“How To’s” for Writing Fiction by Ty Roth

Joining us today is Ty Roth, author of the debut YA novel So Shelly, to offer a few words of wisdom on writing. Ty currently lives in Sandusky, Ohio with his wife and three sons, and adores his job as a high school teacher.

Although I tend to be wary of compiling any sort of definitive list for mastering the complicated and intensely personal process of creating any form of art, I have often found the various how to’s, offered by successful authors, to be enlightening and to provide interesting lenses through which to view my own process.

Clearly, as my debut novel, So Shelly (Delacorte/Random House) has been on shelves for only a matter of weeks, I would never be so brazen as to believe that any how to’s I might provide would be of equal value to those offered by proven writers with established careers and readerships. However, I do believe that there might be something of value to be gleaned from a writer still chilled from years in the slush and not yet hardened to the magic that exists in fiction; therefore, I’ve compiled a list that reveals how to establish habits to increase your odds of writing high quality and publishable fiction.

1. Read. Nothing original here. For good reason, this is probably the most consistent advice given by writers for writers. I, however, suggest not reading exclusively or even predominantly in your genre. If you do, nearly everything you write will be derivative, which will ultimately lead to dejection and, more than likely, rejection.

2. Get yourself a moleskin notebook. Inspired ideas are so few and far between, that you can’t afford to lose one because you were away from your laptop. Besides, they’re cool.

3. Make your writing time inviolable. During mine, I might read, take a nap, or perform a few household tasks, but I schedule nothing. I am one hundred percent available to my work in progress. However, I also refuse to sit and stare at an inactive laptop while I try to coax an arbitrarily set number of pages or words from my unresponsive imagination.

4. Be true to your vision and voice. I believe that being a successful artist in any medium requires a massive ego. If you don’t have one, I have to question the unique or lasting value of your art.

5. This one will contradict conventional wisdom. In adherence to rule # 4, lose your writing group and critique partners except to discuss writing in a general way and your works-in-progress in very vague terms. Sounding boards are good for writers, editorial boards not so much.

6. Unless you have a massive readership already addicted to your formula, you need an original “hook” to capture an agent’s/editor’s interest. To paraphrase Emerson, imitation is authorial suicide. Even if you manage to achieve publication, what will distinguish you from the many if your writing plays to trends?

7. Borrow from other mediums. Listen to music, watch television, go to the movies, play video games, etc. Obviously, you should not pursue any of these to the point that it detracts from time which should be devoted to your writing, but these are fields of gold waiting to be harvested for ideas pertaining to plot, characters, and themes.

8. Keep your project in perspective. It’s not your “life” or your “baby.” It’s only a bunch of words on screen or paper. This will help you avoid the emotionally-crippling feeling of desperation that can result from rejection and will prepare you to work cooperatively with editors.

9. Read Stephen King’s On Writing between every project. A more accessible treasure of advice for writers has never been penned.

10. Ignore all lists of rules or how to’s for writing fiction.

According to the eighteenth century English poet Alexander Pope, poetry is a grace “which no methods teach.” Far be it from me to question the wisdom of a man whose genius is beyond question, but I believe that, through the adoption of the writing habits listed above, your personal style will emerge and greatly improve your chances of carving out a niche in today’s writers’ market.

You can follow Ty on his website, on his blog, on Twitter, and on Facebook.

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