A few weeks ago I shared a bit of wisdom I learned from Bruce Coville at the Florida SCBWI’s winter conference. In that post, I related how important it is for us, as writers, to lengthen the chain for our readers. Bruce went on to share a few practical ways for us to do this:
1. Take Your Art Seriously, But Also Take Yourself Seriously As A Business Person. Learn to read contracts. Learn to negotiate. Know what’s happening in the industry.
This is important because the more secure you are from a business standpoint, the more attention you can give to the writing of your stories. Confidence creates freedom—from indecision, from worrying that you missed something, from stressing over having to do something that you know you suck at (like balancing the checkbook or creating a marketing plan). If we can educate ourselves on the business-y things, we’ll become more confident in our abilities, which frees us up to focus on the writing.
2. Take Your Art Seriously But Take Yourself Lightly. Strive to be great, but also try to be good.
Oh my word. How awesome is this? Because good people do good things, right? If we’re so tied up in our craft and our ego, how will we have time for the real world and the people in it? Craft is important, but kindness and patience and forgiveness and truth-sharing—these are the gifts that truly help others. If we embrace these good things and practice them ourselves, not only will we be helping others in real life, but the goodness will also come through in our writing.
3. Never Throw Anything Away. Ideas are usually better than your skill level.
He talked about going back years later and rewriting an earlier story idea that he hadn’t been able to do justice to at the time. My skill level hasn’t evolved quite that far, but I HAVE learned the fine art of cannibalization. That story stinks, but the setting is really unique and interesting. Let me use that in my WIP. This idea is pedantic and elementary, but I love the character. Into my new story he goes. Truly, no idea is without value.
4. Embrace the Unfinished Chord. Leave something for the reader to dream about.
As a musician, I LOVE this analogy. An unfinished chord is…somewhat unsettling. It fills you with this itching desire for something more. This is one of my criteria for a truly great book: reading the final page and thinking about the story…and thinking. Going to bed and waking up…still thinking. As an author, I’d love for each of my stories to leave a little question in the reader’s mind. Something to keep them thinking and make them wonder and maybe start them asking questions they wouldn’t have asked before.
Good stuff, yes? Thank you, Bruce Coville, for sharing your wisdom and thereby lengthening all of our chains.
Becca Puglisi is an international speaker, writing coach, and bestselling author of The Emotion Thesaurus and its sequels. Her books are available in five languages, are sourced by US universities, and are used by novelists, screenwriters, editors, and psychologists around the world. She is passionate about learning and sharing her knowledge with others through her Writers Helping Writers blog and via One Stop For Writers—a powerhouse online library created to help writers elevate their storytelling.