Daily Archives: August 10, 2010

Guest Post: Alice Kuipers, author of The Worst Thing She Ever Did

It’s my pleasure to welcome Alice Kuipers, author of The Worst Thing She Ever Did and Life on the Refrigerator Door, to Shelf Elf today for a guest post. The Worst Thing She Ever Did is Alice’s second book, and it is getting wonderful reviews. Check out the one at Quill & Quire. It is a compelling and intense portrait of a girl struggling with the loss of her sister. It’s emotional and sad and in places, funny, and Alice absolutely nails the voice of her teen narrator.

I asked Alice to respond to a question. Here’s the question:

I recently read an interesting article from the LA Times, where author Janet Fitch shared her 10 rules for better writing. What do you think of her rules?

Here’s Alice:

“I clicked on the link with some trepidation. Sometimes I find rules for writing can make me feel less like writing, like I’m getting it all wrong. But Janet Fitch’s rules are great. I love how detailed they are and how much she focuses on technical issues. And best of all, they feel inspiring, making me want to get to work.

I have a website devoted to writing tips for emerging writers. www.alicekuipers.com. One section has a list of ten quick tips for writers, but I’m going to write a new list for you now which has a bit more depth to it. Janet Fitch calls her list rules for writers but mine are simply tips. ‘Rules’ sounds too strict and rigid, and I’m not sure there are fixed rules for writers; it’s my only quibble with her otherwise excellent advice. So, here are my tips.

1- All good writing is rooted in good reading. Reading widely gives you an insight into how other writers have gone before you, showing you ways to shape sentences or paragraphs to suit the story you’re trying to tell. Make sure you push yourself to read everything, even stuff you don’t really like. Broadening the words you take in will broaden the words you put on the page.

2- Make notes about weather and place. Stand outside and write what you’re experiencing – don’t just write what you think you’re experiencing. When I was in a life drawing class, the art teacher suggested I was drawing what I thought I saw not what was really there. She was right and it’s something I keep in mind when I’m writing.

3- Think of the story you’re writing as a photograph and make sure you’re shooting from the right angle. Sometimes we miss the essential when we’re first getting the story on the page – I think of this as like taking a photograph of a group of people with the heads accidentally cut off. Reframing, finding the right angle, is key.

4- Read your work aloud. My agent told me this and it’s invaluable advice. When you vocalise your sentences they sound entirely different from when you hear them in your head. Hearing your story or poem can give you new insight into what you’re doing.

5- Don’t be afraid of your imagination. Freewriting or dashing down random thoughts can reveal stories you never knew you could tell.

6- Make sure your speech tagging and your punctuation is perfect. It only takes a little time to find out rules of punctuation – you can even look them up online. It’s your responsibilty as a writer, your job, even. It’ll make your work look more professional and it may help you get the words you want onto the page by giving you the tools you need to say exactly what you want.

7- Rejection, like punctuation, is part of the job. Take rejection in your stride. Learn from it. Move on.

8- Notice that you will have certain writerly tics that may not be enhancing your story (or get a friend with a good editorial eye to notice them for you). Perhaps you rely on adverbs or perhaps you repeat words rather than searching for new ones. When you know your weaknesses as a writer, you can watch out for them.

9- Think about who is experiencing your scene. Try and keep the perspective to one character to see if it improves the flow and rhythm of the section. Sometimes trying to see an event from too many points of view dilutes the experience for the reader.

10- Enjoy it. Even when it’s hard and not going your way, remember you’re making something from nothing. Magic.”

Aren’t Alice’s tips brilliant? Love the last one. So true. Creating something from nothing is an incredible, brave, mind-blowing process. Thanks for sharing your advice with us Alice.

Follow Alice on her blog tour all through August. Here’s the schedule.

The Worst Thing She Ever Did is published by Harper Trophy Canada. You can browse inside by clicking here.