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Susan Stephenson

Join the Dots to a Writer’s Life



Do you remember those puzzles so popular in colouring books where the full picture was revealed when you carefully drew a line to connect a series of numbered dots? A writer’s life resembles those puzzles. We need to join up all sorts of dots to create our unique writing persona and then to find a balance within ourselves. That’s the way to attain our full potential as writers.


Writers don’t exist in a void. We are members of a family, a community, a society and we’re global citizens as well. Usually, we write for those audiences and we need to interact with them, listen to them and get feedback from them. Freelancers writing for magazine markets need to keep up to speed on trends in the marketplace. Children’s writers must be aware of what’s been published recently. Neither of those tasks can be done if a writer lives in hermit-like isolation.


It’s important for writers to read the work of other writers, to read widely in and outside of their preferred genre. A writer must allow himself to take in ideas from all sorts of reading opportunities. Stimulate your creativity by delving into other genres, new authors, and different formats.


It’s important for writers to edit. “Revise, revise and revise again” should be the watchwords of every writer. Word processing programs won’t pick up your choice of “peek” or “peak” instead of “pique”, so a writer must be vigilant in checking each word in her text. Some tips for editing include: reading the text from the end to the beginning, so that your eyes see word-by-word; reading aloud or into a tape-recorder and listening for repetitions, clumsy sentences and faltering rhythms; putting the finished text away for a period of time (Stephen King suggests three months in On Writing) so that you finally look at it with “fresh” eyes.


It’s important for writers to network with other writers. Even if you don’t have the chance to join a “real life” critique group, there are many opportunities to do this via the internet. I belong to a crit group called Musemints. One of us submits up to 2000 words on Monday and during the following week, the other three critique that writing, trying to give honest feedback. None of us has met in real life, but we have formed a wonderful, warm and supportive relationship via the internet. One of the main benefits for me from my Musemint membership is the chance it gives me to look at my writing through someone else’s eyes. Even when I’ve put work away and revised it to the nth degree, there have still been times my crit friends have found major or minor problems.


It’s important for writers to make learning about their craft a life-long process. Don’t shut yourself off from learning – I believe any learning can benefit your writing, whether it’s learning to ride a skateboard while drinking margaritas or how to determine the gender of a baby turtle. And what a wonderful resource we have in the internet! I belonged to so many writing sites and newsletters at one stage, I had to rationalize my membership and unsubscribe from several.


It’s important for writers to write. But, sometimes, it’s important for writers to have a break from writing. Yes, we need to discipline ourselves to write, to push through writer’s block or laziness or FreeCell fever. But there comes a time when too much writing without a break can lead to joyless prose, to say nothing of backache and RSI! The answer is to find a balance. We need to ensure our writing time is full of writing, thinking and editing but also to make sure we take regular breaks from writing. Don’t forget, writers need holidays too. Hourly breaks from the computer are advisable for our physical selves. I believe our creative selves need just as much attention but rarely get it.


Once we’ve joined the dots and got the balancing act under control, our potential is unlimited – let’s go for it.




Until next month, write on!


Susan, the Book Chook


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