Monday, November 21, 2016

Lessons from an Abecedarian

By: Bowen Gillings

I am a new writer. Nothing published. No awards. Just expanding Scrivener files. 
Novice that I am, I have gleaned a few nuggets from the sluice trough of experience that might help other rookies. I believe in the strength of these ideas the way my four-year-old believes fairies populate our backyard.
Understand advice is like bacteria—everybody has some, and, like it or not, they’ll share it.  Feel free to turn away if I appear to cough on you over the next few hundred words.
Write.  Seems obvious. But how often does writing get set aside until after your to-do list is done? I used to think I needed to get other stuff out of the way so that I would have time to write. Nonsense. Write first. Housekeeping can wait. Mowing the lawn can wait. Oiling the cajón can wait…until after you write.
Write your best.  Obvious too? I mean to write the best possible options into your story. My protagonist could find out who’s clear-cutting the forest by asking around town. Or he could track down the foresters just as they are being attacked by an armed group of environmentalists. Both further the plot, but the second option will likely hold more interest for the reader.
Write now. Editing is part of writing, but it is a separate part. Editing does not further your story. Editing only improves the telling of it. I was a chronic editor, bogged down in my writing by mental dickering over a word or metaphor. It’s not a good thing, not in the first draft. Now, if I’m stuck on a word or phrase, I highlight it for later review so that the story begging to be released from my hops-muddled brain can continue to flow.
Set a timer. Unless you find yourself with nothing else pressing (which means you’re dead) set a specific amount of time to write. I typically give myself an hour. Knowing the alarm is going to go off makes me write faster and cleaner.
Show off.  Put your writing in front of other people. Nothing improves my work more than getting feedback from folks who give of their time and taste to tell me what to chuck, what to tweak, and what pissed them off because it was so well written. This last bit hasn’t actually happened, but it’s good to have a goal.
Know you’re dumb. Raise your right hand and repeat after me: “I (state your name) know doodley-toot about the true craft and business of being an author.”  Writing requires an idea and a laptop (or a notebook if you’re old school). To be a successful author takes so very much more. There are books, magazines, and websites on writing (I’ve read two of them). Join a writer’s group. Join a critique group. Attend workshops. Go to writing conferences.  Join Pikes Peak Writers and attend Write Brain, Writer’s Night, and Open Critique each month. I did and looks how goods I write!
Don’t fall in love. You’re proud of a scene that really shines. When your critique group reads it, they are confused by character motivation and how the scene fits into the narrative. If readers consistently tell you something doesn’t work, change it. Don’t defend your work based solely on how much effort it took to create.
Write your way. I am not George R.R. Martin, Joe Abercrombie, or Susanna Clarke. I love their work, but they are not I.  They are not me? Whatever. The point is: avoid comparing your writing to other writers in a way that drags you down. Good authors tell stories in their own voice. You are a good author. Accept that your story must be told your way. Then tell it.
There. A few hundred infectious words of amateur advice sprayed across your brain like a sneeze from the guy behind you at the theater. Now wash your hands. You don’t know where I’ve been.
About the Author: Bowen Gillings lives in Colorado Springs with his wife, daughter, and dog.  When not writing, he can be found at Garden of the Gods Park where he heads the school programs for area elementary and high school students.  He is enjoying the rollercoaster of writing his first novel.  He became a member of Pikes Peak Writers in 2015. At the 2016 Pikes Peak Writers Conference, an agent asked for a complete manuscript based on his first sixteen lines. With only two chapters complete, he was able to negotiate submitting the manuscript before the 2017 Conference. Yes, it's good to have goals!


  1. I love this post. You may be an abecedarian, Bowen, but you're a talented one, and I predict great things for you. Your voice resonates in everything you write.

  2. I love the way you write. Humorous and intelligent.

  3. To be clear, I am not a 16th century Anabaptist who disavows all human knowledge. I am a novice writer. Just, want to eliminate any confusion there.


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