7 Pep Talk Points About Writing

By Mark Nichol

Fiction? Nonfiction? It doesn’t matter. It’s all about getting started, but you’ll need a few supplies, and some directions, for your journey:

1. The Elevator Pitch

Imagine you’re in an elevator, and a literary agent, a theatrical producer, or a movie star steps in. After a quick greeting (we’re fantasizing here), you mention that you’re writing a story and they ask you what it’s about (fantasizing — roll with it). You have 15 seconds before they step off the elevator and (unless you take my advice) out of your life forever. What do you say? That’s an elevator pitch. Without a pitch, you have no story. (Sometimes it’s the first sentence.) Nonfiction? Same.

2. The First Word

Sit down and write the first word that comes into your head. The page isn’t blank anymore, and you now have permission to continue.

3. Procrastination

Work it into your writing schedule. When you’re getting started each day, allow 5, 10, or 15 minutes to do something else — an administrative task, a spot of research, scanning your notes or what you wrote yesterday (but don’t dive in to revise it). Then, when your time is up, get to work.

4. Exposition

You’ve heard it before, but you can’t be reminded often enough: Show, don’t tell. Don’t describe how someone feels; illustrate attitude or emotion with actions, not observations. This rule applies to nonfiction as well as fiction.

5. Purpose

“What’s my motivation?” is the cliched actor’s query, but it’s a good question. Your characters are actors, too (but let’s not get distracted about film rights just yet). What do they want? What are they willing to do to get it? When you answer the first question, it’s easier to produce the answer to the second one — also known as a story.

6. Challenges

A story without obstacles is like — well, like a dull story. Readers identify with characters who get knocked down, dust themselves off, and get knocked down again. Rinse and repeat. Whether, on the last page, they end up on their feet or on a slab is up to you, but a story without significant challenges to the protagonist(s) is called a manuscript, not a book.

7. Rejection

Did you give up on dating after you were turned down the first time? If you want your manuscript to “go out with” an editor or an agent, you must persevere. Each “No” brings you one step closer to “Yes.” And there will be a “Yes.” Unless you quit before you hear it.

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4 Responses to “7 Pep Talk Points About Writing”

  • Rebecca

    Thanks for the pep talk. I spoke with someone over the weekend about creating elevator pitches. They’re important and the more polished they are the better.

  • TrafficColeman

    Don’t waste time talking about nothing and doing nothing. You must be able to use of your time wisely..

    “Black Seo Guy “Signing Off”

  • Kyla

    TrafficColeman on February 16, 2011 12:35 pm
    Don’t waste time talking about nothing and doing nothing. You must be able to use of your time wisely..
    “Black Seo Guy “Signing Off”

    Excuse me, but you were a little unclear on the specifics of this comment. And by “unclear” I mean:

    What the crap are you talking about???

    Who was talking about nothing? I’m very confused…

    Well, I enjoyed the pep talk(s) anyway. Pretty invigorating, actually. This elevator pitch sounds really, really fun and useful. Could you elaborate more on it? Maybe give some examples? If you can’t I understand, and will figure it out on my own. But I’d appreciate a little more input, if you wouldn’t mind.

    As always, thanks for the food for thought. Have a great day!

  • Mark Nichol

    Kyla:

    Elevator speeches are all around: Book-jacket copy, the plot summary in a book or movie review, a movie trailer (without the spoilers and the vapid hit song and the shock cut), etc. An elevator speech is your answer to “What’s your book about?” But your reply isn’t “Um, well, it’s about this girl, OK? And she’s deaf and can’t talk very well, and . . . .” It’s “A deaf-mute girl is the only witness to the planting of a bomb that will go off in a crowded shopping mall in one hour. She knows sign language, but she’s also a pathological liar.” (That’s just off the top of my head, but you get the idea.)

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