One of my many side activities here in Northern Alabama has been tutoring someone on her grammar, vocabulary, and writing skills through a program called Learn to Read, which specializes in helping English as a Second Language (ESL) students. I lucked out, as my student already DID speak the language.
What she really wanted to do was write fiction.
This was a challenge for me, because while I’ve written fiction here and there, I am a nonfiction writer by inclination and trade. Even my fiction-writing classes and books are ~20 years old. So all I could do, really, was let her write and poke holes in it–politely, if possible.
Of course this past November I took on National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) again, which gave the student the opportunity to turn the tables on the teacher. I found her criticisms of my very rough draft familiar…slow start, not a lot of action, not enough drama. At least she was listening.
Now comes the hard part–my student’s criticisms, like those of my other first readers, were surprisingly mild–I have to go back and edit the thing. That means I have to go back and take my own medicine and act on all the
nagging helpful advice I dispensed with such impunity. The advice goes something like this:
- Designate time daily to write/revise.
- Keep things interesting, everything from plot action to descriptions of the scenery.
- Don’t be afraid to put your main characters in jeopardy.
- Just because you like a particular phrase, sentence, paragraph, section, or chapter doesn’t mean it’s sacred–get rid of it and rewrite it if it doesn’t fit or flow.
- Make sure your characters are progressing toward their goal!
The other bit of parting advice I had my student (I’ve been helping her since 2007 or so) was to just keep working and stay on schedule. Speaking of which, I’ve set a goal of June 30 for getting a decent, publication-worthy story done. We’ll see if I manage to practice what I preach without someone standing over me every week.