Advice from a Ghost

By Laurel Molloy

I am a ghost. I wander through the striping shadows as the sun blinks above the trees. I watch behind this computer screen, my reflection painted across the words that walk themselves along. I am an editor whose work is hidden behind a veil. But mark me, I don’t mind being a ghost. Ghosts can help guide. Ghosts can wander. Ghosts can see things that many people pass by in the dusk. I am a waiter, a watcher. I am a meticulous critic, a curious child whose existence wisps away after you finish reading my comments.

I see as people wander by like ants marching on their way to work. I see as words reach toward me, grasping for my heart, grasping for something they can barely speak, grasping for life upon the page. I see as your poems and prose take flight, their wings edged in flame and fear, in hoarfrost and heart. Below are some pieces of advice I have picked up through my shifting eyes. Heed them or not for I am only a ghost that whispers to the shadows. I am only a wisp of thought egging you to write your heart away. These pieces of advice are in no particular order so browse however you please.

  1. Be subtle. For goodness sake, don’t tell me every secret there is to tell. Keep some close to you. Keep them perched on your bedside table, keep them next to your keys and dogs’ leashes, keep them in the fridge between the milk and the lime juice, keep them trapped in a book between musty smelling pages. Don’t just give them all to me. Have some things said and keep others unsaid. Readers can usually pick up on those hidden undertones quite well. Splashing everything out all at once is good, but then pull some secrets back. Stick them in your pockets. Stash them like a squirrel burying acorns. Hide them in your unicorn printed socks and wink at the camera as you pass. This will give your writing depth and intrigue.
  2. Write what the world needs to hear. Write what you need to write. It is often hard to put the pen down and scratch out sentence after sentence when it is a topic that scares you. When it hurts you. When it touches you so deep you can’t see the bottom. But that is exactly when you must write. Take all those times things seemed like a hopeless disaster, take all those times tears soaked your cheeks, take all those times worlds danced in your head and characters pounded at your skull so loud the music around you was drowned out by the beating and thrumming inside. Take all those moments and write them down.
  3. The first 100 words are always the most important. Make sure the first paragraph you write has zero grammatical errors. This is what sets the mood, the tone, the standard for your piece of writing. This is what catches the editor’s eye or makes someone put the piece back down. Comb those first 100 words carefully.
  4. Condense everything. If you can write three paragraphs in one, it is usually best to do it in one. Be concise.
  5. Write! Write, write, and write some more. Don’t be afraid to let your thoughts and feelings flood forth. Don’t worry if you only write a single paragraph a day. Write something. Write anything. Write about what scares you, what makes your heart burst with joy, what confuses you. Write about anything that feels right (or wrong). Write and let the world see a glimpse of yourself. Don’t be afraid. Just write…
  6. “Punctuate quotes like this,” I say, waving my hands at you. “Please.”
  7. Speaking of dialogue, you don’t have to use grammatically correct phrases. Talking is not perfect, there are uhhhs and well… pauses… you see. People stop, start again, interrupt each other, fade out. You don’t have to write correctly. Listen and watch people. How do they speak? What do they say? What makes it sound natural? How do they act while they talk? Do they play with their hair? Do they pick at their nails? What are their faces doing? —Be warned, staring is not socially acceptable in most situations but try to watch and listen respectfully— Watch people when you sit at the bus stop, when you are walking to work, when you are grabbing a cup of coffee to spike your energy levels above 2%. Listen and watch the world around you.
  8. Read and write critically. Analyze others writing as well as your own. But don’t become the editor until your second draft. First write, let it out, let it pour across the page like ink staining everything it touches. Second edit, be critical, be thoughtful, be wary.
  9. Taking a break is okay. Coming back to things is okay. Not being perfect is completely okay. Keep writing regardless.
  10. Have fun with it. Writing is art, it is expression, it is joy. Enjoy the process. Writing might scare you. You might not think you are good enough but there is only one way to find out. And while you are, have fun with it.
  11. There are no rules in writing (which of course is a paradox because that statement is in fact a rule itself). Experiment. Write a poem, cut it up, and paste it back together. Make a story with no punctuation. Make one with way too much punctuation. Explore the words and worlds that swim within your head. Dare to fail. Dare to try something new. Show me the ugly. Show me the oozing puss that wriggles from within your pen. Show me what you ripped out of your heart. Show me that thumping mass of blood and veins and I will show you mine. Explore yourself and your writings. Explore the language you use. Try something you have never tried before; use something you have never used before. Look up what words mean and find archaic sentences and try them out. Experiment, explore, dare. Surprise yourself.

Take these pieces of advice with a grain of salt (oh did I mention don’t use cliches; they make your writing feel tired and dull). I am a writer, an editor, a ghost. What works for me may not work for you. Find your own way of doing things if you need to. These are only tidbits that might help you get where you want to be. Find what works for you personally.

I became a ghost by choice. I became one to slide into the dusk and watch and critique as all editors must. I became one to know what it is like to be human and what it is like to be other. To know what it is like to be a mass of thoughts and feelings so easily whisked away by the breeze. To know what it is like to die and be reborn and to die again in a screaming heap of tears and blood painted inky in the darkness.

My job as a ghost is to observe, listen, and read. I watch the sun as it splashes through the windows. I watch as you dare to send in your work. I watch as words arrange themselves into scenes of forests and flaming cities. Come be a ghost with me and float about, taking in the words and worlds that dash themselves across the page. You have brilliance within you. Let it out…


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