Friday, April 11, 2014

Five Things That Will Improve Your Writing

Today I’m excited to share with you a guest post by a good friend of mine, the lovely and talented Olivia Flewelling. Enjoy!

LivOlivia Flewelling is a twenty something Canadian who slings paper in an office by day and writes (sometimes) at night. She completed the One Year Adventure Novel program in 2011 and has gone on to write far too many novel drafts and have two pieces published in Canadian Stories magazine. She spends the long winters loving life and harassing her family with quotes from the latest book she's been reading. She writes with her sisters at


“Artists, like everyone else, are the recipients of grace. They are stewards of what has been given to them.” - Leland Ryken

Writing, the beautiful pain in the neck it is, is certainly so. A gift. We do it, and somehow, hope to get better. It is not always an easy task, and so here are my thoughts (for what they’re worth) on what we can do to foster this ‘grace’ that is given.

1. Know your people.

Perhaps this is where we all start. Little naked babies, we are born into a group of people that already love us. Happily for us, we grow further into that sense of belonging as we grow in age, and become fully part of community. And beyond how this benefits you as a person, it can be the greatest of all gifts for a writer. Being engaged in other’s lives will give you experience beyond what you can ever gain on your own. So here is the key. BE engaged. Emily Freeman says, “I do not change the world today. But I decide to show up where I already am.” This is where art begins. Ask questions. Talk to your elders. Listen carefully to their stories. People’s true histories and tales will probably be the best inspiration you will ever find.

2. Watch.

The writer should never be ashamed of staring,” Flannery O’Connor once said, probably with a smile. Too often, I think people believe writing can only come to those who have traveled and lived the adventures they will write about. Thankfully, it’s not really the fact of the matter. Truth be told, the wonder of human experience and adventure is that we can find it where we are. It just takes new eyes to really look. So look! Watch how an old woman’s face lies serene in the storm of grief. Watch what the baby does when you hand him a cookie. Think about how the sun sets every night…there are things that the whole world knows. And they begin right where you are. Start with writing about them.

3. Read.

Writers by and large are a bookish lot, with a tendency (I’m afraid) to think that quantity is the point. It isn’t . For writers, reading can be something more. With eyes to a story, we should read to be stretched into new ways of imagining, to come outside our story comfort zones, to kill those clichés dead. Do you read the romances? Maybe you should read how a different genre handles love…how a different author handles love. A fan of historical fiction? Read what Shakespeare says regarding the various kings of England. You get the idea. Read John Milton and Dickens. Read beyond your level and read hard. That’s how you learn.

4. Believe in monsters.

As writers, it can be great temptation to treat our words as just that. Words. We move them around, manipulate syntax and every now and again take stabs at making them mean something. But the thing is - we can’t write from the outside in. We can’t sort of believe in the monsters, the fairies, or the good and the evil. If you try to write that way, believe me, your readers will know! Writing is an active pursuit, and so we must enter into it with conviction. Do you believe there is evil? Then your monsters must terrify. Do you believe in good? Then your fairies must be true. We enter into our own imaginations fully and believe that our creation is real. Not physically, but in essence. C. S. Lewis once said, “Since it is so likely that children will meet cruel enemies, let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage.” Making it real is important, because it is real, and this is where writing reaches hearts.

5. Write.

There is this quote pinned above my desk which alternatively inspires me and then makes me feel guilty. It is also the most profound (but not profound) piece of advice writers can ever share. “Start writing, no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on.”

Hard, right? Yet in the act of sitting down and actually putting finger to key, this is where your inspiration occurs, and the writing will happen, grow and improve.

So are you ready to go where your writing might take you? I believe it could be a wonderful thing. After all…“We are the dust and the brushstroke, the poets and the poetry, the weak empowered, the broken made whole…We are the mirrors of God on the earth, the megaphones of glory, the hands and eyes and hearts of heaven…” (Freeman’s Artist’s Manifesto)

Then listen, watch, read, believe, and with great prayer get in that chair and do it!

Thank you, Liv! Sometimes it’s so easy to over-complicate writing. And, sure, it’s hard. But, in reality, it boils down to pretty simple concepts. Share your thoughts in the comments below: we’d love to talk to you!

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