When my daughter, Amanda, was a tween, she asked for my advice on writing. I was on the road with my job, so I sent her the advice via email. She’s grown now and pursuing her career and off on that wonderful adventure called life. This past weekend, I was going over my old computer files (and pictures from those days, because I miss her) and I came across my advice from the road.
As I read over what I’d sent her, I realized it holds true today for her little brothers and sister as well as it had for her. For what it’s worth, here is a mother’s writing advice:
Imagine. Exercise your imagination regularly by playing. Pretend to be someone from a TV show or movie with your friends. If you feel too old for that, shut yourself up in your bedroom and daydream. Wonder what it would be like to be someone else, then pretend you are that person. Wonder what it would be like to do something, then pretend you are doing it. Make up stories in your head and imagine how they would work out.
In your imagination, nothing is impossible. If you wonder what it would be like to have magical powers, then imagine you have them. Go through the day looking for situations in which to use them. How would they work? How would they make problems for you? How would you solve problems with them?
If you wonder what it would be like to live 100 years in the future, then imagine that you do. What would the world be like? How would your life be different? What kinds of problems would you have that you don’t face now? Where would you live? What would the you of the future think of the you of today?
Listen to how others tell stories or describe situations in every day conversations. Some of the best writing is just taking what we hear in conversation and transcribing it into something grammatically palatable.
Read. By reading, you will see firsthand how professionals describe ordinary scenes and actions. By emulating them, you can get a feel for the way words flow together. The more you read, the more familiar you will become with language. Read all kinds of books from different decades. See how writing has changed during the 20th century.
Write. The only way to learn to write is to sit down and do it. It doesn’t have to be good the first time. Even professionals must write and revise for hours… days… months… years even, before they are satisfied that they have expressed themselves adequately.
Rewrite movies, TV shows, and books. Write a story using characters and settings from a movie, or any story that captured your imagination. Add yourself as a character and take a course of action that changes the outcome of the story. Take characters from one movie or show and put them in the setting of another.
Experiment with the language. Don’t be afraid to string words together in new and unusual ways. Always be on the lookout for different ways to say the same thing. Instead of saying that someone works at a gas station, he can be a petroleum distribution specialist. A writer is a word merchant. A dog is a canine companion. A cat is a furry sidekick. Your best friend can be your partner in crime. Your mother is your maternal unit. Your father is your paternal unit.
This advice from the road still holds some truth. Your imagination is a muscle and you must exercise it regularly to keep it strong.
How do YOU exercise your imagination? What advice would you have for Amanda’s now-tween brother?