A guest post by Elizabeth Howard of Letters from a Small State
In the next minute or two I am going to give away a pretty substantial secret on how to be a great author of your own work. Some people might tell me not to do this, but I’ve been doing it for years in my Freshman Composition courses, and so far it hasn’t caused anything but, in my opinion, more great things to occur.
Note: this advice applies to writing and to all creative work. Read on knitters and painters and welders!
So before I give away my secret, I’m going to tell you many of the things that other writing experts have said about this. You’ll recognize them. These are useful, but NOT the secret to being a perfect author.
- Write (create) everyday.
- Practice writing or creating like other “better” authors.
- Revise. Revise. Revise.
- Make sure you say what you mean.
- Make sure you say what your audience wants to hear.
- Be organized, for heaven’s sake.
- Be funny.
- Don’t be funny (it’s too hard).
- Make sense or get lost.
- Tell personal stories. Don’t pontificate.
- Use truth and evidence.
- Don’t plagiarize.
- Be succinct. Don’t babble.
- But then, of course, use details.
- Eat your vegetables. (haha… see it isn’t so hard to be funny!).
Ok, I admit that all of these are good pieces of advice. However, they are not the SECRET to being the perfect author. I know this because there are only many items on this very incomplete list. And hundreds of thousands of professionals get paid daily to teach people how to create and write well.
But on my list, there’s only one item.
The Perfect Author Listens To Herself.
Here’s a story I want to use to illustrate what I mean.
When I first started blogging back in 2004, I lived in London, which is roughly 6,354.57 kilometres (3,948.55 miles) from where most of my friends and family live.
Blogs were kinda not much of anything back then. I used mine to give updates and post pictures of life in London. I used it to ramble about the differences between here and there. I often plagiarized. I pontificated and didn’t revise. My style had no shape. It was, to say the least, a messy reflection of my writer’s garret—colorful, loud, with symbolically leaking bean bag chairs and red wine stains.
I was only ever funny by accident. Most of the time I as morose as the London winter.
In 2007, blogs everywhere started to get readers. And Google’s search engine got really good.
And suddenly, meaninglessly, there was heaps of traffic on my silly blog.
I got a taste of stranger-readers, and desired more! But I failed because I could never think of what to say that they would care about. And then I moved to New England, making a big mess of any artistic continuity or success I could have wanted.
Ever since then – especially since my encounter with Tara on Scoutie Girl – I’ve been striving make my blog something that is both valuable to ME and to my Readers. I am still trying to do that.
Which brings me back to the Secret to Perfect Writing (Applies to Art too).
Listen to yourself.
This does NOT mean you cannot learn from others. This does not mean you should not revise or that you should not write or create every day.
Listening to yourself ensures the launching of original work. What is original strives then for the other qualities in art we cherish: Unusual. Fresh. Unconventional. Creational. The idea becomes an amalgamation: pieces of the world we roll around in, which we digest and reformulate. When we listen, we make original again.
But we have to hear the original, that voice in our minds singing our ideas. And to hear it, that means trusting the voice and letting it rise to the top.
The perfect author – of any art – listens to themselves. Then they get to work, traveling via pogo stick or roller skates, imperfectly creating a path of their own.
At “Letters from a Small State” and “The Least Weird Person I Know,” writer Elizabeth Howard examines how we survive and occasionally thrive in America, through the lens of our smallest details. A writer and poet living in Connecticut with her new family, she works daily in her own slivers of creative space and time.