Write. Rewrite. Stop.
These three words, dispensed tersely from award-winning radio-journalist and WNYC Radio host Brian Lehrer, comprise his best advice for teen writers and especially for all of you who plan to enter the 2014 Scholastic Art & Writing Awards. To elaborate a bit—just a bit—here are his tips:
- Write every day. If you want to make it at something, do it all the time.
- Write long, write medium, write short….but keep writing.
- Write along with your life. Write about the mundane things that happen in your day and you’ll wind up finding meaning in them that you didn’t know was there until the writing made you start to think.
- Write about things outside your life: Notice the things that capture your interest. Make a note of what they are. Write about why THAT made you stop and think. Then check ’em out more fully (see next tip!).
- Write and research. When I write I have one screen open to what I’m working on and one to Google and I go back and forth to keep diving deeper as I write questions for interviews or as I write my own prose. I sometimes tell people I think with my fingers, meaning give me a keyboard, any keyboard when I want to really think something through.
- Write and do tweet! For any writer, 140 characters is a great drill. Any writer needs to be able to communicate a clear message. Twitter forces you to tell people who, what, why and why to care. if you don’t, you won’t have any followers.
- Get some distance. It’s okay to write something and come back to it the next day, the next afternoon, even five minutes later. You’ll quickly see how it can be better.
- Reread what you wrote and you can start making changes. If it’s a draft intended for an editor and you’ve completed your piece, after you press save, always count to ten before you press send. Always do that with e-mails and text messages too by the way, especially if you’re angry. If you don’t, you’ve probably hit “reply all” without realizing it and you’ll regret it for the rest of high school–or longer.
- Start or continue from where you are. You can start writing a random thought that doesn’t seem like the start of something but the middle. It’s okay. You can start in the middle and figure out if it leads to a beginning or an end.
- Use the computer as an ally to write, rewrite and rewrite again. Maybe I appreciate rewriting so much because I started in journalism in the age of the typewriter. Every time I wanted to rewrite something, I had to throw away a page and retype everything I wanted to keep. You can imagine what a disincentive THAT is. With a computer I was like a kid in a candy store: I could try this. And try that. And try something else, without really losing any time or work I’d completed. You can too!
- You don’t have to finish everything you start. Save it…and revisit it later. Some of the greatest writers have gotten hundreds of pages into novels and decided not to complete them. It’s okay.
- Allow for flaws. Many writers are perfectionists and feel their work is always unfinished… there’s this one sentence, or one punctuation mark, or one accent. Forgive yourself your imperfections and move on.
- Submit your best work to the 2014 Awards. Because that means you can return to the real task at hand—more writing!