Writing Tips from Andrea Murray

As well as answering some questions for me Andrea Murray, author of Omni, also sent me some writing tips. I’ve been finding my writing hard lately so I was hoping some writing tips might help.  I think they did but I also think I’m getting a bit obsessed with getting writing tips and I probably need to just spend less time reading about how to write and more time actually doing some damn writing.

But before we get to Andrea’s tips here is a quote about writing I literally just found and really liked:

“The secret of being a writer: not to expect others to value what you’ve done as you value it. Not to expect anyone else to perceive in it the emotions you have invested in it. Once this is understood, all will be well.”

— Joyce Carol Oates

Anyway. Here’s what Andrea recommends:

1.        Make time.

It’s so hard to find the time to write sometimes.  You have to create a schedule of sorts, a set time every day or a certain number of days per week to sit down and devote yourself to your writing.  I have two young children and a full-time teaching job.  Finding time is often a struggle, but I really try to maintain my writing/reading time, and that is harder than it seems.  Sometimes, I look around and see toys that need to be picked up, clothes in the hamper awaiting the wash, or a coffee cup that needs to be put in the dishwasher, but I have to put on my blinders and focus on storytelling.  You also have to be willing to sacrifice for it at times.  What do I sacrifice? Sleep!  My writing time is between 4:30 AM and 6:00 AM.

2.        Know your characters.

You MUST know everything possible about your characters.  You should be able to drop your character into any situation and know exactly how your character will react.  Talk to them (just don’t let anyone hear you doing that or they will begin giving you strange looks).  Listen to their responses.  See them.  Know what they look like even if you never introduce that into your story.  If you know your characters well enough, you will be able to create the best conflict.  I try to put my character into the situation I know he/she doesn’t want to be in.  That’s when I get my story.

3.        READ!

Good writers are good readers.  If you aren’t reading, how can you expect to write? Yes, it’s time consuming to spend time reading and reviewing other works, but you can’t write if you don’t experience other writers’ styles.  Reading expands your own writing and helps you know what’s out there in the world of novels.  You don’t want to fill a notch that’s already filled, but you won’t know if it’s your notch without reading.

4.        Know your audience.

I know teenagers.  I may not be the best writer in the world, but I know, without a doubt, what kids like and don’t like.  I have long since lost count of the number of students I have had over my seventeen years in education, but one thing I’ve learned is that teens don’t really change.  Styles change, language changes, but kids are overall the same.  They might have trouble explaining what they loved about a book, but they most definitely know what they hated about it.  From that, I deduced things they like.  Reluctant readers won’t read a long novel.  It might be the best book EVER, but if it looks like you could smash a small rodent with it, they won’t touch it.  Kids like short chapters.  It gives them a sense of accomplishment and a clear goal.  Most kids like a little grit.  They want a character with at least a touch of bad. It isn’t realistic to think kids don’t hear cursing and talk about mature subjects.  If they go to public school**, trust me they hear it.  Does that mean the book should be overflowing with sex and profanity? No, that is likely to turn them away.  It’s a balance—one I’m constantly striving to achieve.

5.         Editing is hard.

I am still working on this one.  It is so difficult to edit your writing.  That page you just sweated over is your baby, your pride and joy! Cutting one word feels like a wound.  You NEED that word, that sentence, that paragraph.  If you hadn’t, you wouldn’t have written it, right? Well, eliminating that one word might improve the entire piece, so it has to go.  Painful? Sure.  Necessary? Absolutely.

**to save anyone else having the blank confused moment I did reading this (caused mostly by how stupidly tired I was I think because usually it wouldn’t have thrown me) I’ll note here that Andrea’s in the US and what they call public school isn’t anything like what we call public school. Usually I tend to think our names for things make much more sense but in this case I must admit I think the US have the sense thing down here.

3 thoughts on “Writing Tips from Andrea Murray”

  1. These tips are amazing. I used to write all of the time and I’ve had the itch to pick it back up for a while now. This post has some great information.

    Thanks for sharing!

  2. This is actually an issue in my writing group (obsessed with gathering tips yet not doing any writing). We’re trying out a wordcount-based approach, Nano style, to try and encourage people to put something ANYTHING on the page. Why did that Joyce Carol Oates quote resonate with you in particular?

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