writers tips / writing

Writers Tip #68: Three Tips From David Shenk

When you read your story, does it sound off, maybe you can’t quite put your finger on it, but you know you’ve done something wrong? Sometimes–maybe even lots of times–there are simple fixes. These writer’s tips will come at you once a week, giving you plenty of time to go through your story and make the adjustments.

Today’s tips come from David Shenk, non-fiction author of The Forgetting and The Genius in All of Us. If you’re a non-fic writer like I am, you’ll enjoy the lecture David Shenk gave at Brown University, November 11 2009, called “The Art of Nonfiction“. For all my fiction friends out there–and for myself as I struggle to finish my thriller by the end of summer–you’ll find these three tips critical. Good writing crosses all lines.

Enjoy!

  1. Make it great, no matter how long it takes. There’s no such thing as too many drafts. There’s no such thing as too much time spent. As you well know, a great book can last forever. A great book can change a person’s life. A mediocre book is just commerce.
  2. Get feedback — oodles of it. Along the way, show pieces of your book to lots of people — different types of people. Ply them with wine and beg them for candor. Find out what’s missing, what’s being misinterpreted, what isn’t convincing, what’s falling flat. This doesn’t mean you take every suggestion or write the book by committee. But this process will allow to marry your necessarily-precious vision with how people will actually react. I find that invaluable.
  3. Let some of you come through. You’re obviously not writing a memoir here, but this book is still partly about you — the world you see, the way you think, the experiences you have with people. And trust me, readers are interested in who you are. So don’t be afraid to let bits and pieces of your personality and even life details seep into the text. It will breathe a lot of life into the book.

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Questions you want answered? Leave a comment and I’ll answer it within the next thirty days.

More tips from authors:

10 Tips from David Gerrold

17 Tips From Noah Lukeman


Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy. She is webmaster for six blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, a columnist for Examiner.com and TeachHUB, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, monthly contributor to Today’s Author and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. In her free time, she is  editor of technology training books for how to integrate technology in education. Currently, she’s editing a techno-thriller that should be out to publishers next summer. Follow me.

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35 thoughts on “Writers Tip #68: Three Tips From David Shenk

  1. Reblogged this on The Hermit and commented:
    I always find it difficult to get feedback. It would be awesome naturally to get feedback from as many sources as possible before self-publishing, or before sending for publication as the case may be. However, finding sources for feedback is far from easy. At one time I used a critique group which is a great resource. You hone your own critiquing skills while you are at it. But your chapters are in a line up of pending stories and chapters. It can take a very long time to get a novel reviewed that way and rarely all the way through by one person. I may consider that though for my next novel. Yet if you are close to publication of a self-published work then that is not an option. I have something I am just working through the final touches on. Or so I hope. It would be nice if I had peeps in my life to give me feedback. Yet I clearly do not or I would have utilized the hell out of them. Perhaps if I pestered more people? Hmmm.

  2. Superb advice. I leave months between drafts of my novels and never cease to be amazed at what jumps out at me when I return to what I thought was a completed draft. And the advice on getting feedback re what readers actually understand from your text is so true. I remember the first time someone questioned a scene I had written, as they didn’t understand it … my first reaction was that they were wrong. They weren’t, though it took me some time and good grace to read with fresh eyes. I now find that there is one reader in particular who is excellent at finding the ‘blind spots’ i.e. the bits no one else can see but me. I have learned to listen to her. Even though she is my sister!
    I am currently working on a short story from three years ago. I know it’s not right, but when I post it this week, I am hoping for feedback as to what it is I have missed. Several reader brains and sets of eyes are a resource not to be shunned.

    • You are braver than me (I?), Julia. I have a select group I listen to, often disagree with, but gracefully submit to their torture when necessary. That’s about all I can stand!

  3. #1 is the golden rule. I work in iterations and each draft is scrapped for the next. It’s a liberating feeling. Thanks for sharing David’s tips, Jacqui.

  4. Edits. Do I know e.d.i.t.s. I used to belong to a writers’ group but I soon outgrew remarks like, I like it.’ ‘Great idea.’ ‘The dialogue pushes the story forward.’
    I’m always interested in what isn’t working and does the reader get it.

  5. Love it. Especially points two and three. And of two, I’m a little surprised (pleasantly) because I think I’ve heard or read not to show your writing to too many readers, but rather to get just a few opinions, to avoid losing focus from listening to the many. Anyway, I’m rambling. Just really want to say thank you Jacqui!

  6. Fantastic tips. Yes, it can take many drafts and feedback is necessary. And even when I’m writing something very different from my actual life, I can still see myself in my writing.

  7. Love these! I need someone to critique the whole book (all 3 whole books) Not sure there’s enough wine in the world to ply even the most dedicated drinker – er, reviewer.
    As for the other 2 tips, you probably know how hard I work at making my WIP as good as possible. And there is probably wa-a-a-y too much of me in my writing.
    So according to Mr. Shenk, I’m a great success. When will my royalty check arrive?
    BTW: I love reading the comments from your followers. You always have the most intelligent followers, Jacqui.

    • I do have great followers, don’t I? I learn a lot from them.

      I see a lot of you in your writing, Shari. I always think it’s biographical and you have to repeat (often) it isn’t.

      • Emotionally my work is somewhat biographical. Action-wise, not so. Very few incidents in any of my stories are events that happened to me.
        But I like that you see me. I hope that’s the look of authenticity.

  8. Jacqui I love all these helpful tips. People ask me why is it taking me so long to write my novel. I tell them I want to give it my best and that takes me time. thank you i will keep at it.

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