Stephanie writes young adult contemporary novels and is the creator of GoTeenWriters.com. Her novels include The Reinvention of Skylar Hoyt series (Revell) and the Ellie Sweet books (Birch House Press). You can connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and check out samples of her work on her author website including the free novella, Throwing Stones.
The singer wanted us in the audience to participate during the chorus of the song.
I'm excellent at listening to music. I like to sing along (if no one can hear me), but this guy wanted us to not only sing a line of the song, he wanted us to dance too. That dance all rappers seem to love where you stick your hand out and move it up and down with the beat? I was supposed to do that while singing. I can't even clap to a beat while singing.
I wanted to fold my arms over my chest and just enjoy the music, but everyone else was into it. As uncomfortable as participating made me, not participating made me even more so.
So I stuck my hand out. I sung the line. I moved my arm mechanically up and down, noticeably off rhythm.
The next time, I focused on moving my arm at the same time as the others around me. I forgot to sing until about half way through the line.
The third time, I managed both the arm movement and the lyrics, but I could feel my face heating as I wished the moment away. I knew I looked completely stupid. That the people behind me could tell I was doing a terrible job. That those next to me could see my utter lack of rhythm and grace.
As the rapper moved about the stage during the next verse, I relaxed and enjoyed the beat of the song, the punch of the lyrics, the pulse of the bass. My body naturally began to move in time with the music, Nothing crazy (I'm still me, of course) but a little bending of my knees, a little swaying.
The chorus returned. I begrudgingly held out my arm ... but this time it was different. This time, because the rest of my body was already moving with the beat of the song, it was easier to keep the right rhythm with the motion of my arm. And because my body was moving by instinct instead of by my command—"Now move up. Now move down."—I found I could sing too. And that I was having fun.
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When you try to bring new techniques to your manuscript, you might feel like I did that first time I tried to participate during the song. You're having to focus so hard on the mechanics of it that there's no rhythm, no fluidity. "Oh, gosh, I'm terrible," you might even think. "What if somebody actually reads this? What will my parents think?"
Good writing, like good dancing, is about more than just the mechanics. Great dancers have to know the dance steps so well that they can do them without thinking. When they've practiced steps so much that they're more like a reflex, that's when a dancer can bring the beauty, grace, and rhythm that the art requires.
What we teach you on this blog is like dance steps. Knowing them won't make you a great writer. And if you try to think about them as you create your story—I can't use that adverb ... if I write it this way it's an info dump ... I can't do that because it was on Jill's cliches list —you're never going to find any kind of rhythm.
As odd as it seems, the best thing you can do after studying the mechanics of writing is to put them out of your mind and write by feel. The more you write, you'll find yourself naturally incorporating techniques you've learned. And even if you don't, even if you get something wrong, unlike dancers we have the privilege of being able to edit. So:
Write like no one is watching. Because they aren't.
Write like you don't have to get everything right the first time. Because you don't.
And write like you already have everything you need to tell your story. Because you do.
Sure, maybe you have some research to do before you can write that battle in a believable way. Or maybe you're still finding your voice or figuring out how to write multiple narrators. I'm not saying you already have what you need to write a perfect story that will make editors fight over you. I'm saying that you won't get there until you put words on the page. And now is the perfect time to start.
Go Teen Writers will return January 4th. Enjoy your holiday!