10 Writing Tips I Was Reminded Of After Getting Torn Apart

1. Write What You Know

We all have a unique lens through which we view the world. We see things differently than anyone else; not better, not worse, just subjectively different. Some would argue that the ultimate aim of writing is to communicate this unique viewpoint in a way such that a reader can experience a suspension of disbelief, that curious thing that great writing does where we understand, if only for a fleeting moment, what it feels like to be somebody other than ourselves. This sense of walking in someone else’s shoes is conveyed through narrative voice. Finding your voice is a process of elimination as much as discovery. So, look for what doesn’t suit you, cut it out of your writing, and repeat this process until you have your own refined, authentic voice. 

2. If You’re Forcing It, Do Something Else

When you hit a creative wall, put your manuscript in a drawer. Save your draft and walk away. Don’t come back until you’ve done something other than read, write, or ruminate on your thoughts. Don’t force the pieces together. That’s being the writerly equivalent of that little playground shithead that jams a puzzle piece where it doesn’t belong and claims to have finished the puzzle. Don’t be a playground shithead. Instead, walk away so that you can view your work with fresh eyes and discover what is giving you trouble.

3. Read Your Writing Like a Reader Would

Going off my last point, when you come back to your writing, read it from the perspective of your audience. After every sentence, ask yourself: “if I didn’t know what I was trying to say there, would I be able to figure it out just by reading it?” This requires a blindness, a distance from yourself and your thoughts. You could even call it intentional ignorance. W.B. Yeats often talked about donning a “mask” so that he could read his works as a critic, not a poet. Strive for clarity. So, when rereading, ask yourself, “is it clear to the reader what I am attempting to communicate?” and then, “could it be clearer?”

4. Read Others’ Writing Like a Writer

I’m sure you’ve come across a sentence or paragraph that forces you to pause and stare at the page. For me, this always happens when I read The Unbearable Lightness of Being. Towards the beginning, the narrator writes that “in the sunset of dissolution, everything is illuminated by the aura of nostalgia, even the guillotine.” Until I explicated that line, I couldn’t understand where that sentence rived its narrative thrust from. Once I picked it apart, I realized that the internal theme of light (“sunset,” “illuminated,” “aura”) causes the words to glow, only to be cutoff at the end by an unexpected intrusion, an unwelcome reversal. Pick apart any and all writing. Good writing provides you with a how-to manual, bad writing provides you with a trouble-shooting guide. Both are equally helpful.

5. Understatement Is A Powerful Tool

An implication, when used correctly, is far more powerful than a direct statement. Take for example Hemingway’s “Hills Like White Elephants.” We know what they’re talking about (in this case, an abortion), yet their reluctance to outright state it builds suspense and makes us curious. Be subtle. Be slow to reveal. Don’t be melodramatic. This is why Mad Men is critically acclaimed and soap operas need their own Emmy ceremony.

6. Take The Time To Research Your Subject

Get curious about what you’re writing about, even if it is about yourself. Research adds depth and understanding that often counteracts and contradicts our preexisting notions. So don’t write based off assumptions. That’s presumptuous, and presumption in writing is achingly painful and boring to read at best. Whether it’s a memoir or a biography, researching your subject can only supplement the finished product. 

7. Substance > Style

Having pleasant prose that ebbs and flows is wonderful, but, as the expression goes, you can’t polish a turd. If a story lacks plot or an argument lacks structure, it cannot be remedied by tacking on even the most euphonic diction. “Halcyon diarrhea rolls off the tongue, but I struggle to find a context in which loose stool can be joyful or pastoral. In my article, I tried to patch up a navel-gazing argument with purple prose. However, putting makeup on a mannequin isn’t pretty, it’s still hollow and lifeless.

8. Rejection Doesn’t Hurt Unless You Let It

I’ve been called some nasty things by people that don’t like my work. But rather than take those to heart as insults, I instead viewed even the more derogatory comments as suggestions disguised as put-downs. They had a reason to call me out. My writing was weak and my argument suffered because of it. However, I was able to glean from the detractors a couple gems of constructive advice. (10 to be exact.) 

9. Revision Is Key

It’s exciting to finish a first draft. It’s less-than-exciting to go back through, word by word, and second-guess yourself. It’s even less fun to third-, fourth-, and fifth-guess yourself, but it is necessary. Cut large, sweeping swaths through your writing before you fix the little things. Consider rearranging, restructuring, and rebuilding your work to get the maximum effect. Perhaps add in a detail or two. This process can be tedious and even induce insanity in rare cases, but the final product will thank you

10. Reflect and Try Again

We encounter a new set of challenges every time we sit down to write. We stare at a blank page and try to turn ideas into words that can be turned back into ideas. It is amazing that this process works at all. When it doesn’t work, when there is a disparity between the author’s intent and the reader’s interpretation, it is up to you the author to try to determine how this miscommunication occurred. Once you have an idea of where you went astray, it is on you to try to fix it. Maybe it’ll work, maybe it won’t. If not, the cycle repeats itself until you and your readers reach a consensus. 

