guest post by katja labonté | my top writing tips
Y'all, I am super excited for today's Springtime in Surrey guest...none other than Katja Labonté!! I've so enjoyed following her blog the last few years - from her book reviews to her life updates to her inspiring writing tips! And guess what she's sharing with us today...
Her best-of-the-best tips for not just writing but excelling at writing and continuing to grow! Let's face it, we (present company very much included) all need some of Katja's writerly wisdom in our lives! Before we dive in, y'all make sure you check out the schedule for the Springtime in Surrey blog swap HERE to find even more amazing posts by the SiS authors!!
And now, without further ado, Katja Labonté!
~ my top writing tips ~
I’ve been creating stories since I can remember. I’ve been writing them since I was seven. Writing has been a part of my life for over a decade. I’ve made a lot of mistakes and I still make a lot of mistakes. I’ve still got so far to go. And today I’m sharing with you the top 10 things I’ve discovered have helped my writing most, and that I wish I knew when I first started.
You may think this is basic, but never underrate the value of reading.
Read good books—books that build you, books that teach you about life and writing and people. Most classics have become classics for a reason. Read deep books. Books that stretch you. That make you think. That give you a new perspective. Read hard books that show you what life is. Read beautiful books that remind you how powerful your pen is. Read a wide variety of books that constantly hone you. Read constantly, become familiar with many styles.
Read, read, read, read. It will come out in your writing. It will improve your writing in every way. Every good author has a deep foundation in reading and books.
2. Study the Art of Writing
The sooner you start studying, the better. Study writing styles. Study character development and learn how to create a balanced cast. Study plot creation and brainstorming methods. Study clichés, endings & beginnings, titles, writing habits. There are so many resources online to help with these things. Study it all. Always be open to more and learn more.
3. Learn Style
Learn grammar. Learn punctuation. Learn stylistic items like en-dashes and semicolons and brackets. It pays off, especially for Indies.
Above all, learn how to create a good writing voice/style. Study the manuals of good writing like Basic Principles of Speech, The Elements of Style, Style, and dozens of others. Keep revisiting them. Learn how to balance your sentences. Learn how to write more briefly, clearly, beautifully. Learn how to write. Become familiar enough with the rules that you can break them properly when you need to.
4. Discover How You Write
What are your favourite characters to write? What blocks or motivates you? What problems do you frequently get? How do you plot? Where do you find inspiration? And find out the why to all these answers. The more you know about this, the more help you’ll have when you’re stuck.
5. Get Feedback
Critique is very important to any author. Learn how to accept it and discard it. Keep what make you, you. Let go of what doesn’t. Identify who is qualified to give advice and listen to them. Grow experienced enough in writing that you can tell what is an error to be removed, and what is something that adds to or makes your writing.
Try new writing styles. New genres. New historical eras. Try writing short stories instead of novels. Try eliminating your usual characters, or putting in characters you wouldn’t normally write. Try new themes. Try no theme. Try new plot devices. Try new writing habits.
Mess around. Explore. You might find something new and helpful. Even if it only works once. It’s good to stretch and not get mouldy.
7. Be True to Yourself
At the same time, stick to the themes, characters, plots, settings, or what have you that you love. Keep habits that work for you. What works for others needn’t work for you. Lots of authors become known for particular styles, characters, settings, etc., and their readers love them for it. Strike a good balance of trying new stuff and staying true to yourself. Never let people tell you you’re invalid because of your own particular style. There’s room for us all. Do you need to grow and become better?—probably. But there’s still room for you to grow in.
This is a crucial step that seldom is taken. Almost everything must be researched. When you’re writing of a particular career, or geographical place, or language, or hair colour, or life situation, RESEARCH IT. Talk to people who’ve experienced it.
Be considerate to the cultures/countries you write of. Talk to people from there. Run stuff by them. Look into the food, habits, history, music, geography, you name it.
Study history widely. Don’t count on only one source. Look at the POV of the opposite side(s). Be responsible. Be respectful.
9. Get Good Help
Professional designers, editors, formatters, proofreaders, etc., exist for a reason. Get them. Non-professionals just cannot produce the same level of quality.
Check credentials. Request referrals. Know what the designer/editor/etc should be able to do, so you can gauge properly whether the person is a professional or not. This is worth spending money on. It’s worth waiting for.
All that advice is helpful, but it’s worth nothing if you don’t write.
Write. Write, write, write, write.
Know that you will put your own spin on everything. That’s what you want. Test the advice given to you, keep what is good and put away the bad. Be confident in your style. Never give up because you “aren’t good enough.” You develop with time. Never stop working because you’re “good enough.” Each day builds you. And you only get better by writing. By making mistakes you have to learn how to fix.
I would like to conclude with an article by my favourite author, Lucy Maud Montgomery. This was written in 1939 for the February 24 issue of the Dalhousie Gazette, a student-run newspaper for Dalhousie University in Canada. I typed it out but left it exactly as it was in the newspaper. It says everything I would like to say in conclusion but better than I ever could.
