Advice for Young Writers
by Leah Henderson
There is so much writing advice out there about what to do or what not to do. A lot of it is very helpful but to be honest, most of it is overwhelming. So the first thing I will say is focus on what speaks to you and what you need at certain moments in your writing journey. Everyone’s experience with writing is different, but there are definitely some universal themes that resonant with all of us at any given point: doubt, frustration, excitement, confusion, fear, fatigue, hopelessness, hopefulness, love, hate, envy, relief, elation. The list can go on and on. But the one thing that every writer should remember whether they are a beginner writing their first sentences, or a pro with shelves of published books, we each need to believe in the power and wonder of revision!
No story has ever been perfect on a first draft. Yes, there can be nuggets of brilliance, and gems to marvel, but I’d arch an eyebrow if a writer told me they’d never written a crappy first draft or at least one that needed a little extra love and attention.
Stories are built on layers.
There is nothing better than diving back into a beloved book only to find new elements and clues to explore. Many of these added details come through revision.
For me, I try to settle into the story in the first few drafts—figuring out characters, scenes, and the overall arc. Then I start focusing on specifics whether it’s about a character’s mannerisms, subplots, or adding a bit more texture to a place. I attempt to color in the lines of what I sketched in my early versions. And I keep smearing color, intensifying shadows and deepening contours with each read. This might sound like a lot of rewriting and adding, and frankly sometimes it is, but I don’t worry about that while I’m knee deep in my mess. I focus on getting every thought out of my head and onto the page. Some of my ideas work, though many of them don’t, but I won’t know unless I’ve tried. I might attempt to say something ten different ways before deciding which is the strongest. And I’m okay with putting in that effort because I know:
Revision is magical.
When I come to the final drafts of a project I’m always a bit amazed at how much certain moments and characters change, grow, and develop. In early drafts a lot of these aspects couldn’t even have been envisioned because I was too focused on other details. And it wasn’t until I got those details just right that I could free my mind for other possibilities to take shape.
So trust in the power and wonder of revision and trust in your imagination to get you through. Don’t rush either because with patience and thoughtfulness you will see the true pearls of your story shining brighter and brighter with each attempt to get it just right.
Wishing you all the best with your writing & your revision!
Leah has always loved getting lost in stories. When she is not scribbling down her characters’ adventures, she is off on her own, exploring new spaces and places around the world. One Shadow on the Wall (Antheneum/Simon & Schuster) is her debut middle grade novel. Leah received her MFA at Spalding University and currently calls Washington D.C. home.
One Shadow on the Wall
An orphaned boy in contemporary Senegal must decide between doing what is right and what is easy as he struggles to keep a promise he made to his dying father.
Eleven-year-old Mor was used to hearing his father’s voice, even if no one else could since his father’s death. It was comforting. It was also a reminder that Mor had made a promise to his father before he passed: keep your sisters safe. Keep the family together. But almost as soon as they are orphaned, that promise seems impossible to keep. With an aunt from the big city ready to separate him and his sisters as soon as she arrives, and a gang of boys from a nearby village wanting everything he has—including his spirit—Mor is tested in ways he never imagined.
With only the hot summer months to prove himself, Mor must face a choice. Does he listen to his father and keep his heart true, but risk breaking his promise through failure? Or is it easier to just join the Danka Boys, whom in all their maliciousness are at least loyal to their own?
Thank you so much, Leah, for sharing your advice about layering and revisions with all of us. You’re so right, that the best stories are built upon revision after revision, adding layers, characters, growth, and everything else you can imagine to your story. The best stories are the ones we revise a thousand times because sometimes those first fifty tries just aren’t enough. =)
As always, thank you to everyone who has participated in this feature. Your words are invaluable to all of the writers who are trying to get their feet on the ground. We are always so appreciative of you.
We hope you have a wonderful rest of your week, and remember to keep writing and revising!