Dancing with Words

When I was in school, I wrote all the time — short stories, essays, poetry, songs, greeting cards. I had a few poems published in my high school literary journal. I was on fire with the love of writing. Over the years, sometimes that fire has gone out. It's usually when I'm too busy or too stressed to remember that I love what I do. Deadline pressure can kill the flame, wanting more to happen than is realistic always drops me in a sinkhole. But here's what I've learned.

    To be a writer of any age, you have to love words.

    So play with them, toss them around and see what they can do.

    Be a crazy kind of reader, too, the kind who gets so excited about a certain sentence that you just have to read it out loud to someone.

    Think about stories — why they work and why they don't.

    Take risks with your writing.

    Know your characters until they seem real — actually, they have to be real (almost) because there's a point in the process where they will begin talking to you. This does not mean you need medication. It means you need to listen, and eventually, you'll learn to talk back.

    Develop your style and your voice. An artist paints with a brush, you paint with words.

    Don't be discouraged by criticism for too long.

    Editing is the key to the writing process. Listen to it. Be challenged by it.

    Revision is your friend.

    Keep practicing — it's like playing scales on the piano, like batting balls over the net in tennis, like rehearsing lines for a play — the better you get at writing, the more fun it is.

So many things can put out the flame. A big one for new writers is focusing too much on getting published. I had someone write me and announce, If I don't get published I'm going to throw up! It feels like that sometimes, I know. Being published is great, but don't make it an all-consuming goal. You'll lose the joy of dancing with words. Keep dancing!

**Adapted from Joan Bauer, TEEN READS: Student Companions to Young Adult Literature by the great and glorious Alleen Pace Nilsen, Greenwood Press.


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