 

Tips for May 2002: 

 First tip: The Pocket Muse is available in a bookstore near you!

Second tip: If you found yourself on your deathbed tonight (let's say you got hit by a bus on your way home from work) what is the one subject you'd most regret not having written about?  Start now--there could be a bus out there with your name on it.

Usage tip:  "Irregardless" is not a word.  Use "regardless" instead.

Tips for April 2002: 

 It's April Fools Day.  Every child you know will try to convince you that you've got a spider in your hair or that your shoes are untied.  Go with the flow: write a scene in which one character plays a trick on another character.  What happens?  Laughter or disaster?

 Tips for March 2002: 

For years now, I've been keeping what I call a "word notebook."  It's a tiny spiral notebook with lined pages, six by four inches, in which I keep lists of words.  Not phrases, not quotations, just words.

The notebook accompanies my reading; whenever I stumble upon a word I like, I transfer it to the notebook.  Sometimes I record words I have to look up, but mostly I record common words that I haven't used in a while, or words I simply love the sound of.

 My word notebook travels with me from my reading area to my writing area.  I use it on days when words come hard.  Sometimes I check my notebook for a zesty word that can replace a dull one.  Often, I'll combine words pulled from the notebook until a good sentence appears out of the mist.  I also do word-association exercises with words taken from my notebook, allowing one good word to engender another until I hit upon a decent idea. 

Today's entries: sylph; rabble; snug; styptic; freckled

 

Tips for February 2002:  

A good scene--in fiction or nonfiction--contains layers.  In other words, more than one thing is going on, no matter how straightforward the scene might appear.  To find those layers, keep asking yourself,  "What else?"  For example, you might think the scene you're writing is about a man discovering his wife's affair.  He's furious that she's been unfaithful.  What else?  He's a bit smug that his suspicion turned out to be right.  What else?  He's disappointed that his wife didn't choose a more attractive, interesting lover.  What else?  He's insulted that his wife didn't choose a more attractive, interesting lover!  What else?  He wonders, maybe a little, whether he himself might be unattractive and uninteresting, exactly the sort of man to whom his wife seems to be attracted.  What else?  

This kind of interrogation helps you get to the heart of the matter.

Tips for January 2002:  

Why not take advantage of having been forced to listen to forty thousand versions of "The Twelve Days of Christmas" last month?  Write something that exploits one of the twelve lines.  Begin a scene with nine ladies dancing, or write about somebody who is missing five gold rings.  A partridge in a pear tree might be a bit much, but you could make a little hay with twelve guys on drums.

And how about this for a writer's 2002 resolution?  Finish something, no matter how small.

Archive of Tips for 2000

Archive of Tips for 2001

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