Writing Lessons from Tiffany Aching

Okay, Tiffany Aching isn’t Steven Tyler. But if we’re learning anything from Jo Knowles’ “unintentional blog series” about Tyler, it’s that writing advice comes where you find it. And, probably, most people would agree that Terry Pratchett would be right up there with authors we could all learn from.

BTW, if you didn’t know who Tiffany Aching is without that Wikipedia link, stop reading this post , go out to the bookstore or get online, and buy yourself a copy of The Wee Free Men. If you’re smart, you’ll just buy the whole series now and save yourself the extra gas and shipping charges. And then be prepared to spend the next few days laughing hysterically, having moments of philosophical clarity, and pretty much bowing down to the genius that is Pratchett.


Tiffany Aching is a witch. Not your typical witch, unless you’re talking typical to Discworld. She’s a witch for many reasons–the first and foremost probably being that she chooses to be one. Another reason, though, is that Tiffany has First and Second Thoughts. Occasionally, she has Third Thoughts, but when that happens her Second Thoughts step in and say, “Let’s all calm down, please, because this is quite a small head.”  (She’s only nine years old.) Tiffany’s thoughts let her see things more clearly than other people; they let her stand outside herself and observe what’s really going on, separated from her own feelings at the moment. It’s a powerful ability, better, in my opinion, than all the magic the wizards at Unseen University can do.

So where does the writing lesson come in? Here: To really use these thoughts, to really see past all the illusion and even all the things she’d like to believe, Tiffany has to be still. She has to, as another witch tells her early in the book, “open your eyes…and then open your eyes again.” She has to look.

I’m a bit stuck on my picture book revision. I’m at the point where I really have to get closer to the dynamic/relationship/conflict between my young hero and the other character. Which means–yes, here we go again–really figuring out what each of them wants and what that want makes them do. Once again: goal+action. You’d think I’d have it down by now.

All weekend, I was busy with weekend stuff, but I thought maybe I could let the problem bubble away in the back of my mind and see what that back-of-my-mind came up with. The internet is full of writing articles and blogs about people getting brainstorms in the shower or while they’re cooking dinner or just before they go to sleep. Well, I occasionally get this happening to me, but not all that often. For whatever reason, when my brain is showering or cooking or drifting into unconsciousness, it is pretty busy doing just that. The membrane between front and back seems to be relatively non-porous.

Apparently, when I want to figure out a story problem, I have to–yes, you’re getting it–I have to be still. Like Tiffany.

So this week, I’m scheduling time for stillness. I will take myself away from the computer. I will stretch out and close my eyes. I will open them to look at my characters. And then I will open them again.

I’m betting I actually get somewhere.


  1. Well, I hope you find those character quirks you’re looking for. I also hope/dream about getting inspiring thoughts which bubble up from who knows where–but they are the exception rather than the rule. Nice blog. Just wonder how you have time to read as much as I do? and write? and blog? and live??? Becky Levine: the ultimate juggler.


    • beckylevine says:

      Reading for me is food/water. It takes the place of things like meditating, therapy, even sleeping sometimes. 🙂 And, luckily, I read fast–only ever met two people who read faster than I do (one’s my mom!).

      Blogging actually helps me make things more concrete for me–so it also does double-duty.

      Here’s to more bubbling for both of us.


  2. oops…I posted before I proofread. Meant to say “as you do” under reading!


  3. I’m all about double duty. Book reviews that first appear on my blog and then in the Talking Story newsletter…you got it. And I also process while I write. I’m in the process of creating a wiki for my next Adult Ed class on “Crafting Characters that Connect” (just put your book on the recommneded list and have linked to several of your blogs). I totally expect that teaching this will improve my own characters!


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