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Starting Over With A New Direction

Recently I had a piece published online, and I was happy. I’d completed a work that had given me a lot of trouble. I’d wrestled and overcome writer’s block. My name and blog got some exposure. And, not least of which, I could say that I’d been published.

And then I got ripped to shreds.

The comments ranged from unimpressed to hostile. People didn’t like what I wrote and they didn’t like me for writing it. I wondered, “did they miss something?” I went back and reread it and found the problem: it was sloppily written, and because of that, it gave the wrong message. How could I, an English major at a good school make such a glaring mistake? I got A’s in all my writing classes, how could this happen?

I realized that I deserved everything they were saying. I’m not as good a writer as I thought I was.

I was surprised by what happened next. I thought I would feel like an idiot or a sham or embarrassed or at least insulted.

Instead I felt inspired.

Inspired to become a better writer. Inspired to re-think the way that I viewed the writing process. I was excited to discover my flaws and fix them, to tear down my preexisting notions and forge new perspectives. I was enthusiastic when I looked at my bookshelf and saw all those unread books, just waiting to teach me something.

I am ready for the writer I was to die off and, in his place, erect a better writer; wiser and braver and more courageous because I had failed and yet set the bar even higher for myself.

So what does this mean for my blog?

Well, I will no longer continue to post sporadic poems, flash fiction, pictures, and quotes. Rather, I will be diving into books on writing and opening the forum up for discussion. I’ll be coming up with and posting focused exercises and prompts to develop new skills. I’ll examine advice from great authors, past and present, and try to extract practical wisdom from them. I’ll look at these greats and examine their writing to see what techniques they use to convey their message. And I’ll be doing this every day. Not once in a while. It’s time to make writing a daily practice.

More than anything, I am making this blog about you all, not about me.

So please, join me and let’s become better writers. Little by little, day by day. Why wait?

I Am From (#tbt to 7th Grade)

There have been a handful of moments in my life thus far where my words have been clearer than my thoughts; I’ve either written or said more than I was able to imagine. This poem, perhaps one of the first I’d ever written, was the first time I ever noticed this phenomenon of language.

I Am From

I am from the ivy laden
stones of my house,
the green leaves circling
around the tall chimney.

I am from the vibrations
that run up my legs as
I bomb down the black
asphalt against urethane.

I am from my front balcony
sitting in a rocking chair
sipping cold lemonade as
seeds fall from a maple.

I am from fast fingers
and souldful grooves
that come from the melodies
of my guitar.

I am from wet dogs
shaking orbs of water
off after being outside
in hard rain for hours.

A Poolside Eclipse

Your head bobbed up
above the rounded concrete lip
then your shoulders brown on either side
of pale stripes starry with freckles
and then the rest of you

I held a towel out
but before you reached for it you slid
your hands down your arms and ankles
lifting jewels of water
away from you

and then your neck snapped
towards the sky so that your hair
followed a halfsecond behind
and poured down your back

before you gathered it with one hand
held near the twinkling roots
as you pulled from it
a long column of water
that stole gold from sunlight
and spun into the ground

where it turned to flat dark spots

you looked at me with a smile
half yawn half something else

as though you thought that nothing at all
had just happened

What Graduation, Buddhism, And Life All Have In Common

Big thanks to Thought Catalog for giving me my first widespread exposure. Readers, be sure to venture on over to their site every once and a while, there is truly something for everyone there.

Thought Catalog

The day of my graduation, I was sitting in my nearly empty room. On my desk was a copy of Siddhartha, some sheets of blank looseleaf, and a pen. There was a grad party going on downstairs, and the pulsating music and nostalgic cheers to friends-since-freshman-year shook the floor beneath my feet. My hands were shaking too, but not from the blaring Disclosure remix or from the overzealous tequila shots. Rather, my uneasiness was a result of a lack a sleep, a sense of post-grad uncertainty that was beginning to manifest itself, and a particularly unfortunate and acute case of writer’s block. 

As is the case with many stories, there was also a girl behind it all. But this girl was not my Muse, nor was she my last-chance-now-or-never crush. She was the sort of friend I’d spent boozy nights with, looking up at the stars and feeling at once fragile and…

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Driving to a Mexican Joint with Fraternity Brothers a Week Before Graduation

Five of us sit in the windy bed of an old Ford truck
on our way to a place we have been before but will not be again 
where we will drink too much bad tequila
until our eyes seal themselves in filmy almost-tears once more

In seconds of silence between words our smiles flatten
without our noticing of it 
and our eyes are turned from each other 
towards the tailgate away from the sun
just before the silence breaks

Worn yellow lines trees tall and short 
leftover light that sneaks through branches littered Pabst cans
all sink into a single golden point
that buries itself in dim flickers
always there and gone in
the same way that I am here but not the same
as when I was there inside that sparkling mote
a bright period at the end of a long sentence.

This will all be over soon