Monkey See, Monkey Do


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Now don’t get excited. We aren’t suggesting writers are monkeys. Or that writing is as simple as a game of Simon Says (which, actually, can be quite challenging for the easily-distracted participant). But, at times when you want to elevate your craft, it helps to see what your colleague next to you is doing well. And perhaps emulate those behaviors. Or just suck a bit of wisdom from that experience for yourself.

With that in mind, we turn to Writer’s Digest column “7 Things I’ve Learned So Far.” We like this feature because it’s not the “7 Ultimate Tips for Success,” which is sure to be a disappointing and incomplete list. Rather, it’s real wisdom from writers who are in the trenches. Here are a few excerpts from recent columns that we thought were particularly relevant to our DMS community:

A.B. Westrick, author of Brotherhood:

Voice is all about having the confidence to claim the page. I used to think “voice” meant opening a novel with a character who was super strong or engaging, sarcastic or kick-ass, funny or idiosyncratic—whatever the trait, it was in your face. I thought this awesome “voice” would hook readers and keep them turning pages. But whenever I tried to write such a “voice,” it sounded forced. I’ve since come to realize that’s not at all what “voice” means. Rather than pertaining to a character, “voice” pertains to the writer and the writing. It has to do with a writer’s confidence to claim the page—a confidence that comes from knowing the characters inside and out, believing in their story, and daring to tell it as honestly as possible. The writer must believe that s/he was meant to tell this story, or that this story called to him/her, or that it’s the story only s/he can tell. The qualities of confidence and honesty in the writing will grab readers and hold them fast, infusing the manuscript with “voice.”

Writing is more passion than talent. My dad used to say things like, “So-and-so got stuck behind the door when God was giving out the [insert talent here]” … brains… or athleticism… or whatever. I grew up thinking that writing was a God-given talent, and my failure to produce perfect pieces off the top of my head was proof that the Big Guy hadn’t bestowed this particular ability on me. But I couldn’t stop writing. I had a passion for it, if not the talent, and eventually I came to realize Dad’s little quip had its limits. Writing can be learned. There are techniques. It’s an art, a craft, a discipline, a practice. There’s a lot to be said for the wisdom of Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers and the idea that we need to put in the hours. Sure, talent is nice, but if you’ve got talent, you risk falling into the trap of believing that writing comes easily. It’s not easy. It requires butt glue. Perseverance. Focus. Talent will tease you, and passion will propel you toward success.

Read A.B. Westrick’s full column here.

Kim Fu, author of For Today I Am A Boy:

If you meet a writer and you like their work and you like them as a person, never let them go. Maintain that friendship at all costs. Across time and geography. Support them in everything they do. Celebrate their every victory (even if it coincides with your loss) and mourn their every loss (even if you were the winner). Offer them feedback, send them relevant submission calls and job postings, buy them drinks, let them sleep on your couch. A network of good writers who are also good people — reliable collaborators, strong editors, fun and sympathetic friends — will advance your career and enrich your life more than anything else.”

Read Kim Fu’s full column here.

Want to see what other talented writers have shared? Visit the “7 Things I’ve Learned” columns here.