Probably the two questions oftenest asked a writer who has won some measure of success are: “Would you advise me to take up writing as a career?” and “How do you go about writing a book?” The first question is reasonable and sensible. The second is utterly unreasonable and nonsensical. Yet it is the more frequent of the two. I always answer the first by telling of an old lady I once knew who used to say to girls, “Don’t marry as long as you can help it because when the right man comes along you can’t help it.” So to aspiring young people, “Don’t write if you can help it. Authorship is a hard, exacting profession. But if you are a born writer you won’t be able to help it and advice will have not the least effect on you.” Before attempting to write a book be sure you have something to say. It need not be a very great or lofty or profound something. It is not given to many of us to utter “Jewels five words long That on the stretched forefinger of all time Sparkle forever.” But if we have something to say that will bring a whiff of fragrance to a tired soul or a weary heart, or a glint of sunshine to a clouded life, then that something is worth saying and it is our duty to try to say it as well as in us lies. One should not try to write a book impulsively or accidentally as it were. The idea may come by impulse or accident but it must be worked out with care and skill, or its embodiment will never partake of the essence of true art. Write… and put what you have written away: read it over weeks later: cut, prune and re-write. Repeat this process until your work seems to you as good as you can make it. Never mind what outside critics say. They will all differ from each other in their opinions so there is really not a great deal to be learned from them. Be your own severest critic. Never let a paragraph in your work get by you until you are convinced that it is as good as you can make it. Somebody else may be able to improve it vastly. Somebody will be sure to think he can. Never mind. Do your best… and do it sincerely. Don’t try to write like some other author. Don’t try to “hit the public taste.” The public taste doesn’t really like being hit. It prefers to be allured into some fresh pasture, surprised with some unexpected tid-bit. An accusation is commonly made against us novelists that we paint our characters… especially our ridiculous or unpleasant characters “from life.” The public seems determined not to allow the smallest particle of creative talent to an author. If you write a book you must have drawn your characters from life.” You, yourself, are of course the hero or heroine: your unfortunate neighbors supply the other portraits. People will cheerfully tell you that they know this or that character of your books intimately. This will infuriate you at first but you will learn to laugh at it. It is in reality a subtle compliment… though it is not meant to be. It is a tribute to the “like-likeness” of your book people. Write only of the life you know. This is the only safe rule for most of us. A great genius may, by dint of adding study and research to his genius, be able to write of other ages and other environments than his own. But the chances are that you are not a Scott or a Kipling. So stick to what you know. It is not a narrow field. Human life is thick around us everywhere. Tragedy is being enacted in the next yard; comedy is playing across the street. Plot and incident and colouring are ready to our hands. The country lad at his plough can be made just as interesting as a knight in shining armour: the bent old woman we pass on the road may have been as beautiful m her youth as the daughters of Vere de Vere and the cause of as many heart-aches. The darkest tragedy I ever heard of was enacted by people who lived on a backwoods farm: and funnier than anything I ever read was a dialogue between two old fishermen who were gravely discussing a subject of which they knew absolutely nothing. Unless you are living alone on a desert island you can find plenty of material all around you: and even there you could find it in your own heart and soul. For it is surprising how much we all are like other people. Jerome K. Jerome says, “Life tastes just the same whether you drink out of a stone mug or a golden goblet.” There you are! So don’t make the mistake of trying to furnish your stories with golden goblets when stone mugs are what your characters are accustomed to use. The public isn’t much concerned with you extern nothings… your miss or your goblets. What they want is the fresh, spicy brew that Nature pour for us everywhere. Write, I beseech you, of things cheerful, of things lovely, of things of good report. Don’t write about the pigsties because they are “real.” Rose gardens and pine woods and mountain peaks towering to the stars are just as real and just as plentiful. Write tragedy if you will, for there must be shadow as well as sunlight in any broad presentment of human life: but don’t write of vileness, of filth, of unsavory deeds and thoughts. There is no justification for such writing. The big majority of the reading public doesn’t want it: it serves not one good end. Don’t spin your book out too long, Gone With The Wind to the contrary notwithstanding. Don’t make anybody too bad or too good. Most people are mixed. Don’t make vice attractive and goodness stupid. It’s nearly always the other way in real life. Cultivate a sense of dramatic and humourous values: feel what you write: love your characters and live with them: and KEEP ON TRYING.
There you are, writer. From me and from L.M. Montgomery, Godspeed and good writing.
~ the author ~
Katja H. Labonté is a Christian, an extreme bibliophile who devours over 365 books in a year, and an exuberant writer with a talent for starting short stories that explode into book series. She is a bilingual French-Canadian and has about a dozen topics she’s excessively passionate about (hint: that’s why she writes). Katja writes both contemporary and historical fiction, as well as non-magical historical and contemporary kingdom fiction, and covers themes of worth, love, peace, and Christian growth. She spends her days enjoying little things, growing in faith, learning life, and loving people. You can follow her life journey, find free books, browse her services, and more on her website and blog.
~ the anthology ~
Springtime in Surrey, the first collection releasing with Wild Blue Wonder Press, is a Christian anthology featuring eight lovely stories. With a mix of historical and contemporary, romance and women’s fiction, a dash of mystery here and there, real-life themes presented in a loving way, and a vintage feel, this story is sure to charm lovers of Christian women’s fiction.
Learn more at Wild Blue Wonder Press!
I'll be honest with you, folks. I've read a lot of articles, blog posts, social media posts, and more about writing...but not one of those has said to “study the art of writing." It's so easy to think of writing as a talent you're born with, which can be true to a degree, but writing is also an art. And even the most abstract art form has guidelines, techniques, and tools that must be learned. Simply studying the art of writing is what taught me pretty much all I know as a writer, so never disregard the importance of reading and studying writing itself!
This tip and all of Katja's advice (and L.M. Montgomery's article too) are such beneficial reminders to writers of all stages! Let us know down below which tip resonated most with you!